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Time Running Out on Walton’s Job Search

Times Staff Writer

Bill Walton’s three-month fling with free agency will end today, and it appears that he will not deliver the Clippers an offer sheet from another National Basketball Assn. team.

Walton, the Clippers’ 32-year-old center, has a clause in the four-year contract he signed last September that allows him to seek free agency if the Clippers fail to make the playoffs. That clause applies to every season of the contract.

So, when the Clippers missed the playoffs last spring, Walton became a free agent. According to terms of the contract, Walton has until the end of July to present an offer sheet.

Unless the Lakers work fast and draw up a contract, or the Boston Celtics find a way around salary cap restrictions, Walton will be a Clipper again starting Thursday.

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Gary Vandeweghe, Walton’s adviser, said Monday that it was unlikely that Walton would sign an offer sheet. “There’s always a chance something might happen before Wednesday,” Vandeweghe said. “But it’s not as likely as it was a few weeks ago.”

Even so, Carl Scheer, Clipper general manager is not ready to say that Walton’s free agency is over.

“I wouldn’t say I’m sweating it out, but I am apprehensive,” he said. “I think I know what Boston can or can’t do. I have a pretty good line on that. I know they can’t make an offer until they do something with (veteran forward Cedric) Maxwell and his ($800,000) contract. So, I don’t have to worry about an offer sheet from them.

“But I don’t know what the Lakers are thinking. I keep hearing different things. But when I talked to Jerry West at the fights at the Forum (last week), he said he wasn’t interested. I don’t know. The salary cap has put a limit on what teams can do.”

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Even if Walton doesn’t sign an offer sheet, it still is possible that he may not be a Clipper next season. For the last two months, the Clippers and Celtics have been discussing a trade that would send Walton to Boston for Maxwell.

The condition of Maxwell’s injured left knee, which required surgery in the spring and hampered his ability in the playoffs, held up the deal in June. The Clippers gave Maxwell a physical and found that his injured left knee was 25% weaker than his right knee, so Scheer balked at completing the trade.

Maxwell recently spent three weeks in Los Angeles rehabilitating his knee. Dr. Tony Daly, the Clippers’ team physician, re-examined Maxwell recently and told Scheer that Maxwell had greatly improved the strength in his injured knee. Still, the negotiations are stalled, and Scheer said he doesn’t know when they will start again.

“It’s the terms of the contract that both sides disagree,” Scheer said. “Each side feels (the other is asking too much). Also, there’s not a uniform support base in our organization to do the deal. I consider myself on the side that we should keep Bill, and (owner) Donald Sterling is also. We remember that Walton was a part of the limited success we had last year.

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“Not that we won’t trade him if a good deal comes along. Bill has made comments that he doesn’t want to play here and that he’d really want to play for Boston. That’s his desire. I would hope that we could mend our relationship.”

Vandeweghe said that, despite a recent wire service story quoting Walton as saying he wants to get away from the Clippers, Walton is happy in Los Angeles.

“Bill is a Clipper,” Vandeweghe said. “He wouldn’t mind at all playing for the Clippers.”

Scheer said that he will be able to relax after Walton’s deadline passes tonight. But if the Clippers fail to make the playoffs again next season, Walton will again have the option to become a free agent.

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“He has that window each year in his contract,” Scheer said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to put everyone through this again next year. We just have to make the playoffs.”


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