At 12:01 a.m. on July 1, a minute after the NBA allowed teams to
begin negotiating with free agents, general manager Bob Bass was
on the phone with David Wesley's agent, Frank Catapano. After
only a few hours they had hammered out a seven-year, $20 million
deal. "No question about it, he was our Number 1 choice at point
guard," Bass said. "He's a veteran player, but he's young enough
to lead a team for a long time."
The news thrilled the 26-year-old Wesley, who was excited by the
money (he made $350,000 last season with the Celtics) and by the
opportunity to play for a contender (Boston was 82-163 in his
three years there). He did worry, however, about how he would be
received by fans in Charlotte, where 5'3" Muggsy Bogues, one of
the original Hornets and the most popular player in franchise
history, had two years remaining on his contract. Even though
the response to Wesley at Charlotte Coliseum during the
preseason was overwhelmingly positive, he has nevertheless been
careful to avoid saying or doing anything that might offend
Bogues or his backers.
At 32 Bogues is trying to hang on despite a left knee that has
no cartilage remaining. "We've got to see if the knee is going
to hold up," says Bass. "He missed 17 games last year, and there
were a lot of other games where he'd play eight or 10 or 12
minutes and not be able to go back." The Hornets would like
Bogues to retire and gracefully move into the front office,
opening the way for Wesley and for second-year sub Tony Delk,
who needs playing time at the point if he's to continue to make
the transition from shooting guard. Whatever happens with
Bogues, however, Wesley isn't going to let it bother him.
"People are making more of it than it really is," he says.
"Muggsy wants to play; I want to play. I know the fans are going
to go wild whenever Muggsy comes into the game. But they'll
appreciate what I can do. It's just a changing of the guard."
Indeed, with the signing of Wesley and shooting guard Bobby
Phills from Cleveland (seven years, $33 million), the Hornets
have completed the rebuilding of their lineup that began with
the acquisition of swingman Glen Rice from the Heat in November
1995. Trades for center Vlade Divac (from the Lakers) and power
forward Anthony Mason (from the Knicks) followed. Now, says
coach Dave Cowens, Charlotte has a starting five that "has no
glaring weaknesses." Moreover, the bench is bigger and better
than ever, thanks to 7-foot Matt Geiger and to 6'9" J.R. Reid,
who's in his second stint with the Hornets after playing last
year in France.
When Wesley thinks about the possibilities, he smiles. "This
seems to be a good place to be," he says. "It's the first time
I've had this many weapons to go to when I lead the charge.
Coach Cowens keeps telling us, 'We're going to run, we're going
to run,' and I like that, too."
Undrafted out of Baylor despite being the Southwest Conference
MVP as a senior in 1992, Wesley came up the hard way. He spent a
year with Wichita Falls of the CBA, then a season as Kenny
Anderson's backup in New Jersey. He joined the Celtics in 1994
and blossomed, playing so well that Boston traded Sherman
Douglas in 1995-96 and benched Dana Barros the year after. Last
season Wesley averaged 16.8 points while ranking fifth in the
league in steals (2.19), sixth in minutes (40.5) and 12th in
assists (7.3). "In the last two years," says former Celtics
assistant coach John Kuester, who is in the same capacity with
the 76ers, "he's made as big a leap as a player can."
One reason that Bass liked the 6-foot, 198-pound Wesley is his
strength. "Our trainer told me he's got a 48-inch chest, the
biggest on the team," Bass says. Wesley is a better rebounder,
tougher defender and more accurate shooter than Bogues. "He's
more concerned with running the offense right now," says Bass,
"but, as we go along, he's going to be an excellent scorer."
Despite the awkward situation with Bogues, Wesley is tickled to
be the floor leader of what should be the best team in the
franchise's 10-year history.
--WILLIAM F. REED