EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A strong bond that developed between Chris Webber and Juwan Howard during their two years as members of the Fab Five at the University of Michigan helped reunite them yesterday on one of the biggest days in the history of the Washington Bullets franchise.
Howard was the first on board. The No. 1 pick ended a bitter holdout by signing an 11-year, $36 million deal yesterday afternoon. Hours later, Webber, a restricted free agent who the night before had re-signed with the Warriors, was traded to the Bullets for forward Tom Gugliotta and first-round draft picks in 1996, 1998 and 2000.
Webber's contract is for one year at $2.1 million. He again becomes a restricted free agent after this season, meaning the Bullets will be able to match any offer for him.
"The opportunity available to improve the team came about, and we took it," Bullets owner Abe Pollin said. "This is one of the biggest days in the 30-year history of the franchise."
And with two signings, the Bullets went from a promising team that was still a long shot to make the playoffs to a potential powerhouse.
"You play with that lineup," said Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay, "and I see them in contention right away."
Despite losing one of their more popular players in Gugliotta, the Bullets get a potential franchise player in Webber and an expected solid, frontcourt player in Howard.
"Physically, we equate Chris at power forward with Shaquille [O'Neal] at the center position. Awesome physical skills," Bullets general manager John Nash said. "[Howard] has a discipline about his game. He is very efficient and has very polished skills and techniques. He will be a pleasant addition."
Webber and Howard are expected to be in uniform for the Bullets' next game, tomorrow night at USAir Arena against the Boston Celtics. The players were not available for comment last night.
The reunion of Webber and Howard began to unfold last week, when Webber, involved in a stormy relationship with Golden State coach Don Nelson, visited with Bullets front-office personnel. Unable to discuss a trade with a free agent, club officials simply had a get-acquainted session.
"Abe Pollin, Nash and Wes Unseld sat down with him and really made him feel comfortable," said one of Webber's agents, Bill Strickland. "They expressed a desire to have him here. It really made him feel welcome."
After that meeting, Webber went public with his desire to play in Washington -- on the condition that he play with Howard.
"[Webber] and Juwan spoke, and, despite his situation, Juwan really liked the area," Strickland said. "Juwan was a part of the appeal."
While Webber's representatives were left to broker a deal, Webber went public about his situation with the Warriors while continuing to say he wanted to play with Washington. Once Webber signed with Golden State on Wednesday night, it gave the Bullets a short period of time to make a deal.
"We made the commitment that if Chris signed, he would be moved within 24 hours," said his other representative, Fallasha Erwin.
That began a long day for Nash. With the Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls also beginning to show strong interest in Webber, was far from a done deal.
"I never felt confident until we got off the phone [last night] when the deal was completed," Nash said. "There were other teams in deep negotiations with Golden State."
As the Webber talks continued yesterday, Nash got a pleasant surprise early in the afternoon -- Howard agreed to a contract, finally accepting the $1.3 million salary slot for this season, a sticking point throughout negotiations. As part of the deal, he can become a restricted free agent after the second year. The Bullets' previous offer would have made him wait until after the third year.
"I'm more relieved than happy," said Howard's agent, David Falk. "It's frustrating to be in a situation where players miss games and training camp."
Asked whether Webber's acquisition by the Bullets had anything to do with Howard signing, Falk said:
"It might have something to do with Chris finding the Bullets' situation attractive," Falk said. "Juwan was drafted to play here, and talks had been ongoing. Chris' situation had nothing to do with him signing."
Falk did acknowledge that Howard and Webber talked constantly during their holdouts. At Michigan, the two players were part of one of the most publicized recruiting classes in college basketball history. One other member of the Fab Five, Jalen Rose, is a rookie with the Denver Nuggets, and two more, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King, are in their senior seasons with the Wolverines.
The discussions between Webber and Howard probably were a factor in the Bullets' pulling off the deal with Webber just hours later.
"I think [Howard] being there meant a lot," Erwin said. "Also, looking at their roster, their starters, Chris felt they're legitimate contenders.
"Chris feels this is a good, young team, and he's only 21," Erwin said. "He feels they may not win the championship this year or next year, but there's a lot there for the future."
Webber recently was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying of Warriors coach Nelson:
"Listen, I've had coaches that were absolute jerks. I mean, they screamed at us all the time. But you still have to respect people. You don't yell at them, 'Why did we draft you?' in front of little kids in the stands.
"I talked to [Nelson] about it six or seven times last year. Sometimes we get along fine, but other times . . . I just don't know how he's going to act. I want to be treated like a man."
Nelson seemed displeased that Webber's future is not with the Warriors. Nelson last week had offered to step down from his coaching job if it meant signing Webber.
"Let me start by saying it is not a happy day for us," Nelson said. "This is not the way we anticipated the Chris Webber situation. We want to build a championship-caliber team, and Chris Webber was a big part of that."
New Warriors owner Chris Cohan, who signed Webber to a one-year deal Wednesday night with the understanding he would be traded, said: "I was faced with limited options. I made a commitment to Don and he's going to be the coach, and I really can't tolerate a situation that's going to threaten the coach's job."
Instead, Webber will be part of building a championship team with Washington.
"It's a big trade for the Washington Bullets, obviously," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "We gave up a very talented player to get someone who could be a very special player in this league. It could be a little disruptive in the short term, but there's no doubt in my mind this makes us a better team."
"I hope we're better -- I can't say how good, but I hope so," Nash said. "I think we'll need to monitor what develops over the next couple of weeks. We're likely to struggle as we try to assimilate guys to our scheme."
Nash said the assimilation will come soon, with two quality players. Which made his tiring day worth it.
"I feel emotionally and physically drained, but that's the nature of a day like today," Nash said. "And hopefully, I'll feel emotionally and physically drained when we're in the playoffs at the end of this year."
TRADE AT A GLANCE
The deal: The Bullets sent Tom Gugliotta and first-round draft picks in 1996, 1998 and 2000 to the Warriors for Chris Webber. Before the trade, the Bullets also signed first-round pick Juwan Howard.
The cap: Howard's salary fills the Bullets' $1.3 million remaining under the NBA salary cap. Webber's salary fits in Gugliotta's $2.3 million slot.
Projected lineup F Chris Webber
C Kevin Duckworth
G Rex Chapman
G Scott Skiles
Note: Bullets say Howard will come off the bench.
TALE OF THE TRADE
Tom Gugliotta Ht.: 6-10. Wt.: 240. Age: 24.
College: N.C. State
Gugliotta was the sixth pick in the 1992 draft. Last season, he was eighth in steals (3.5), 19th in rebounding (9.3) and 31st in scoring (17.1). Missing only five games in just over two years, Gugliotta averaged 35.2 minutes in 165 games. In 1993, he was named to the all-rookie squad.
Chris Webber Ht.: 6-10. Wt.: 250. Age: 21.
Webber was the first pick in the 1993 draft. The youngest player in the NBA last season, he won the 1994 Rookie of the Year. Webber also became the first rookie in NBA history to total more than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 blocks and 75 steals in a season.
.. .. .. .. Webber .. .. Gugliotta
Points . .. . 17.5 .. .. .. . 15.9
Reb. ... .. .. 9.1 .. .. .. .. 9.5
Assists ... .. 3.6 .. .. .. .. 3.6
Blocks . .. .. 2.2 .. .. .. ... .6
Steals . .. .. 1.2 .. .. .. .. 2.0
FG Pct. ... . .552 .. .. .. . .445
FT Pct. ... . .532 .. .. .. . .672
Juwan Howard became one of only five players in Michigan history to score 1,500 points and grab 700 rebounds in his career. A year-by-year breakdown of Howard's three-year career Michigan:
Year .. .. .. Pts. .. Reb. .. Ast.
1991-92 .. .. 11.1 .. 6.2 .. . 1.8
1992-93 .. .. 14.6 .. 7.4 .. . 1.9
1993-94 .. .. 20.8 .. 8.9 .. . 2.4
Totals ... .. 15.3 .. 7.5 .. . 2.0