WASHINGTON -- With the official start of business yesterday, NBA teams began their mad scramble in preparation for the coming season. Yet the Washington Wizards and free-agent point guard Rod Strickland were still miles apart when the team's camp opened last night.
The Wizards opened camp with 17 players, but their pursuit of Strickland is still stalled. Washington is offering Strickland a three-year contract in the range of $30 million, but agent David Falk is seeking a deal in the five-year, $65 million range for his client.
"Discussions are still going on," Wizards general manager Wes Unseld said after last night's 2 1/2-hour practice. "Both sides are trying to get the job done. There is an open dialogue."
When business opened at 2 p.m., Wizards coach Bernie Bickerstaff phoned Strickland, who led the league in assists per game (10.5) last season. "I conveyed how we felt about him," Bickerstaff said. "It was a very cordial conversation."
While those two sides remained apart, quite a few teams and players spent the day rushing to get deals done, though some moves that had been expected to be finalized were being delayed.
Most notably, the Denver Nuggets' anticipated signing of Antonio McDyess hit a snag. The free-agent forward appeared to be having second thoughts after reportedly agreeing to a six-year, $67.5 million contract.
This led to speculation that McDyess still was considering re-signing with Phoenix, and late last night, his agent asked the Suns if they were still interested.
"We're interested to hear what led to this," Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo said. "It would be shortsighted not to listen to what Antonio has to say. Waiting one more day can't hurt."
Several league sources said part of the breakdown had to do with Denver's plan not to re-sign McDyess' friend, free-agent forward LaPhonso Ellis.
The Suns, anticipating McDyess' departure, had spent the day creating salary-cap room to sign forward Tom Gugliotta by renouncing the rights to nine of their 12 free agents.
Meanwhile, should Gugliotta leave Minnesota for a reported six-year, $60 million deal with the Suns, the Timberwolves are expected to work a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers for former Maryland star Joe Smith.
Also not completed yesterday was the Chicago-Houston deal that would make Scottie Pippen a member of the Rockets. A news conference in Houston to introduce Pippen was postponed until today, the Rockets citing problems with the wording of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Pippen reportedly signed a five-year, $67.2 million contract with the Bulls, who are to deal the All-Star forward to the Rockets for forward Roy Rogers and a second-round draft pick.
The Rockets did announce the re-signing of power forward Charles Barkley, a move that could give the Rockets one of the most feared front lines -- with Hakeem Olajuwon -- in the NBA.
The biggest deal that became official was the trade in which Latrell Sprewell joined the New York Knicks in exchange for forwards Chris Mills and Terry Cummings and guard John Starks.
Sprewell, who missed most of last season after attacking Golden State coach P. J. Carlesimo, adds an offensive spark to a New York team that is undergoing an overhaul in its pursuit of the Eastern Conference title.
The Wizards, meanwhile, simply continued their pursuit of Strickland even though Falk has said he will try to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal that would send the point guard to the Knicks.
So the hoped-for pairing of Strickland and Mitch Richmond will have to wait -- if it happens at all. When the team took to the MCI Center practice court last night, Chris Whitney took the spot as the team's No. 1 point guard.
"We're not going to wait; as you can see, we're going to go on," Unseld said. "It's obvious we're a better team with the player the caliber of Rod Strickland. But from what I see, we're better anyway."
Starting today, the Wizards will begin three-a-day practices in their attempt to get ready for the Feb. 5 opener at Indiana. Washington will play its home opener Feb. 6 against Toronto.
In the abbreviated 50-game schedule, 44 of Washington's games will be played against Eastern Conference opponents, with the Wizards playing Atlantic Division foes at least three times.
The Wizards will play games on three consecutive nights on three occasions, and have stretches of four games in five nights. The Wizards will play 10 games over 14 days over one stretch from late February to mid-March.
"Right now, we can't get concerned about three-a-days -- we just have to focus on working," said forward Juwan Howard. "We had vacation all summer, fall and winter. Now it's time to put all the other stuff behind us and focus on the job at hand."
Added Richmond, after his first practice since being traded from Sacramento at the end of last season: "It's going to be a long haul. When the season starts we're going to have to get our treatment, our rest. Four games in five nights -- I never heard of that."
Washington increased its roster to 11 players with the signings of free agents Terry Davis and God Shammgod and second-round pick Jahidi White.
NOTE: On Sunday at 2 p.m. the Wizards will have a scrimmage at the MCI Center that will be free to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. At that time, tickets will be available for the team's only home preseason game Jan. 30 against Philadelphia.
Highlights of yesterday's transactions in the NBA:
Hornets: Signed F Derrick Coleman.
Knicks: Acquired G Latrell Sprewell from Warriors for G John Starks, F Chris Mills and F Terry Cummings.
Lakers: Signed G Derek Harper.
SuperSonics: Traded C Jim McIlvaine to Nets for F/C Michael Cage and F Don MacLean.
76ers: Signed F Matt Geiger.
Warriors: Signed F Antawn Jamison.
Pub Date: 1/22/99