- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2000

Usually when a team makes a trade, especially one involving five players, there's a certain amount of excitement. But the Wizards' trade with Vancouver in which they subtracted Ike Austin and added Dennis Scott, Cherokee Parks, Felipe Lopez and Obinna Ekezie is one of those bookkeeping deals that have become all too common in the NBA. The principals involved aren't so much Players as Cap Numbers, and who can work up much enthusiasm for a Cap Number?
Yes, the trade leaves the Wizards in better financial shape in the future. Getting Austin's contract off the books he's owed $11 million over the next two seasons will enable the team to get under the salary cap eventually. And that will give Michael Jordan the latitude to make some real moves. But right now the deal only serves to remind us of how bleak the present really is.
The Wizards certainly didn't improve themselves with this trade. They basically acquired three garbage-time players plus Scott, whose 3-point shooting last year (37.6 percent) was worse than Tracy Murray's (43.0), a guy Jordan supposedly is unhappy with. Maybe one of the kids Parks, Lopez, Ekezie will develop, but that would be a bonus. I doubt Michael is counting on it, and Wizards fans shouldn't either.
The fact of the matter is, there isn't much Jordan can do right now to upgrade the team. The Wizards made their bed with Juwan Howard, Mitch Richmond and Rod Strickland, and now they have to sleep in it short-sheeted though it is. Heck, they could swap Richmond and Strickland for Chamique Holdsclaw and Nikki McCray and it wouldn't make much difference as far as this season is concerned. (It might help them attract some of the Mystics' fans, though, which wouldn't be such a bad idea.)
Let's face it, folks: This is a bad team, an old team. Richmond was the only player who averaged as many as 15 points last year, and he shot 42.6 percent doing it. Howard's rebounding average has dropped every season he has been in the league, from 8.4 as a rookie to 8.1 in '96-97 to 8.0 in '97-98 to 7.0 in '98-99 to a ghastly 5.7 in '99-00. As for Strickland, basketball seems more like a hobby than a profession to him, judging from his off-court antics.
And those are the Wizards' best players.
Jordan can talk all he wants about the team underachieving, but honestly now, how many more games should the Wizards have won last season? Five? Six? That would put them at the 35-victory level still lottery material. The thing you have to remember about the '99-00 Wizards is this: They went 10-14 against teams in the Eastern Conference that didn't make the playoffs. How weak is that?
When I first heard about the Austin trade, all I could think of was, Obinna Ekezie and Laron Profit, together again. Seriously, I'm beginning to wonder if the Wizards' marketing strategy until they get through the tough times, that is might be to acquire as many local college products as they can. Last year they had Profit, Keith Booth (Maryland), Jahidi White and Don Reid (both Georgetown), and now they're picking up Ekezie (another ex-Terp). Jordan is probably on the phone to the Harlem Globetrotters as I type, trying to make a deal for Johnny Rhodes and Exree Hipp (two more Terps).
(Susan O'Malley, the Wizards head marketeer, must be thrilled. Susie always was big on propinquity. Remember the '92 draft, when she was sorta hoping the team would pick Maryland's Walt Williams instead of Tom Gugliotta? You can take the girl out of Washington, but you can't take the Washington out of the girl.)
The most depressing thing about the Wizards' situation is that, while they're clearing cap space, everybody else in the division is getting better, especially the teams that missed the playoffs last season. Orlando has added Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady and Mike Miller. New Jersey has added Kenyon Martin. The Celtics have added Jerome Moiso (and continue to stockpile No. 1 picks). It isn't hard to imagine the Wizards winning fewer games this year than they did last.
Which might be part of the grand plan, too the grand unstated plan. Take a dive, draft a decent player and go from there. After all, they haven't traded away their first-round choice … yet.

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