- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

Washington Wizards shooting guard Mitch Richmond is definitely not the "last of the Mohicans," as second-year guard Laron Profit called him yesterday, but he is the last of the team's Big Three, as they were once known in Washington.

As part of a late-season purge designed to rid the team of salaries that at one time gave the Wizards the fifth-highest payroll in the league ($59.1 million), Washington has lopped off the remaining contracts of Juwan Howard ($39 million) and Rod Strickland ($10 million) in a week's time.

Wizards president of basketball operations Michael Jordan traded Howard to Dallas last Thursday and six days later bought out the rest of Strickland's contract for $2.5 million, leaving Richmond as the last remnant of what was once $185 million in contracts.

If the Wizards buy out the remaining $20 million on Richmond's contract this summer and if they can't trade him, they certainly will at a cost of $10 million the six-time All-Star seems ready to accept that fate.

"I know that I definitely don't fit in the mix," Richmond said following the team's practice yesterday at MCI Center. "There are a lot of things that have happened over the course of this year. No one really expected that Juwan would be out of here. Now Rod. And we've lost four other guys [actually five: Calvin Booth and Obinna Ekezie, traded to Dallas, and Felipe Lopez, Michael Smith and Gerard King, waived]. It's a whole new team. You can understand what they are trying to do."

When the Wizards traded Chris Webber for Richmond and Otis Thorpe in May 1998, the plan was to team Richmond, who averaged 23.2 points that season for Sacramento, with Strickland, who was coming off a season in which he averaged 17.8 points and a league-leading 10.5 assists.

However, the following season was shortened by the lockout, and Richmond and Strickland never developed into the formidable backcourt the team envisioned. Neither has put up comparable numbers since the trade.

"I thought it was going to work out a little better than this, but it hasn't," Richmond said. "Sometimes marriages don't work."

Had they not traded Howard or released Strickland, the Wizards would have been committed to a little more than $57 million in contracts for next season. Next season's salary cap is projected between $42 million and $46 million. A week ago, at their projected cap number, the Wizards not only would have been over the 2001-2002 cap, but they would have been forced to pay the coming luxury tax, which will require teams with more than $57 million in salaries to give the NBA $1 for every $1 by which they exceed that figure.

Now, however, the club will be under the cap next season but not by enough to pursue quality free agents.

The one drawback to Richmond's contract is that if the Wizards buy him out this summer, $10 million would remain on the cap next year because he has two more years left on his contract.

Richmond said he saw Strickland's problem with the Wizards coming to this point. Strickland has been fined for missing practices and team planes and arriving late for practices and games at least 20 times this season. By being released, Strickland has a decent chance of being signed for the rest of the season by a team that might make the playoffs. Miami, Portland, San Antonio and Indiana have shown interest.

"I don't think that was too much of a surprise," Richmond said. "I think it was a situation where both parties probably needed to free themselves of each other. I don't think that was more of a surprise than the Juwan situation. But I'm happy for Rod. This is probably what he really, really wanted, to be able to pick and choose where he wants to go."

At 35, Richmond said that playing for a team in a state of flux like Washington is not desirable.

"An older player doesn't want to be in a situation playing for a transitional team, and basically that's the mode that we're in right now," he said. "But you've just got to stay positive and make the best of it."

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