- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

The four-year, often turbulent relationship between the Washington Wizards and Rod Strickland ended yesterday. The team and the point guard reached an agreement under which the struggling team will buy out the final year of the 13-year veteran's contract for $2.5 million and place him on waivers today.

By being waived before the March 1 deadline, Strickland becomes a free agent, and another team could sign him until 3 p.m. April 19, one day after the regular season ends.

By buying out Strickland, the Wizards continued to purge their roster of high-priced players who have made it impossible for them to pursue expensive free agents. Last week the Wizards traded Juwan Howard and the $40 million left on his contract to Dallas, reducing what would have been a projected payroll of about $57 million. That will leave Washington with about $44 million to $46 million in salaries at the end of this season.

Strickland's buyout, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, could put the Wizards about $4 million to $5 million below next season's projected salary cap of about $46 million. Strickland had one more year left on his contract at $10 million.

Wizards president of basketball operations Michael Jordan met yesterday with David Falk, Strickland's agent, for most of the morning. Strickland, hoping to catch on with a team that has a chance at competing in the postseason, is believed to have given Falk the go-ahead to reduce the buyout in his contract in order that he might get his release, which would allow teams to sign him. In essence, Strickland opted to forgo about $7.5 million in salary for a chance to join a playoff team.

Philadelphia, Portland, Miami and Indiana are believed to be interested in Strickland. Neither he nor Falk was available for comment.

The Wizards tried to trade Strickland last Thursday at the trading deadline, but there were no takers. They also tried to trade guard Mitch Richmond, who is in the second year of a four-year, $40 million deal.

The Wizards will continue to try to move Richmond in the offseason. If they can't, there is a very real possibility the club would buy him out as well. If Richmond joins Howard and Strickland in other cities and the contracts of others expiring, the Wizards could be as much as $20 million under the cap.

Jordan said that the change would benefit both the Wizards and Strickland.

"I think the good thing is that although this has been an unsuccessful environment, we were able to get more cap room freed up," Jordan said.

Jordan acknowledged that the Wizards are still not in position to go after the top free agents in this year's class, which includes Sacramento's Chris Webber and Philadelphia's Dikembe Mutombo.

Strickland had played in just four games since Dec. 27 because of a torn muscle in his left shoulder. More recently, Strickland who was averaging 12.2 points and seven assists has been on the injured list with sore hamstrings.

Strickland was arrested Jan. 7 on drunken driving charges for the third time and faces an April 3 court date. He also was fined and suspended for one game in December when he missed a pair of practices, a doctor's appointment and a team flight to Miami.

Strickland, acquired by the Wizards from Portland along with Harvey Grant in a disastrous trade for Rasheed Wallace in July 1996, was coming off one of the worst full seasons in his career. Strickland, 34, suggested at one point he felt that he was almost ready to retire.

However, when he returned to training camp this season, Strickland, who feuded publicly last year with former coach Gar Heard, vowed that he would have a better season this year. He also predicted that even if the Wizards did buy out his contract that he would be in the league for the 2001-02 season.


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