- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2000

The Washington Wizards granted the wishes of disgruntled center Ike Austin last night, trading him in a five-player deal with the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Austin, whom the Wizards traded five players for a year ago in hopes that he would patch the team's void at center, was sent packing in exchange for Dennis Scott, Cherokee Parks, Felipe Lopez and former Maryland standout Obinna Ekezie.

"This transaction will be good for everyone involved," Wizards president of basketball operations Michael Jordan said. "We are acquiring three quality young players with a proven veteran scorer and Ike Austin will get a new start in Vancouver."

The deal gives the Wizards 17 players under contract. However, when the season begins in October, NBA teams are allowed to have just 15 players. This means that the Wizards could be packaging the players for another deal. But what is more crucial is that all four of the players acquired by the Wizards are in the last year of their contracts, which will allow the Wizards some salary cap relief at least one year earlier.

Austin still has two years and more than $11 million remaining on his present contract. Next season the salary cap is projected to jump from $35.5 million to almost $45 million.

"I think it's good in two respects," Jordan said. "By moving Ike … we are in position to get some cap room sooner. But I also think it gives us a couple of younger players who can make us more athletic as well. Lopez, Scott and Parks will help out immediately."

Austin never panned out in Washington, and the Wizards couldn't be happier to unload his contract on the Grizzlies. The Wizards acquired Austin on Aug. 11, 1999, from Orlando for Tim Legler, Ben Wallace, Jeff McGinnis and Terry Davis, and it became clear from the first few days of training camp that Austin was not the answer to the team's woes in the middle.

The 6-10, 270-pound Austin was injured for most of training camp and wound up having to play himself into respectable condition during the regular season. Austin never reached the level of play the Wizards expected from him, and 23 games into the season Austin lost his starting job to raw second-year center Jahidi White.

The change was made by then-coach Gar Heard, who was fired 44 games into the season and replaced by Darrell Walker. However, Walker was even more disappointed with Austin's play than Heard, so much so that Walker called on Austin just twice in the final 23 games of the season. Austin did not play at all in the final 16 games and finished with an average of 6.7 points and only 4.8 rebounds.

By contrast, Wallace played well enough last season with Orlando to earn a $30 million deal with the Detroit Pistons.

"I thought it would have been a steal if we had just made the trade straight up, Ben for Ike," Orlando coach Doc Rivers said.

Austin had slipped so far that the best he could have expected this season was a battle with second-year center Calvin Booth as White's backup.

Austin expressed some bitterness over the deal, but added that he felt he would be moved during the offseason. The Wizards have spent the offseason trying to trade both him and small forward Tracy Murray, according to league sources.

"It just didn't work out for me there," said Austin, who has had his named passed about in trade rumors most of the summer. "I don't think I really got a fair chance there. I started the season injured and I never really got a chance to get going. They kind of gave up on me, I think. But that's the nature of the business. All I can do now is try to get off to a good start in Vancouver. We've got a nice young team up there."

Scott, the 10-year veteran from Hagerstown, Md., has had the best career of the four new Wizards. His best season was the 1991-92 campaign in Orlando when he averaged 19.9 points. Last year the 32-year-old Scott averaged 5.6 points in reserve. Of the four, the 6-11 Parks was the only player the Wizards acquired who started any games for the Grizzlies. However, Parks, Lopez and Ekezie are all under 27.

Jordan has said he believed the team could reach the playoffs prior to the trade, and again pointed out that the team had underachieved last season.

He said he likes the Wizards better now.

"I like it better in the sense that we have gone young," Jordan said. "If I had stayed pat I would have been happy with the team. Their pride had been attacked and they have been working out hard this summer. They understand that there is a new beginning in Washington, and with the new faces coming in I think that will continue. We want to show the fans the best team possible. We are not there yet but we will continue to work in that direction."

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