- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

The Washington Wizards granted the wishes of top reserve Tracy Murray yesterday, trading the disgruntled small forward to the Denver Nuggets for 6-8 power forward Ronald "Popeye" Jones and a second-round pick.

"This is another step in our efforts to improve our team," Wizards president of basketball operations Michael Jordan said. "Popeye Jones is a veteran player who makes our roster more versatile."

Probably more importantly, Jones brings the Wizards one step closer to reducing their overall team salary in an effort to pursue quality free agents next summer and in the future. Jones is in the final year of a three-year, $8 million contract. Murray, on the other hand, has three more seasons and $10 million remaining on his contract.

Three weeks ago, the Wizards unloaded center Ike Austin and the remaining two years and $11 million he was owed in salary in a five-player swap with Vancouver that brought the Wizards Dennis Scott, Obinna Ekezie, Felipe Lopez and Cherokee Parks. All four players are in the last year of their contracts.

Jones has averaged 7.2 points and 8.2 rebounds in his seven-year career. Jones had his best season as a pro with Dallas in 1995-96 when he averaged 11.3 points and 10.2 rebounds. Last year after being traded from Boston, Jones appeared in just 40 games and averaged 2.6 points and rebounds with the Nuggets.

"I'm looking forward to coming to camp and establishing myself with the Wizards," said the 250-pound Jones. "They've got some good veterans there. They struggled but I think they are headed in the right direction now."

The 6-7 Murray, known for his jump shot, has averaged 10.2 points over his eight-year career. Last season Murray averaged 10.2 points.

Murry was drafted out of UCLA by San Antonio with the 18th pick overall in 1992. He played for the Trail Blazers for parts of three seasons before being traded with Clyde Drexler to Houston in 1995.

Murray had his best season in 1995-96 with Toronto when he averaged a career-best 16.2 points. His brightest moment as a pro came on Feb. 10, 1998, when he scored a career-high 50 points for the Wizards against the Golden State Warriors.

However, Murray said he has wanted a change of scenery for the last two seasons.

"I've been wanting to get out of here since they traded Chris Webber," Murray said. "But I don't have any hard feelings toward the Wizards. I know they are going to change things around with Mike, Rod Higgins and Darrell Walker.

"I think both teams benefited from the trade. I get a new opportunity to go to a team that is happy to have me, and I'm closer to home. The Wizards get a rebounder and a solid veteran in Popeye Jones."

When Jordan took over as the team's top personnel man, Murray was believed to have told him he wanted to be traded to a West Coast team, preferably one of the two teams in Los Angeles. At that time, Jordan said he would do his best to accommodate any player who wished to be traded, and he continued to pursue trades for Murray.

Murray's days with the Wizards appeared numbered when Washington selected small forward Michael Smith in the second round of the draft. And not long after the Wizards traded for Scott a player with skills similar to Murray's but with two less years on his contract Murray went public with his desire to be traded.

"It was nothing personal," Murray said. "But I figured that I have played there for four years. It was time for me to move on to something else, and I think it was time for them to go in a different direction. That's what they've done. I think it will be good for both of us."

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