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Clippers Decide to Retain Olowokandi, for Now

Basketball: Instead of locking up center with a long-term deal, team risks his becoming unrestricted free agent by signing him for one year, $6.1 million.

September 24, 2002|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Clippers checked off one more item on their off-season to-do list Monday, with center Michael Olowokandi signing the team's one-year qualifying offer worth $6.1 million. Olowokandi will become an unrestricted free agent July 1, eligible to sign with the highest bidder, and that includes a possible new deal with the Clippers.

The next order of business for the Clippers is to sign power forward Elton Brand to a long-term extension before the NBA's deadline Oct. 31. The Clippers open the season Oct. 30 against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Staples Center.

Brand is under contract for the 2002-03 season and could agree next summer to accept a one-season qualifying offer, such as the one Olowokandi took, in order to remain with the Clippers through 2003-04.

Training camp begins next Tuesday at Palm Desert, but one potential problem was avoided with the signing of Olowokandi.

Almost two weeks ago, Bill Duffy, Olowokandi's agent, set a Sept. 18 deadline for the team to sign his client to a deal worth more than the $80 million given during the off-season to Sacramento King point guard Mike Bibby. The Clippers were offering a seven-year contract worth $8.5 million a season.

The deadline came and went, with Duffy refusing to comment on their next move. Olowokandi, 27, on Monday agreed to take the Clippers' one-season offer, which comes with a 30% pay raise over his 2001-02 salary. Olowokandi, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft, had career bests of 11.1 points and 8.9 rebounds last season.

"I'm looking forward to getting to work," Olowokandi said. "We have a very good team and I'm excited to get the season underway."

Through Duffy, he refused further comment.

"We expect that Michael will work hard to continue to improve and that he will be prepared to make a big contribution to our team's success this year," Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor said in a statement.

Baylor also declined further comment.

"I think it's been the Clippers' determination that they don't feel he is a 'max' player as of yet," Duffy said, referring to the team's unwillingness to give Olowokandi a so-called "max-out" contract of $100 million over seven seasons. "We'll see about that next summer if he continues to improve. He'll certainly have other options. He also has no problem continuing with the Clippers."

Asked if Olowokandi could put negotiations he described two weeks ago as "personal" behind him, Duffy said, "Michael is prepared for any challenges. He feels he has a lot to prove. He wants to go to the next level as one of the premier big guys in basketball. He's excited for the season to start. The Clippers are going to have a great team. We feel like he'll be the centerpiece."

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