LANDOVER -- Chris Webber doesn't want to join the Washington Bullets unless he can play with former Michigan teammate Juwan Howard.
That's the scenario Webber, last year's NBA Rookie of the Year, has presented to the Bullets, general manager John Nash said.
Webber is a restricted free agent with the Golden State Warriors; Howard is Washington's unsigned first-round draft pick. Both were members of the "Fab Five" that played -- and lost -- in the NCAA national championship games as freshmen and sophomores.
Webber was in the Washington area Thursday. Nash yesterday confirmed a story in yesterday's Washington Post that Webber, a holdout with the Warriors, met with Bullets owner Abe Pollin.
Under NBA rules, a team cannot talk trade with a free agent, so Nash has been careful to explain that the Bullets have not discussed trade possibilities with the Warriors. But the Warriors could sign Webber to a deal that is satisfactory to Washington, and then trade him to any team -- including the Bullets.
"We'd be open," Nash said.
Two names have surfaced as trade possibilities: Howard and Tom Gugliotta, a player that Nash in the past has said would not be traded.
"We have no intention of trading Juwan Howard," Nash said. When asked about Gugliotta, Nash responded, "We reserve the right to trade anybody."
Nash tried to downplay talks he's had recently with Bill Strickland, Webber's Washington-based agent.
"In an effort to do my job, I've had continuing contact with [Webber's] agent," Nash said. "As I've had contact with Orlando Woolridge's agent, with Antoine Carr's agent and with Pete Myers' agent. That's just part of doing the job and conducting business as usual."
But none of those players has commanded an audience with Pollin.
"His agent lives in Washington," was Nash's comment on Webber's visit Thursday. "To draw any conclusion would be widely speculative."
Calls to Strickland over the past two days have not been returned.
Strickland apparently has been shopping his client, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic with the top pick of the 1993 draft. Webber was traded to Golden State for Anfernee Hardaway, the draft's third pick.
Webber averaged 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds last season, but expressed unhappiness at playing out of position at center. His relationship with coach Don Nelson reportedly soured over the course of the season.
He signed a 15-year, $74.4 million contract with the Warriors that paid him $1.6 million last season. Of the top seven picks, only Hardaway ($1.24 million) had a lower first-year salary.
But Hardaway and Webber had options to get out of their contracts after the first year. Hardaway held out before signing a seven-year, $50 million contract with options for an eighth and ninth year that would bring the package to $72 million (average of $8 million). Hardaway got a raise to $4 million this season.
Webber reportedly is seeking a similar deal. The Los Angeles Clippers have the largest salary slot available in the league ($3.25 million) and were sought out by Webber's agents to tender an offer last week.
But the Clippers have been reluctant to extend an offer.
"There's nothing to it. It's a matter of a big slot and a big talent," Joe Safety, spokesman for Clippers vice president Elgin Baylor, said earlier this week. "This is all one-sided rhetorical stuff, aimed at motivating Golden State."
Meanwhile, Nelson has grown frustrated at the lack of progress in talks with Webber, and on Thursday said he'd be willing to step down from his coach's job if it meant getting Webber back. With the return of Tim Hardaway and the trade for center Rony Seikaly, the Warriors have a chance to compete for a championship -- if Webber is playing.
"If he has a problem with me as coach, I can get someone else to do it," said Nelson, who also is the team's general manager.
Opponent: Miami Heat
Where: Miami Arena, Miami, Fla.
Radio: WTEM (570 AM)
TV: Ch. 20
Outlook: Miami is sporting a new look, having in the past week traded three of its starting five of a year ago. Gone are Grant Long, Steve Smith and Ron Seikaly. In their place, center Kevin Willis comes in from the Atlanta Hawks and forward Billy Owens from the Golden State Warriors. With all the changes the Heat is off off to a slow start, losing their first three on the road. The status of Owens (thigh) and Rice (knee) will be made at game time. G Bimbo Coles (hand) is probable. This will be the home opener for the Heat. The Bullets, starting a three-game road trip that takes them to Orlando on Tuesday and New Jersey on Thursday, played at home against the Nets last night.