Mindful of last year's four-month negotiations with lottery pick Tom Gugliotta, who entertained offers from Greece and Italy before joining the Washington Bullets in October, general manager John Nash wasted little time signing this year's top choice, forward Calbert Cheaney of Indiana, yesterday to a six-year deal worth an estimated $18 million.
In fact, Cheaney -- like Gugliotta, the sixth choice overall in the NBA draft -- became the first of the 11 lottery choices to come to terms.
"Traditionally with [associate] David Falk and myself, we like to be the first ones in, rather than waiting to see where the top guys are slotted," said Mike Higgins, Cheaney's representative. "But we also felt it was important for Calbert to get into camp as early as possible."
The Associated Press and Sports Illustrated College Player of the Year will participate in the team's four-day minicamp starting tomorrow at Bowie State. Cheaney, 6 feet 7, will be joined by unsigned second-round choice Conrad McRae, a 6-10 forward/center from Syracuse.
Yesterday, Nash also gave guard Doug Overton, who made the team as a free agent last season, a new three-year contract. Overton was a starter until fracturing his thumb in January.
Having all their key players under contract will be a refreshing change for Nash and coach Wes Unseld. Last summer, in addition to trying to sign Gugliotta, they had to match a $17 million offer sheet the New York Knicks extended to since-departed Harvey Grant, and find ways to free themselves of forwards John Williams and Bernard King.
"No one wanted to relive what we went through with Gugliotta last year," Nash said. "Actually, we had a similar set of circumstances [last year]. But Gugliotta's agent [Richard Howell of Atlanta] did not believe us when we said there would be more room in the cap if he signed early. Once the Grant situation cropped up, we had a lot less room to maneuver."
Ultimately, Nash needed a $1.25 million exemption on King's contract to sign Gugliotta, who will receive most of the money in his seven-year $17.5 million pact in the final years.
The Bullets had freed up an estimated $2.5 million in the $15 million cap this year by writing off the contracts of King, Ledell Eackles, William Bedford, Charles Jones and several low-salaried players that totaled more than $5 million.
Nash now has all of the Bullets' 10 holdovers under contract, plus center Kevin Duckworth, acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers last month in exchange for Grant.