The Washington Bullets yesterday re-signed veteran forward Harvey Grant but failed to satisfy first-round draft pick Tom Gugliotta, who rejected a five-year deal worth $10.7 million and likely will pursue a better offer from a European team.
Once the Bullets chose to match the New York Knicks' six-year, $17.1 million offer sheet to Grant, the team's payroll climbed more than $2 million over the $14 million salary cap, leaving only a $500,000 exemption for Gugliotta, a 6-foot-10 forward from North Carolina State.
Gugliotta would have earned $1.345 million his rookie season with Washington had he accepted the Bullets' proposal before Grant's offer-sheet deadline of 6 p.m. yesterday. Even if Gugliotta chooses to play in Europe, he would remain Bullets property unless he sits out a full year of basketball.
In a radio interview Wednesday, Gugliotta said he had not received a solid offer from Europe and preferred playing for the Bullets. But his agent, Richard Howell of Atlanta, wanted the Bullets to increase their offer substantially, and contract talks with the Bullets broke off at noon Thursday.
Losing Gugliotta, the sixth pick overall in the 1992 draft, could put a crimp in the rebuilding plans of the Bullets, who finished 25-57 last season.
"I'm amazed that they rejected our offer," said Bullets general manager John Nash. "It goes to prove what a wonderful country we have when someone can turn down an opportunity to earn $10 million in five years.
"I either failed to convince him [Howell] that we could not increase our offer or communicate the fact that we weren't bluffing in saying we were maxed out as far as our salary cap."
Howell had played a waiting game, hoping the players drafted before Gugliotta might first agree to terms, giving him a better sense of the market. That failed to happen.
Nash said the Bullets' final offer to Gugliotta was a "54 percent increase" in total salary over the $6.95 million, four-year deal Missouri's Doug Smith -- last year's sixth pick -- got from the Dallas Mavericks.
Asked whether he might have considered not choosing Gugliotta because of his ties with Howell, Nash said: "It occurred to me that it would be easier dealing with other agents. But I'm not worried about making my job easier, only trying to get the best players for our team."
The Bullets used that philosophy in re-signing Grant, who earned $474,000 in his fourth NBA season last year, the 10th-lowest contract on the 12-man roster.
Yesterday, owner Abe Pollin tried to patch up differences with the 6-9 forward, who was angered by the Bullets' bringing tampering charges against the Knicks. The charges were dismissed by an arbitrator Wednesday in New York.
The Bullets attempted to nullify the offer sheet by having witnesses, including team communications relations director Bonnie Downing, testify that Grant had received an offer sheet before July 1, the first day a free agent could be approached by an NBA rival.
"My only concern has been with the way the Knicks handled this situation," said Pollin. "I think the fact that [coach] Wes Unseld selected Harvey to be our captain last year showed our belief in his leadership, and our matching the offer sheet confirms his value to this organization."
But this failed to appease Grant.
"There is no question I would rather play in New York," he said, emphasizing he had no quarrel with Unseld, Nash or his Bullets teammates.
But Grant remained peeved by Pollin's failure to grant him a contract extension last October, and then "attacking my character" at the hearings this week.
According to Grant's agent, Jim Sexton, the Bullets had a four-year deal worth $7.2 million on the table Oct. 4, but Pollin withdrew it.
"If the Knicks had lost the tampering charge, would the Bullets have paid me $17 million or close to it?" Grant asked.
"I know people who don't know me will think I'm crazy for being mad when I'm going to make close to $3 million a year, but this goes deeper than the money."
Grant, who must be paid $1 million by Monday toward this year's salary of $1.65 million, said he is inclined toward exercising the escape clause that would free him from the Bullets after the 1993-94 season. He said he also will ask for a $3.5 million loan, another clause the Knicks inserted to try to dissuade the Bullets from matching.
With Gugliotta apparently gone, Nash said he would turn his attention to re-signing veterans A. J. English and Larry Stewart, who have received qualifying offers.