Dikembe Mutombo was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, which has led to a lot of remembrances of his career from all corners of the basketball world. The franchise he’s most commonly associated with is the Nuggets, who let him walk as a free agent in 1996. Nearly 20 years later, former Nuggets GM Bernie Bickerstaff expressed regret over that decision to Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post:
In negotiations with the Nuggets, Mutombo’s agent, David Falk, was seeking a 10-year deal, Bickerstaff said.
“That’s something we should have done,” he said. “We tried. We offered it, but ownership didn’t want to go that far out, in terms of a 10-year deal. It’s like when Magic got that long deal, everyone was asking ‘Why would you do that?’ That was a terrific deal when you start talking about the present value of money. But that’s really the only regret you had, that you didn’t (re-sign) him.”
According to Bickerstaff there was a lot of work being done behind the scenes to secure Mutombo’s stay in Denver.
“David Falk and those guys, they tried to work with us because Mutombo, he wanted to stay,” Bickerstaff said. “Falk tried to work with us in terms of trying to acquire other players (to clear money). The organization at the time just didn’t have the resources. It’s that simple. Because if we could have kept that group together, that was a pretty good team.”
Mutombo signed with the Hawks in 1996 and went on to win three more Defensive Player of the Year awards and make five more All-Star teams throughout his career. The most interesting part of the anecdote about his negotiations with the Nuggets is the idea of a 10-year contract, which hasn’t been allowed in the CBA since the 1999 lockout. It’s understandable why a team would have reservations over committing that many years to a player, but in hindsight, Mutombo would have lived up to that deal.