- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Shooting guard Mitch Richmond wants to know exactly what the Washington Wizards are going to do with him.
Are they going to keep him and make him an integral part of their rebuilding process? Or is the team going to buy out his contract at the end of this season a move that many expect is coming? Richmond is prepared for either scenario; he just doesn't like the uncertainty
"I have no problems with [a buyout] if that's the case," Richmond said. "I can understand that. If I'm not in the team's future plans just tell me. There're no hard feelings. The team is going in another direction and that's the bottom line. But while I'm here I want to play."
Richmond, in the second year of a $40 million deal, is almost certain to have his deal bought out by the team by June 30. If that is the case, the Wizards will cut their ties with the 35-year-old guard and pay him $30 million in salary over the life of the contract. His $10 million annual salary won't count against the cap in the summer of 2002 when the Wizards are expected to be at least $15 million under the cap.
However, if the Wizards buy out Richmond's contract after June 30, the deal for the 2001-02 season becomes guaranteed. Consequently, the buyout, which would drop to $5 million, still would count against the cap in 2002, which would severely inhibit the team's ability to pursue free agents in the summer.
Richmond hasn't played since he injured his right knee against New Jersey on March 10. He did not accompany the team to Phoenix, where the Wizards will begin their final West Coast road trip of the season tonight. Richmond, who has missed 29 games this season due to injury, is expected to be ready to return for a March 27 game against the Indiana Pacers at the earliest. This year he is averaging just 16.2 points, well below his career average of 22.4.
If he is ready by March 27, then Richmond, who can be bought out this year for $10 million, will be available for just the final 12 games of the regular season. Richmond wants to play as soon as possible and probably would rather be traded than accept the buyout.
Wizards president of basketball operations Michael Jordan said that whenever Richmond is able to contribute he will be welcomed back. Richmond dressed but did not practice yesterday.
"When Mitch is ready to get back in the rotation he'll let us know," Jordan said. "Right now we have a good situation with the young players and a good rotation. Mitch can be an asset to the younger guys."
Already rumors have begun to circulate as to where Richmond might be willing to play. Most recently it was reported in the Miami Herald that Richmond might accept that team's $4.5 million exception to be the first big guard off the Heat's bench. The story even suggested that Richmond might be willing to play for the Heat for the $1 million veteran exception.
In the meantime, the Wizards will continue to start surprising rookie Courtney Alexander at small forward. A start tonight at Phoenix will mark Alexander's fourth start since he was acquired from Dallas in the Juwan Howard trade on Feb. 22. Recently he has been on a roll at least by Washington standards. In the Wizards' last two games, Alexander has scored 20 and 21 points respectively.
Alexander exudes the confidence that the rebuilding team is looking for in its offensive players. However, he also appears to know his place, for now at least. When Richmond is ready for a return, Alexander said he has no problem with returning to the bench. However, the Wizards might not want to put him there.
"As a competitor I think that anyone would much rather start than come off the bench," Alexander said. "But at the same time Mitch Richmond is an established veteran in this league. It would be crazy for me to complain about that. Would it be tough? Of course. But it's something that I might have to do. I watched Mitch growing up. He's been an All-Star and he's an established veteran. He deserves a great deal of respect from me and everybody else because of the career he's had."


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