Celtics Dancing with DeClercq

July 15, 1997

The Celtics may not have any money to spend, but that unimportant technicality isn't stopping them from making deals.

Yesterday, it was learned that the team has reached an agreement in principle with free agent center/forward Andrew DeClercq, who played the last two years for the Golden State Warriors. The 6-foot-10-inch DeClercq will be on board for five years and $ 8.4 million.

In addition, the team also has an offer to free agent power forward Derek Strong for four years, probably in the same financial neighborhood. Strong also is considering re-signing with Orlando, but only for one year with the understanding he would be rewarded down the road.

How can the Celtics do this? These are contingency deals and hinge on the resolution of the Dino Radja mess, which yesterday appeared to be a happening thing. That could free up close to $ 3 million as Radja takes an offer to play in Greece. The Celtics conceivably could use that sum to sign both DeClercq and Strong.

The team also will get more money in mid-August when the new salary cap figures are implemented. That figure could be as much as $ 1.6 million.

So, clearly, settling the Radja situation is ultra-critical. Last Friday, Radja's agent, Marc Fleisher, said he thought the deal was basically dead. Yesterday, he was not nearly as pessimistic.

"We're getting closer," he said. "But I've been up and down this road so many times I don't know what to think. This should have been done a long time ago."

Celtics general manager Chris Wallace said last night that the matter is still being negotiated. "We're still talking," he said. "There is still some life in this thing. But from my experience, they can get protracted and take on a life of their own. We hope to have it settled soon."

That has been what the Celtics have been saying for the last two weeks, or ever since the Globe first reported that Radja was being courted by Panathinaikos. The holdup has been getting the sides to agree to a buyout, as Radja cannot earn in Europe what he is owed by the Celtics: $ 16.2 million over the next three years. Until that gets settled, everything else is on hold.

As for DeClercq, the Warriors were in no mad rush to re-sign him, having Adonal Foyle, Joe Smith, Felton Spencer, and Todd Fuller up front. DeClercq did play well down the stretch for Golden State last season, but was not in the team's plans for next year. Reportedly, they offered him two years for $ 1 million, total.

DeClercq told the San Jose Mercury News yesterday that nothing was final. However, he talked of the Celtics in the present tense and later, sources said, the Warriors were informed of the five-year agreement.

"Having watched coach Rick Pitino at Kentucky, I know how he coaches and I've gotten to see his style and his ability to take a team and make a winner out of it," DeClercq said. "It's going to afford me the chance to play."

DeClercq also was being pursued by the Lakers and Knicks, teams that can offer only the $ 1 million exception as part of a two-year, $ 2.15 million deal. The Sixers were in that position, too, but knew things were hopeless when DeClercq yesterday canceled his visit. The Celtics were in a position to go higher with their contingency offer. DeClercq and Pitino also met last Saturday for lunch in Atlanta; the free agent lives in Florida.

"I can't comment on any offer, but we have interest in him," Wallace said of DeClercq. "Rick knows him well. And you don't have to be a basketball guru to know that we have some holes up front."

DeClercq appeared in 71 games for the Warriors, averaging 5.3 points and 4 rebounds a game. He earned $ 276,000 last year and is somewhat similar in style to Travis Knight. Both players can rebound, run the floor, and DeClercq also can pick up garbage points around the basket.

Strong's situation is not much different than it has been for days. He has an offer from Boston, but he also has support in Orlando, notably from teammate Penny Hardaway. Strong's options are a one-year deal this season with Orlando for around $ 300,000 and then a hoped-for raise to $ 2.6 million and $ 3.1 million the following two years under the Early Bird exception. That would give him $ 6 million over three years, which is in the same ballpark as what the Celtics are offering. However, the Celtics' offer would be valid. The Magic's would be hypothetical.

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