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Pistons find replacement for star center

| Wednesday, July 5, 2006

DETROIT -- The Detroit Pistons are already moving on without Ben Wallace.

A day after losing Wallace to the Chicago Bulls, the Pistons reached an agreement with free-agent center Nazr Mohammed on Tuesday, a person within the NBA said.

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because NBA free agents can't officially sign contracts until July 12, said the team and Mohammed made a verbal pact on a five-year contract -- with the final year being an option -- that will pay him about $5 million next season.

Mohammed started in 30 of 80 games last season for the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 6.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound center will likely replace Wallace in the starting lineup, allowing Rasheed Wallace to remain as a power forward.

Mohammed, who turns 29 on Sept. 5, probably will not be able to rebound, block shots and provide energy like Ben Wallace did -- but he will cost about $9 million less next season.

The Bulls wooed Wallace away Monday night, according to the person within the league, for a four-year deal reportedly worth $60 million -- about $10 million more than the Pistons were willing to pay the four-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Joe Dumars, the Pistons' president of basketball operations, said late last week that his top priority was to re-sign Wallace. But Wallace said he was disappointed with the Pistons' offer.

"We tried to work out a couple of deals," he told The Detroit News. "But there was nothing that Joe felt would work."

Mohammed has bounced around the league during his career, which started when he was dealt by the Utah Jazz after they drafted him with the 29th overall pick in 1998 out of Kentucky.

He spent his first two-plus seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, who traded him in 2001 to Atlanta. The Hawks dealt him three years later to the New York Knicks, who traded him to San Antonio at the 2005 trading deadline.

Mohammed's career averages are 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 0.6 blocks.

The Pistons will likely start Mohammed but might play frontcourt reserves Antonio McDyess, Dale Davis and Jason Maxiell more than they did when Ben Wallace was on the team and playing a lot of minutes.

Detroit expects to add one more free agent this offseason -- paying a player about $1 million next season with its biannual exception -- and might look to bring in a wing player to come off the bench to give shooting guard Richard Hamilton and small forward Tayshaun Prince more of a break than they've had in recent years.

Short term, losing Ben Wallace will likely hurt the Pistons, who advanced to four straight conference finals with him leading the way with his passion and blue-collar game. But the Pistons might benefit in a few years when they're not paying him as much as the Bulls will have to with the lucrative deal he agreed to Monday night.

Wallace helped the Pistons become an elite team with his frantic style of play, but during the 2006 playoffs, his offensive limitations -- and perhaps a banged-up body that took away from his defense -- seemed to hurt their chances of advancing to the NBA Finals for the third straight year.

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