Competition Heating up for Microwave
September 6, 1991
The Celtics pressed ahead yesterday with their courtship of soon-to-be-available Vinnie Johnson. As they did, there was the expected competition from other clubs, including one overseas, and a hint of doubt about the wisdom of such a move from a key veteran.
General manager Jan Volk spoke with Johnson's agent, Mitch Frankel, and restated the Celtics' interest in the 35-year-old sharpshooter. The Detroit Pistons waived Johnson Wednesday and he is expected to clear waivers today, making him eligible to strike his own deal.
"Vinnie wants to be part of a team with a chance at a championship," Frankel said. "And there are financial concerns as well. Those two factors will influence where he'll play."
Johnson released a statement in which he thanked his supporters in Detroit. "I will now dedicate myself to whatever team I play for, no matter where I go professionally," he said.
The Knicks have called and the Lakers, who were in the hunt last year when Johnson was similarly unencumbered, may rejoin the chase.
San Antonio is one of a few teams under the salary cap. General manager Bob Bass talked to Frankel yesterday and expressed interest. Johnson has some concerns about the Spurs, however, because the team recently signed his brother, Eric, and Vinnie feels there might not be room for both.
Bass said yesterday that he was still unclear as to why someone of Johnson's stature and salary ($ 1.57 million on the cap) was suddenly jettisoned.
"Knowing they have to pay him that kind of money, why would they waive him? That's what I want to know," Bass said. "I'd rather not comment on anything other than that until I find out everything. We are one of the few teams with room to do something, though."
Yesterday, the Pistons answered that question at least in part when they acquired veteran guard Darrell Walker from the Bullets. The Pistons were able to use half of Johnson's salary to pay another player.
Boston executive Dave Gavitt said the team, which almost signed Johnson last year, has definite interest again. But Kevin McHale, who just signed a two-year, $ 7 million contract extension, said on WEEI that he thought the signing of Johnson might upset the three-guard chemistry (Brian Shaw, Reggie Lewis, Dee Brown) and impede the growth of the younger players.
Frankel conceded that there are "limited circumstances" around the NBA, where most teams are at or over the salary cap. Of the clubs under the cap, only the Spurs represent a legitimate NBA championship threat. The others are either expansion or rebuilding teams.
The Celtics are well over the cap and could offer Johnson only the NBA minimum ($ 130,000) unless they free up money in another way, such as waiving a player or renouncing the rights to free agent Derek Smith.
There also is a European twist to the plot. Knorr Bologna, which recently released the oft-troubled Micheal Ray Richardson, is looking for a shooting guard and reportedly has $ 1 million-plus to offer. They contacted Johnson Wednesday. The club also is talking to the estimable Sidney Moncrief, who would represent a public relations 180 from Richardson.
"I realize that this is not a life-and-death situation, nor is it the end of my career," said Johnson. "I am now headed down a new path and I prefer to think of this as a blessing in disguise."
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