The spur of the moment cross-country trip by general manger Ernie Grunfeld, coach Eddie Jordan and assistant Phil Hubbard appears to have moved the Washington Wizards to the front of the line in the Gilbert Arenas sweepstakes.
"It was a great meeting, perhaps one of the best we've had so far," a source close to Arenas said of Monday's session in Los Angeles. The source said Arenas, a restricted free agent of the Golden State Warriors, was particularly impressed with the offensive system Jordan implemented as an assistant in New Jersey and is trying to implement in Washington.
"I don't want to give daily updates on how meetings go with different players," Grunfeld said. "But it was a good meeting."
Of the Wizards triumvirate, Hubbard is the most familiar with Arenas. He was an assistant in Golden State last season, when the 6-foot-3 Arenas was named the league's most improved player.
Teams officially can begin signing players today. However, Arenas, according to sources, won't make a quick decision on his future.
The Wizards became even more attractive to Arenas yesterday when the NBA informed teams it was raising the salary cap from $40.3 million to $43.8 million. Before that, the Wizards had approximately $6.5 million in cap space for next season. The new number will give them about $9 million, which means not only would they have enough room to sign Arenas, they would have money possibly to pursue another free agent.
Teams exceeding $53 million in payroll for the 2002-03 season will have to pay a luxury tax equal to the amount by which they exceed that figure.
The Miami Heat have more cash available to sign free agents than the Wizards and are interested in Arenas. However, one league source said Arenas does not like coach Pat Riley's deliberate system.
Last season Arenas averaged 18.3 points and 6.3 assists. He has gained the reputation of being a shoot-first point guard. However, Grunfeld likes what he sees.
"He averaged more than six assists last year," Grunfeld said. "I don't see any problems there."
The need for a quality point guard is the Wizards' top offseason priority. And now there are reports that Tyronn Lue, the starter at the end of the season, will sign with the Orlando Magic today.
In the early stages of their search, the Wizards appeared interested in San Antonio's Speedy Claxton and Kevin Ollie, who played for Milwaukee, where Grunfeld was the general manager last season. However, Claxton also is drawing interest from other teams that were impressed with his play in the NBA Finals, and Ollie has agreed to a five-year, $15 million contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Wizards also were interested in Eric Strickland, who reportedly has agreed to a contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. Other guards still available include Kenny Anderson, Darrell Armstrong and former Wizard Chris Whitney.