- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2000

The Washington Wizards got exactly what they wanted in Tuesday's deal that sent Ike Austin to Vancouver even if they got little in return.
The Wizards dispatched the disappointing 6-foot-10 center and the remainder of his contract which guarantees him some $11 million over the next two seasons to the Grizzlies for two young players, a marginal NBA player and an aging veteran in Dennis Scott. All the newcomers' contracts expire or can be ended by Washington after this season, and the Wizards expect to have some room to work under the NBA salary cap to pursue marquee free agents.
"You clear some of the money up on the cap that gives you some mobility down the road," said Michael Jordan, Washington's president of basketball operations. "So if we decide or want to change direction, you have some opportunities of doing that."
Jordan said that acquiring center Cherokee Parks, power forward Obinna Ekezie, small forward Felipe Lopez and shooting guard Scott was done for three reasons: to give young players a chance to "kick-start" their careers, to re-energize veterans and to clear space for the future.
The Wizards were more than happy to swap the disgruntled Austin, who asked for a trade after losing his starting job and playing little toward the end of last season.
Jordan spoke to the media yesterday afternoon at MCI Center, showing no emotion when talking about his first trade as the Wizards' primary decision-maker. He didn't need to. Just being able to get rid of Austin and his hefty contract suddenly gives the Wizards a glimmer of hope of improving sooner than when the center's deal ends in 2002.
"I think the whole attitude is a lot better because [the new players] walk into a new beginning in Washington," said Jordan, whose payroll could lighten by some $5 million if none of the newcomers is retained after the season. "To me, it's a signal of getting better. I'm not in no means talking about how bad Ike Austin was or is."
The Wizards also have the option of buying out point guard Rod Strickland's deal after the coming season to free up another $5 million. Washington is currently nearly $20 million over the salary cap of $35.5 million. However, the cap is expected to rise to $45 million before the 2001-02 season.
Jordan said there was no particular player he was targeting in the deal, only a rough exchange of salaries for this season.
Scott, who turns 32 next month, is on the downside of a fine career. The sharpshooter averaged a career-low 5.6 points last season for the Grizzlies, and will be playing for his sixth team since 1997. Parks, a 6-11 former Duke center, enters the sixth season of a nondescript NBA career.
Lopez and Ekezie are young and have strong upsides. Lopez, the 12th overall pick in the 1998 draft, averaged 4.5 points last season. Former Maryland standout Ekezie, who enters his second season, is a project who played little in Vancouver. However, his 6-9, 270-pound frame and strong footwork give him the potential to be a solid big man.
The deal apparently was hatched at Jordan's fantasy basketball camp in Las Vegas over the past week, with Jordan and Grizzlies consultant Chuck Daly, a former Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic coach, as principals. Daly coached the Magic with Austin in 1998-99.
"[Daly] was very instrumental in setting up the trade," Grizzlies president Dick Versace told the Vancouver Province. The Grizzlies see Austin as a backup to Bryant "Big Country" Reeves at center. Versace also added, "[Washington] is a team in turmoil right now, as we all know."
Jordan said the deal should ultimately be judged by how the new players perform and the maneuverability it allows the front office. He previously has stated that the Wizards should be a playoff team this season and wrote off last season's poor showing as a "default" because the players are much more talented than they displayed.
"We still have three good, core basketball players [Juwan Howard, Mitch Richmond and Strickland] on this team and a good supporting cast," said Jordan, who recently hired the University of Miami's Leonard Hamilton as coach. Jordan has been highly critical of his team's effort in his short tenure. He sees this trade a move toward making it the team competitive.
"That's what I'm all about now and for the next couple of years until we put ourselves in a situation where we have to go to a championship level," he said. "Right now we are building the groundwork. We have to take the long route."

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