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Default 07-18-2001, 09:03 PM

Johnson will back up Van Exel

Associated Press

DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets confirmed Wednesday they had agreed to contract terms with free-agent point guard Avery Johnson, although it wasn't official until the NBA and the players' union reached agreement on a new salary cap.

"Avery is done," Nuggets director of media relations Tommy Sheppard said. "Whenever the league and the players' association announce what the cap number is, we'll announce that we've signed Avery Johnson."

Six hours later, the league and union resolved their standoff, raising the salary cap to $42.5 million.

Johnson was offered a three-year deal worth an estimated $14.4 million to join the Nuggets as the backup to Nick Van Exel.

Johnson received the Nuggets' midlevel exception, which was expected to be worth $4.5 million for the first year.

Free agents were eligible to begin signing contracts on Wednesday.

Before the league and the players' union agreed on the new salary cap, the limit increased on an interim basis Wednesday morning from $35.5 million to only $35.96 million.

For the past several days, Johnson and his wife Cassandra have remained in Denver, looking for a home and for schools for their two children.

Johnson, 36, who played for the Nuggets in 1990-91, won an NBA title in 1999 with the San Antonio Spurs, for whom he played the last seven seasons. He started 20 games for the Spurs last season, averaging 5.6 points and 4.3 assists, and he provides solid leadership.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets continued to negotiate with Kiki Vandeweghe, the front-runner to become the team's new general manager.

Vandeweghe, currently the Dallas Mavericks' director of player development, interviewed for an assistant-coach position with the Nuggets last month but indicated a desire to get into management.

Vandeweghe, who played for Denver in 1980-84, met with Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke for a second time Tuesday night. Nuggets president and head coach Dan Issel said a third meeting is planned this week.

"I talked with Stan and Kiki this morning, and they both sound optimistic that we can work something out," Issel said. "We want Kiki here. If it's in the role of general manager, we'll have to surround him with some experienced people. If we can come up with some position that combines his player-development skills and his desire to work in the front office, I think he'd like to be with us.

"Kiki brings a lot of things to the table. He's one of the premier player-development people in this league right now. He gets a lot of credit for the improvement that Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash showed this past season. He's very bright, and he knows a lot of people around the league."

Issel said there was "not as much immediacy" in reaching agreement with a general manager as in signing free agents.

Free-agent forward Samaki Walker was scheduled to visit Wednesday with the Nuggets, who could offer him a $1.3 million exception contract.

However, Issel said Walker's best deal "probably is going to be in Los Angeles" with the Lakers, who might offer Walker more money.


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