The Washington Bullets matched the San Antonio Spurs' offer sheet to Larry Stewart yesterday, guaranteeing the second-year forward a reported $2.6 million over four years.
Washington had until today to match the offer.
"The basic question was, 'Do you want to pay that rate, or get nothing?' " said Bullets general manager John Nash. "Larry played very well last season, and right now, with so
many question marks with our other players, we can't afford to let him get away for nothing."
Stewart, 6 feet 8, was signed out of Coppin State as a free agent last season and played for the NBA minimum of $135,000. He was named second-team All-Rookie, averaging 10.5 points and 5.9 rebounds.
Stewart became a valuable commodity this summer, when the Spurs began considering him as a replacement for Terry Cummings, who tore knee ligaments during a pickup game in Chicago.
Besides being fully guaranteed, Stewart's new deal includes an option for a personal loan of reportedly $800,000 during the first two years.
When the Bullets matched the Spurs' offer sheet it marked the second time in a month the team has kept one of its players by that method. In mid-July, the team matched the New York Knicks' $17.1 million, six-year offer to forward Harvey Grant.
The signing of Grant left the Bullets with only a $500,000 exemption to try to sign No. 1 draft choice Tom Gugliotta, who had rejected a five-year contract worth $10.7 million.
"I'm still amazed we couldn't get Gugliotta signed," Nash said. "But if we had to do it over, we'd do it exactly the same way. We are continuing to try to work out something."
Stewart's agent, Glenn Schwartzman, said his client is delighted by the Bullets' decision to match the Spurs' offer.
"What this means for Larry is that he is set for life and we're going to try to make sure he still has most of this money when he's 40 or 50 years old," Schwartzman said.