- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2000

Washington Wizards director of basketball operations Michael Jordan is close to a deal that would make University of Miami basketball coach Leonard Hamilton the team's next coach, according to a source close to the situation.

The source said the deal would pay Hamilton close to $10 million over the next five seasons. It is similar to the contract the Atlanta Hawks and former University of Illinois coach Lon Kruger reportedly agreed to last month.

Neither Jordan nor general manager Wes Unseld was available for comment.

According to the source, discussions with Hamilton have been ongoing since conversations collapsed between the Wizards and St. John's University coach Mike Jarvis.

However, some sticking points remain in the negotiations. For starters, Hamilton, 51, signed a contract extension with Miami in April believed worth nearly $1 million annually over the next eight seasons. According to the source, Miami might be willing to let Hamilton out of his contract if the Wizards buy it out. Just how much that would cost is unknown.

In 10 seasons at Miami, Hamilton has led the Hurricanes to a 141-145 record. However, Hamilton re-energized the almost-dead program the last three seasons, leading Miami to two straight 20-win seasons and three straight appearances in the NCAA tournaments. In 1995 Hamilton was voted UPI and Big East coach of the year after the Hurricanes improved from 7-20 to 15-13, the biggest single-season improvement in Big East history.

Before that Hamilton spent four years as coach at Oklahoma State, where he led the Cowboys to a 56-53 record. The Cowboys were 8-20 in his first season.

Hamilton is believed to be the second candidate with whom the Wizards have entered into serious discussions concerning the job, which became vacant at the conclusion of the regular season. Jordan fired Gar Heard at midseason after a disastrous first half and hired Darrell Walker as interim coach. After the season, Jordan decided Walker would fit better in the front office.

Discussions with Jarvis were serious but Jarvis' agent, Rob Ades, ruined any chance the former George Washington University coach had at getting the job with outrageous contract demands, according to a source close to the situation. The Washington-based attorney scoffed at the Wizards' opening offer of a four-year deal worth about $2.3 million a season. According to the source, Ades countered by asking for an astronomical $28 million over seven seasons, ultimately ruining Jarvis' chances.

Jordan, who is in Chicago at the predraft camp with Unseld, originally wanted a coach in place by the May 21 draft lottery. However, the discussions with Ades collapsed two days later. Jordan revealed at a news conference May 21 he was in fact talking to a "mystery candidate" about the job. Jordan has indicated he does not necessarily want to hire a coach with previous NBA experience, and it is believed Jordan would prefer a coach from the collegiate ranks.

Hamilton is one of five candidates the Wizards reportedly have spoken to since the season ended. They talked to former Atlanta coach Lenny Wilkens, but Wilkens all but removed himself from the running when he incorrectly stated the team had already offered him the job.

Washington also talked to John Paxson, Jordan's former Chicago teammate and a Chicago broadcaster with ESPN. Paxson said he was not interested in the job. Jordan also spoke with Rod Higgins recently named assistant general manager in the organization, and Walker.

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