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Official OK fills lanes for NBA fast break; Flurry of signings due; Strickland exit feared


Today marks a chance for NBA coaches to become reunited with players for the first time in nearly seven months. It's a day that will give rookies the chance to be exposed to the league's lifestyle.

And it will likely be the single busiest day of player movement in NBA history.

That's because the NBA lockout officially came to a close yesterday, nearly two weeks after owners and the players union agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement. A written version of the agreement finally was completed yesterday afternoon, allowing the NBA to officially begin business at 2 p.m. today.

At that time, training camps will be allowed to open, players can be signed and trades can occur. That means that all of the major trades and free-agent signings that teams have pulled off over the last week can be made official.

The Washington Wizards' first-day focus will be on finding out whether they have an opportunity to re-sign Rod Strickland, last year's leader in assists who is a free agent. Strickland is seeking a five-year contract worth in the vicinity of $65 million, while the Wizards would like to limit the deal for the 32-year-old point guard to three years and in the $30 million range.

With an expected flurry of activity beginning today, the Wizards want an answer quickly so they can be in position to pursue other options. Strickland's agent, David Falk, told the Associated Press yesterday that it's unlikely Strickland will return.

"I don't think he'll be back here," Falk said. "We're trying to get him to New York. He loves that they have [Latrell] Sprewell [who will get traded to the Knicks when the lockout ends], Allan Houston and Larry Johnson there, and he thinks he can win a championship. I'd like to get him there so Patrick [Ewing] can win a championship."

Should Strickland go to New York -- likely in a sign-and-trade scenario -- it would return him to both his hometown and the place where he started his career. Wizards teammates are still hopeful Strickland will return.

"That was part of the excitement in my coming to Washington, to be able to play with Rod," said Wizards shooting guard Mitch Richmond. "I was looking forward to that, and I still am.

"I think Rod has really proven himself on the court. He's one of the premier guards in the game and it's much deserved to try to get the best offer," Richmond added. "He's the backbone of the team. You get better with age, and I don't think his game has slacked off any."

Should Falk be able to trigger a deal, the Wizards would be in the market for a point guard. One they might look at is free agent Sherman Douglas, a backup to Sam Cassell in New Jersey last season. Douglas, a Washington native, might be inclined to return home in a starter's role rather than be a backup with the Nets another season.

While Strickland's situation is uncertain, what is certain is the large amount of player movement expected today as teams hurriedly prepare for a regular season that begins in a little more than two weeks.

The flurry is sparked partly by the short amount of time that teams have to prepare, and partly by the window of opportunity presented some teams in search of a championship by the recent retirement of Michael Jordan.

One such team is New York, which will likely complete a deal today that will land Sprewell in exchange for forwards Chris Mills and Terry Cummings, and guard John Starks. In acquiring Sprewell, the Knicks apparently beat out Miami and Indiana -- the teams considered front-runners in the Eastern Conference. Scottie Pippen also will officially join the Houston Rockets today.

Two of the most pressing issues on the free-agent front were the futures of Antonio McDyess and Tom Gugliotta.

McDyess apparently decided last night to return to the Denver Nuggets, the team he played for in his first two NBA seasons.

"It was a real close call," McDyess' agent, James Bryant, told the Associated Press. "It came down to a question of do you want to inherit a contender or do you want to build one? Phoenix is a great franchise, but Denver is doing a lot of exciting things that haven't come out yet."

The Suns, who surrendered two players and four draft picks when they acquired McDyess from the Nuggets, immediately turned their attention to Gugliotta. But there remained a chance that Gugliotta would end up staying in Minnesota or go to the Los Angeles Lakers.

A source close to the Lakers told the Associated Press that the team was offering Elden Campbell, Eddie Jones and rookie Sam Jacobsen to the Timberwolves in a sign-and-trade deal for Gugliotta.

Suns owner Jerry Colangelo had found it hard to believe that McDyess would reject the Suns in favor of a franchise that won 11 games last season.

"It defies logic in my opinion," Colangelo said. "We think this is a great spot for him. But a lot of things have happened this off-season."

NOTE: Gheorghe Muresan was at the Wizards' practice facility yesterday for the first time since informal workouts began. Muresan had back surgery over the summer to alleviate nerve problems that were affecting his right foot. The 7-foot-7 free agent, who began working out several weeks ago, said he would like to re-sign with Washington. "I think I'll be back in March," Muresan said. "I don't feel any pain now, I feel sore."

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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