SEATTLE (AP) -Rashard Lewis' promise became reality.
Lewis' agent said Friday night that the SuperSonics' longest-tenured player and second-leading scorer had officially opted out of the final two years of his Seattle contract. That makes him eligible for free agency beginning on July 1, but doesn't necessarily end his career with the Sonics.
``It gives him options. And this is what free agency is for,'' agent Tony Dutt said in Houston, after officially informing the Sonics in writing what Lewis had promised before the end of the just-completed season.
The Sonics have one advantage over the rest of the NBA with Lewis now in free agency: They are the only team who can offer him a six-year contract.
``It was in his contract that he could become a free agent. And you can't blame him for wanting to see what's out there,'' Sonics president of basketball operations Lenny Wilkens said last month. ``But that won't stop us from trying to get it done.''
When asked if he has been negotiating with the Sonics, despite Seattle not having a general manager or a coach right now, Dutt said, ``We've been in contact (with Wilkens). We'll probably stay in contact on and off until July 1.''
Lewis, who turns 28 in August, left $21 million behind in his Sonics contract. He is considered to be one of the NBA's most attractive free agent this summer. The market will include Chauncey Billups, Gerald Wallace and possibly Vince Carter - if Carter does what Lewis did and opts of out his contract with the New Jersey Nets.
``I'm excited about where I stand in the NBA,'' Lewis said last month, immediately after his ninth season in Seattle ended in a 31-51 mess.
Lewis could get offers of five years for perhaps $15 million per year, after averaging 22.4 points last season despite a hand injury that caused him to miss 22 games. Yet he said he will give Seattle first opportunity to give him a sweet deal.
``Oh, yeah. I've been here since the team drafted me (in 1998). They have faith in me,'' Lewis said last month.
``My heart will always be here - even if I play somewhere else.''
The 2005 All-Star returned from his six-week absence last season to lead the team while All-Star shooter Ray Allen was injured.
``He's earned that right to be at the top of the market,'' Dutt said. ``I think teams will move pretty quickly to sign him (after July 1). He is about the top free agent out there.''
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