"Not true," says Williams's agent, Dwight Manley. "The last time I talked to Miami about Brian was three months ago. I played phone tag with them a month ago, but we had no dialogue. We did not mislead anyone."
Because of salary cap limitations, neither the Heat nor the Bulls will be in a position to sign Williams this July, when he'll again be a free agent asking for $100 million. "Brian will be the most desirable free agent on the market," says Manley, "and now he has the stage to prove it."
That stage will become infinitely more visible if Chicago and Miami meet in May.
Forget '97, Bring On '98
A Western Conference general manager who will have cash to spend this summer on signing one or more free agents was asked whom he might pursue. "Nobody," he answered. "I'm saving my money."
He's not alone. Many executives say they plan to hoard funds for the blockbuster free-agent class of 1998, which should include the Bulls' Scottie Pippen, the Magic's Anfernee Hardaway, the Warriors' Joe Smith and the Nuggets' Antonio McDyess. As a result few general managers foresee this year's free agents' getting deals like the seven-year, $35 million contract Seattle gave underachieving center Jim McIlvaine last July. That could be sobering news for free agents such as Williams, Sacramento power forward Brian Grant and Orlando guard-forward Nick Anderson.
Grant makes $1.3 million but hopes to vault into the $7 million to $8 mil-lion-a-year range as a free agent. His best bet for a good bump is the Kings, who have borrowed money from the city of Sacramento to stay at Arco Arena. The Kings realize they need both Grant and leading scorer Mitch Richmond to keep their team competitive. There's only one problem: Richmond, who makes $3.5 million this season and will average $2.75 million for the next two seasons, is unhappy with his current deal and would be even unhappier if he were suddenly earning less than Grant.
Anderson, who is making $3.8 million this season, will quite likely take a pay cut unless he stays with the Magic. He originally thought he might be able to get Allan Houston-type money—Houston, a shooting guard, got $56 million over seven years from the Knicks last summer—but that was before Anderson reached April shooting only 40.1% from the field and 40.5% from the line and averaging 12.4 points a game. Even at that, Orlando is willing to give Anderson a slight increase with an eye toward eventually moving him to small forward.
Line of the Week
Bullets center Gheorghe Muresan, April 3, versus Bulls: 37 minutes, 11-16 FG, 2-4 FT, 24 points, 13 rebounds. The 7'7" Muresan, whose play has been criticized most of this season, was a key to Washington's 110-102 upset of Chicago.
Around the Rim
Expect Shaquille O'Neal back soon. He spent much of last week doing intensive drills with former Lakers great Magic Johnson and scrimmaging with Johnson's touring team. Those who have seen the big fella report he's trim, thanks to his cutting back on eating red meat while sidelined with a fractured bone and partial tear of the lateral collateral ligament of his left knee.... A source close to the situation says that of the 27 NBA referees still under investigation for allegedly changing first-class airline tickets for coach tickets and pocketing the difference without paying taxes on it, only 15 face the possibility of being indicted for tax fraud. The other 12 officials have learned they are under investigation for civil complaints (which involve fines but no trial or sentencing).