Pitino Poised to Throw Dough at DeClercq

July 15, 1997

Focusing on their most glaring need, the Celtics are close to signing free agent center Andrew DeClercq to a multiyear contract, a source said.

Celtics general manager Chris Wallace would not confirm yesterday whether a deal with DeClercq was imminent, but the source said a verbal agreement had already been reached. The Celtics' deal is expected to earn the 6-foot-10 former Golden State Warriors reserve $ 8.4 million over five years.

Celtics coach and president Rick Pitino was unavailable for comment. Joel Bell, DeClercq's agent, did not return phone messages. Pitino, who has conducted a major facelift of the Celtics' roster since taking over in May, reportedly met with DeClercq over the weekend while his team participated in the Atlanta Summer Shootout League.

The signing of DeClercq would mark the second time in a week Pitino has dipped into the free agent pool to address his biggest personnel concern. After they signed 7-footer Travis Knight to a seven-year, $ 22 million contract last Monday, Pitino and Wallace made it clear the Celtics were not done.

Wallace, though he wouldn't comment on specific negotiations with DeClercq, echoed that sentiment yesterday.

"We did not acquire Travis Knight under the assumption he was the sole answer up front," said Wallace. "We felt Travis Knight was a good start, but we know we've got to get some more frontcourt people in here. Travis is a piece of a bigger puzzle that will be put together over time."

DeClercq, 24, will be a similar piece of that puzzle when his signing becomes official. Like Knight, he is a beneficiary of a market short on quality big men - particularly those capable of thriving in the up-tempo style employed by Pitino.

Knight, a rookie last year, and DeClercq, who finished his second NBA season, each got the bulk of their playing time during the second half of the season. Shifting between power forward and center, they proved to be valuable frontcourt reserves. They will be asked to contribute considerably more with the Celtics.

"He runs the court the way you want a big man to do it in this type of system," said Wallace, offering a scouting report on DeClercq. "He also plays extremely hard. I think he fits the profile (of a player geared for Pitino's style)."

DeClercq, a former star at the University of Florida, was the Warriors' second-round draft choice (No. 34 overall) in 1995. After playing sparingly during his rookie year, he averaged 5.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 15 minutes last season. He appeared in 71 games.

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