- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

LOS ANGELES The only thing that stands between Leonard Hamilton becoming coach of the Washington Wizards is a buyout of his University of Miami contract, estimated at $2 million.

Hamilton has been in negotiations with Wizards president of basketball operations Michael Jordan for at least two weeks, and the two sides have agreed in principle on an incentive-laden contract with a base compensation of $10 million over the next five years.

According to sources with knowledge of the talks, Miami would like the Wizards to pay the buyout. That same source said the Wizards have agreed to put up at least $500,000 toward the remainder of Hamilton's contract. Hamilton has seven years left on an extension he signed last season that pays him close to $800,000 annually.

One source said that the university is holding up the process, and added that Miami has "made the process more difficult than it should be." The source cited the fact that Hamilton has built the program from almost nothing and turned it into a "force" in the Big East Conference. The same source indicated that when Miami football coaches Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson wanted out of their contracts to pursue jobs in the NFL, the university was much more accommodating.

Miami athletic director Paul Dee addressed the situation for the first time yesterday. He expressed hope that Hamilton might not take the Wizards job but said nothing about a buyout.

"I hope what's holding him up is that he wants to stay here," Dee said.

Dee said the university is looking into whether Hamilton could be released from his contract.

Jordan, who participated in a Chicago area golf tournament yesterday, made it clear that Hamilton is the candidate the organization has zeroed in on. Just two weeks ago, negotiations fell apart between the Wizards and Mike Jarvis, the former George Washington University coach.

"He is certainly the leading candidate as of right now," Jordan said. "Contrary to what you guys may be reading or speculating, I'm still in the process [of seeking a coach]. We've had some great conversations."

Jordan said he "didn't know the time frame" for hiring a coach. The announcement of any deal between the Wizards and Hamilton appears to be at least several away.

Last season Hamilton coached the Hurricanes to their first appearance in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

"He's just been wonderful for this program. Certainly that's what makes him attractive for the NBA," Dee said. "I can't say enough about Leonard Hamilton. It would be difficult to lose somebody at that level, especially given the respect he has among fans, the university and his players. I think Leonard really is torn."

Hamilton, 51, has never coached in the NBA. He left Oklahoma State to take over at Miami in 1990 and turned around a struggling program.

The Hurricanes went 23-11 last season, their sixth straight winning season and third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

Hamilton was coach of the year in the Big East after the 1998-99 season, when Miami went 23-6 overall and 15-3 in the conference. It was Miami's first 20-win season since 1964-65. In 14 years of college coaching, Hamilton has a 200-210 record. In 10 seasons at Miami, he is 144-147.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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