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Wizards To Announce Hiring Hamilton

WASHINGTON (AP) — The negotiations are finally done, and the Washington Wizards finally have a new coach in Leonard Hamilton.

The team was to announce the hiring of the University of Miami coach at an afternoon news conference Wednesday.

The move ends some three weeks of talks involving Hamilton, Miami officials and Michael Jordan, the NBA team's president of basketball operations.

Hamilton becomes the Wizards' fifth coach in three seasons. Bernie Bickerstaff was fired during the strike-shortened 1999 season and replaced on an interim basis by Jim Brovelli. Gar Heard was fired in January and replaced by another interim, Darrell Walker.

Jordan fired Heard shortly after joining the Wizards front office Jan. 19, but the hiring of Hamilton is His Airness' biggest management decision.

The search was long and not always smooth. Lenny Wilkens, the NBA's career leader victories, said he had been offered the job when he hadn't, and St. John's coach Mike Jarvis turned down Jordan in a disagreement over money.

Jordan then focused on Hamilton, but Hamilton couldn't take the job unless he found a way to get out of his new seven-year, $5.5 million contract extension with Miami. Hamilton agreed Saturday to buy out the contract for $1 million.

Hamilton, 51, reportedly has agreed to a five-year, $10 million deal with the Wizards, with the first four years guaranteed.

Ten years ago, Hamilton took over a struggling Miami program and turned it into a winner, but not after five years of rebuilding. The task he faces with the Wizards is similarly daunting, if not more so.

The Wizards are 47-85 over the last two seasons and haven't won a playoff game in 12 years. Their only postseason appearance since 1988 was a three-game, first-round sweep by Chicago in 1997.

The Wizards are in need of a roster overhaul, but the huge salaries of underachieving veterans Juwan Howard, Rod Strickland and Mitch Richmond make it nearly impossible for Jordan to move players under the league's salary cap guidelines. Furthermore, the Wizards do not have a first-round draft choice this year.
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