- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2000

Leonard Hamilton will be the new coach of the Washington Wizards.

Hamilton has accepted the job, and his negotiations with the Wizards and president of basketball operations Michael Jordan is a "done deal," a league source said yesterday.

The official announcement is expected early this week, perhaps as soon as today, depending on Jordan's schedule.

Neither Jordan nor Hamilton, the coach at the University of Miami for the last 10 years, was available for comment yesterday.

The door was opened over the weekend for Hamilton to join the Wizards when he agreed to pay the university $1 million to let him escape his new seven-year contract, worth a minimum of $750,000 a year. Hamilton signed the contract extension in April. The university originally had asked for $2 million, which upset Hamilton.

The Washington Times has learned, however, that the Wizards might pay $500,000 of the buyout and Hamilton the balance.

With the Wizards, the 51-year-old Hamilton will sign a five-year contract, four of which are guaranteed, that will pay him $2 million a year. Incentive clauses potentially make the deal worth even more.

But this wasn't about money; Hamilton's package at Miami was close to what he will earn with the Wizards. And although Hamilton has said he has wanted to coach in the NBA, it was not a burning desire. What apparently clinched the deal was Jordan himself. Hamilton reportedly would not have accepted the job if not for Jordan's involvement with the Wizards.

Hamilton met with his players and talked to incoming recruits, and the reaction reportedly was positive.

This was not an act of impulse. Hamilton had been weighing the pros and cons, soliciting the advice of a few close friends, including some coaches. He told the Miami Herald on Saturday he has "wrestled with the decision all week."

According to a source familiar with the situation, Hamilton might have been more favorably inclined to remain at Miami if the school had not played hardball with him over the buyout.

Miami athletic director Paul Dee, who was involved in the buyout negotiations, told the Herald he expected Hamilton to leave.

Referring to Jordan, Dee said, "When the personification of your sport calls and asks you to be his coach, it's hard to say no."

However, one who did say no was St. John's coach Mike Jarvis, who turned down the Wizards and Jordan when the parties could not agree on money. Jordan then turned to Hamilton, contacting him that same day.

The Wizards are coming off a miserable season during which the newly appointed Jordan fired first-year coach Gar Heard and replaced him with interim coach Darrell Walker, who subsequently took a front-office job.

Hamilton has a daunting task ahead of him. The Wizards went 29-53, and there is little hope for great change in the near future. Veterans Rod Strickland, Juwan Howard and Mitch Richmond all carry bloated salaries that make them difficult to trade because of the salary cap. And the upcoming draft will be of little help; the Wizards must wait until the 35th pick before making their selection.

Hamilton, however, is convinced he can make a difference. A two-time Big East Conference coach of the year, he virtually built the Miami program from scratch, turning a non-entity into a league power that reached the NCAA Tournament the last three years and the Sweet 16 last year. The team he put together for this season is expected to contend for the conference championship.

Once an assistant coach at Kentucky under Joe B. Hall, Hamilton was the coach at Oklahoma State for four years before coming to Miami in 1990, a year before the program joined the Big East. His career record was 144-147, but that's misleading. During his first four seasons, Miami went 34-80. In the last six, the record was 110-67, and interest in Hurricanes basketball grew to such an extent that plans for a new, on-campus arena are in the works.

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