The Clippers decided Tuesday to pick up Ron Harper's $4-million option for next season, a move that will tie him with Michael Jordan as the NBA's highest-paid guard and fourth among all players.
Harper finished in the top 30 in the league in only one category last season--sixth in steals--but made the jump from $2.2 million in 1992-93 because of the contract he signed in the spring of 1990. The Clippers had to either pick up the option or make him an unrestricted free agent.
Given that choice, and with Danny Manning and Ken Norman controlling their futures, the Clippers notified Harper's agent, Mark Termini, before Tuesday's deadline that they will pay the $4 million. The sides will work on a separate multiyear deal, meaning Harper could get two huge windfalls in one off-season.
Harper finished second among the Clippers in scoring at 18 points a game, shooting 45.1%. He averaged 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.21 steals. He and Mark Jackson form one of the NBA's best rebounding backcourts.
"I think, given Ron's performance this year, capped by his showing in the playoffs, we felt the Clippers would not put themselves in a position where Ron would test the free-agent market," Termini said. "Ron is happy to be staying with the Clippers, and we look forward to continuing to have discussions for future years."
Andy Roeser, who as the Clippers' executive vice president for business operations handles most contract negotiations, declined to be interviewed Tuesday. General Manager Elgin Baylor said in a prepared statement: "We are very pleased about extending Ron's contract. He is a key player, and we believe it is important to keep our key players together."
The Clippers, however, have not made an offer to Manning, even after he extended an olive branch just after the first-round playoff elimination and said for the first time he would be willing to open negotiations on a new deal. His agent, Ron Grinker, has since told the team that he and Manning will fly to Los Angeles to accept the one-year qualifying offer on the morning of July 1, rather than stay in the Midwest and conduct a brief transaction by fax.
"Because it would be our pleasure," Grinker said.
The Clippers are dealing from a position of weakness with Manning. He can either become an unrestricted free agent in a year or dictate the team's trade option by agreeing or declining to sign with potential suitors.
Norman, though acknowledging the Clippers' offer of five years at an average of $2.6 million per season is generous, still plans to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He has not closed the door to returning, and the team has said, and indicated by its offer, it wants him back.
Players with the biggest salaries for the 1993-94 NBA season:
Player Team Salary David Robinson Spurs $5.65 million John Williams Cavaliers $4.571 million Vlade Divac Lakers $4.133 million Ron Harper Clippers $4 million Michael Jordan Bulls $4 million Danny Ferry Cavaliers $3.54 million Dominique Wilkins Hawks $3.5 million Reggie Lewis Celtics $3.3 million Patrick Ewing Knicks $3.25 million