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Sonics forward Lewis opts for free agency

In late February, Rashard Lewis rejected a two-year, $25 million contract extension from the Seattle SuperSonics. Months later, Lewis has taken his rejection a step further.

Lewis has officially opted out of the final two years of his contract on Friday so he can become an unrestricted free agent, as first reported by KRIV in Houston on Friday.

Tony Dutt, Lewis' agent, has made Seattle aware of his client's decision.

"He has decided to opt out and he'll be an unrestricted free agent July 1st," Dutt said, according to KRIV. "We had to do it in writing which we have done already."

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."

Rashard Lewis

Lewis

Lewis, who has spent his entire nine-year NBA career with the Sonics, opted out of the seven-year, $60M deal he signed before the 2003-2004 season. That means Lewis is walking away from $21M in guaranteed money over the next two years.

In doing so, he becomes one of the NBA's most attractive free agents 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.

"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."

The 6-foot-10 forward is coming off a career-best year despite missing 22 games with a hand injury. Lewis averaged 22.4 points and 6.6 rebounds a game last season.

"He's excited. At the same time he wants to win. He puts in the time himself and he wants his teammates to do the same. He's just looking for an opportunity, whether he stays in Seattle or if he was to move, to be in a situation where he has an opportunity to win every night," Dutt said.

"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. He turns 28 in August.

Lewis could get offers of five years for perhaps $15 million per
year. 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.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this story.