Originally created 02/22/01

Hawks may be close to trading Mutombo



ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks confirmed Wednesday that trade talks involving center Dikembe Mutombo have intensified as Thursday's NBA trade deadline nears.

"Yes, discussions about Mutombo have been going on, but they've been going on since last July," said Pete Babcock, Hawks' general manager. "And still nothing may happen, but things have heated up dramatically the last 24 to 48 hours."

Although Babcock would not confirm it, Philadelphia is believed to be the main team involved in negotiations. The 76ers also declined to comment.

"Team policy is that we don't comment on trade rumors," 76ers spokeswoman Karen Frascona said.

The Atlanta Constitution reported Wednesday that the 76ers would send center Theo Ratliff and forward Toni Kukoc to the Hawks for the 7-foot-2 Mutombo before Thursday's 6 p.m. deadline.

"I can't comment on that," said Babcock, admitting that "things have escalated the last few days."

The New York Knicks and Portland Trail Blazers also have expressed interest in Mutombo, who missed the first five games of the season with a mild case of malaria, but is leading the league in rebound average (14 per game) and is averaging 9 points a game.

Mutombo, a three-time defensive player of the year, will become a free agent July 1. He has a $14.4 million salary this season.

Ratliff, the league's top shot-blocker at 3.74 a game, has a fractured right wrist. He's expected to be out four weeks. Ratliff, who has missed four games, is averaging 12.4 points and 8.3 rebounds a game.

Kukoc, who has started only four games this season, is averaging 8.1 points and 3.4 rebounds a game.

Babcock said the Hawks would be happy to keep Mutombo although Atlanta is struggling with an 18-36 record.

"If it works out and Dikembe stays, that's great for us," Babcock said. "We'd love to have him finish his career here. But if we can make a trade by (Thursday) to better our team in the future, we'd do that."