Divac ready to sign multiyear deal

Updated: July 20, 2004, 3:02 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Vlade Divac has reached an agreement to rejoin the Los Angeles Lakers, who called an afternoon news conference Tuesday to announce the signing.

Vlade Divac
Getty ImagesThe cost-cutting Kings' fears have been realized: Vlade Divac is not just leaving -- he's back on the Lakers' payroll.

Divac, an unrestricted free agent, received a two-year contract that will pay him the Lakers' full $4.9 million mid-level exception next year.

After deciding to return to L.A., Divac joined his close friend and teammate Peja Stojakovic on Monday at a basketball camp they run in Sacramento.

"Obviously he's sad," Divac said of Stojakovic. "But he knows how to work now [in the NBA].

"I had a great time [in Sacramento]. This is a community that will always be a part of me. The people are wonderful. They made me an even better player, just like L.A. did in my first seven years."

Sacramento co-owner Joe Maloof told ESPN.com last week that he feared losing Divac to the Lakers because the Kings, for the second successive summer, are trying to reduce payroll to avoid future luxury-tax payments. The strategy, however, could backfire if there is no luxury tax after next season, as some teams are forecasting.

Maloof insisted then that the Kings didn't want to part with Divac, a fan favorite who doubles as Sacramento's locker-room glue and as a surrogate brother to Stojakovic. Yet Sacramento was reluctant to offer more than $2.5 million as it tries to gets its payroll as far below $60 million as it can. The Kings carried a payroll of nearly $65 million last season, resulting in nearly $10 million in luxury tax. Divac earned $12.1 million last season in completing a six-year pact worth nearly $63 million.

Divac concedes that rejoining the Lakers now after so many bitter Sacramento-L.A. battles in recent seasons won't be the easiest move. "I know how people (in Sacramento) feel about the Lakers," he said.

He quickly adds, though, that playing in Los Angeles for his original team is the most comfortable decision for his family.

"I played for the Lakers for seven years and for the Kings for six years," Divac said. "Both teams have a special place in my heart."

Divac averaged 9.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 28.6 minutes per game last season before his playoff minutes were cut in a run-and-gun series with Dallas in the first round. He has flirted with the idea of finishing his career with one season at a top European club in Italy or Spain -- so his kids can experience full-time European life -- but Divac insists that "I know I can be productive [in the NBA] for one or two more years."

"A friend of mine said it would be kind of nice to finish with the team I started with," Divac said.

The Suns were pursuing the 7-foot-1 center, but their free-agent funds are tied up through July 29 after signing Clippers restricted free agent Quentin Richardson to an offer sheet. And Divac, who also considered signing with the Clippers, wanted to make a decision by Monday or Tuesday.

The Lakers brought Divac to the United States from the former Yugoslavia as the No. 26 overall pick in the '89 draft as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's replacement. They traded him to Charlotte in 1996 for the draft rights to Kobe Bryant in a move also aimed at creating some of the salary-cap space that led to the signing of Shaquille O'Neal. Eight years later, knowing firsthand that Divac is aware of what it's like to succeed a legend, the Lakers targeted him to team with Bryant and help fill the mammoth void created by last week's trade of O'Neal to Miami.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics