For much of the summer, Mitch Richmond's future seemed to lie almost anywhere but Washington. That changed Tuesday as he signed a four-year, $40-million contract with the Wizards to become the highest-paid shooting guard in the NBA.
"Hopefully my jersey is washed," Richmond joked to assistant equipment manager Jerry Walter after he returned to the MCI Center.
The Wizards and Richmond's agent reached agreement last week after stalled negotiations, which puts Richmond ahead of shooting guards Reggie Miller, Kobe Bryant, Latrell Sprewell and Ray Allen each of whom will make about $9 million this season.
"What can you say?" Richmond said. "I thought that I played a lot of years in this league. You never know when it's going to come, but you want to keep playing and let things handle themselves."
Last season, Richmond's first with the Wizards, the 34-year-old guard led the team in scoring, averaging 19.7 points a game.
But that scoring average was also the lowest of Richmond's career. The team had a rocky season, finishing 18-32 and without a shot at the playoffs.
This season, Richmond predicts a turnaround.
"I felt we were a playoff-caliber team last year, but things didn't go our way," Richmond said. "This year definitely I think we'll be a lot better team. I think we are a playoff team."
The Wizards acquired Richmond in May 1998 in a trade with Sacramento, where he played for seven years. After he became a free agent at the end of last season, Richmond looked ready to leave Washington when contract talks stalled over money.
Richmond's agent fielded offers from as many as eight teams, including deals that would have required the Wizards to sign and trade Richmond.
"When you are applying for a job, you want to really seek out all options," Richmond said. "... They explored all options, and we explored all options, and we found out the best alternative
Washington general manager Wes Unseld said in a statement that retaining Richmond was "a top-priority."
"Mitch is one of the top shooting guards in the NBA, and with point guard Rod Strickland we retain one of the best backcourts in the league," Unseld said.
The Wizards have yet to sign another shooting guard, Richard Hamilton, selected seventh overall in the June draft. Hamilton agreed to a three-year, $5.9 million deal last month, but fired his agent before it was signed.
Hamilton's new agent, Bill Strickland, said he expected a new deal to be worked out soon.
"Wes and I plan to get together very shortly to continue the dialogue," Strickland said. "I don't anticipae much in the way of problems."
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