Nearly a year ago, Washington Bullets general manager John Nash was being placed on a pedestal for landing Chris Webber and Juwan Howard on the same day. A playoff berth was expected. The season, however, proved to be a bust.
Which makes Nash's next few weeks all the more important.
Securing the long-term services of Webber, signing rookie Rasheed Wallace and acquiring a point guard are three of the team's biggest concerns. And Nash yesterday began dealing with two-thirds of the business as he met with Washington-based agent Bill Strickland, who handles Webber and Wallace.
Unlike the long holdout by Howard last year, Wallace is expected to sign quickly. With the new rookie salary cap in effect, Wallace will be paid about $6.1 million over three years as the No. 4 pick (the contract can be 20 percent higher or lower). Nash did not return phone calls yesterday, but said earlier this week he hoped the talks with Wallace would be "swift."
Signing Webber, who is a restricted free agent, is expected -- but will take longer. The Bullets would like to sign him to a long-term contract (seven years is the maximum under the new labor agreement), and made that known in their initial contact with Webber's agents.
"It's the top priority for us, and it's fair to say we have a lot to talk about," Nash said earlier this week. "This is more than your standard contract negotiation. This is a career/franchise commitment by both Chris and the Bullets. We have a lot to talk about."
Such as how long Webber's deal should be and how much money should be involved. After becoming the top pick of the 1993 draft, Webber signed a 15-year, $74 million contract with the Golden State Warriors.
Webber, 22, who was traded to the Bullets after exercising an out clause in the contract, would have averaged $4.9 million in that initial contract.
In the market today, it wouldn't be far-fetched for Webber to command $8 million a year.
Fallasha Erwin, who also represents Webber, said his client would like a long-term deal.
"There are a couple of issues that gave us some concerns, but that's part of the process," Erwin said of the initial talks. "We'd like to do something long-term, and we're having ongoing discussions."
One of those issues could be who will be running the point for the Bullets this season. The decision on point guard could give Webber -- frustrated by last season's losing -- an indication of how competitive the Bullets will be.
"The talks have been very amiable," Erwin said. "There's no hostility, no one side taking a stern approach."
Nash met Tuesday with agents for 76ers free-agent point guard Dana Barros, who was an Eastern Conference all-star last season. One of Barros' agents, Frank Catapano, has said Philadelphia is his client's first choice.
"But Dana has to do what's best for his career," Catapano said. "The numbers will have to be competitive."
As Nash takes care of front-office business, players have begun drifting back to the team's practice facility in Bowie since the NBA lockout was lifted at noon Monday. Doug Overton and Calbert Cheaney were participating in shooting drills within 20 minutes after the doors were officially opened.
"I kept looking at the clock, looking at the clock," said Cheaney, describing his eagerness to get to the gym. "It feels good, knowing you can use the facilities and pretty much stay as long as you want."
Cheaney arrived at 12:06, but wasn't the first player there. That honor went to Overton, who pulled up in his black sports car at noon.
"It was a trying summer, especially being a player rep," said Overton, who was in Chicago last week when the representatives approved the collective bargaining agreement by a 25-2 vote. "I spent most of the time trying to reach out to other players to see what was on their mind."