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Harris' work never finished
by Gery Woelfel / July 19, 2004

Bucks GM Larry Harris has worked nonstop since he and other NBA general managers were able to begin pursuing free agents on July 1. He has talked to a spate of agents and their clients, not to mention other NBA personnel.

Wednesday, Harris awoke at 5:30 a.m., then caught a plane out of Milwaukee for Washington D.C., and returned to his home late that evening. The purpose of Harris' journey was to continue his courtship of Washington Wizards big man Etan Thomas.

Thomas is the Bucks' primary free-agent target, and Harris spent several hours with him in the nation's capital. Harris then took a 15-minute cab ride to the Wizards' headquarters and presented them with a copy of the offer sheet that was given to Thomas. The offer sheet is believed to be for six-years for $37 million.

Harris expended a lot of time and energy on formulating the offer sheet, which contains various incentives that figure to be relatively attainable for Thomas and would catapult him into another tax bracket.

"I gave him the most we could give him,'' Harris said. "We gave him everything we could.'' Harris has delivered his best pitch.

Now, he can only wait. The Wizards have 15 days in which to decide whether to match the offer sheet. The gut feeling here is Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld will take his good-natured time, and then decide to retain his talented young power forward/center.

But don't think for a second Harris is going to sit around twiddling his thumbs. The man is driven. He burns to succeed and, for that to happen, he is fully cognizant that even if he lands Thomas, the Bucks still have other issues.

That's why Harris, after his flight was delayed in Washington, D.C., had his cell-phone planted to his ear.

"While I was sitting in the airport, I went through three cellphone batteries,'' Harris said. "I have never done that.'' Not many people have. But Harris is exploring every avenue to achieve his goals of upgrading the Bucks' roster. There have been times in recent weeks where Harris would contact an agent and discuss at length the situation of a player, even though Harris didn't have any intention of signing that player.

The reason Harris did so was to gauge that player's value and use it as a comparison in dealing with the players he covets.

While Thomas is unequivocally Harris' priority free-agent recruit, Harris has his sights on some other players, primarily guards. Harris would like to re-sign Damon Jones, who played so admirably after taking over the starting point guard duties for the injured TJ Ford, but the Bucks may not have the financial wherewithal to keep him.

That may force Harris to look elsewhere. Mike James of the champion Detroit Pistons is an intriguing candidate, especially now that the Pistons have signe European standout Carlos Delfino. Bob Sura of the Atlanta Hawks is another interesting prospect, although he also figures to be too expensive.

And there are some veteran point guards who are still available via free agency, ones who could provide solid backup play and vital leadership – like Kenny Anderson, Charlie Ward and Travis Best.

"I need some point guards,'' Harris said.

"If there's someone who is ready to commit for $1.6 million, we won't hesitate on doing it.'' The $1.6 million is the amount of an exception the Bucks, like all teams, have to sign free agents. The Bucks also have an additional $2.4 million at their disposal after trading center Joel Przybilla to Atlanta last February. With the latter money, a free agent could re-sign with his own team and then be traded to the Bucks for a future draft pick.

So Harris has plenty of options.

He has every intention of determining which ones he'll select within the next two weeks.

Said Harris: "If everything works out, we'll have the core of our free agency done by the end of the month.''

Don't bet against that happening – unless he runs out of cellphone batteries.

Gery Woelfel covers the Milwaukee Bucks and the NBA for The Racine (Wis.) Journal Times

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