- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

About this time a year ago, many of the Washington Wizards put the same question to media members.
"Hear anything?" Juwan Howard and Mitch Richmond, both anxious to get out of town, would ask. "Anything happening?"
Something eventually did happen right before the 2001 trade deadline: Howard was traded, and the Wizards began retooling.
But with the trade deadline 6 p.m. tomorrow, don't look for the Wizards to make the headlines they did when they sent Howard packing to Dallas in a seven-player deal.
Last season, to create future space below the cap, the Wizards tried to move Howard, Richmond and Rod Strickland, all of whom are now gone. If the Wizards make any moves this year, it's only because somebody came to them with a deal they couldn't refuse.
"We are open to discussions," Wizards general manger Wes Unseld said, "but that is not to say that we are shopping anybody."
The Wizards are unlike some teams that have labeled players as "untouchable" either because they believe they are that good (such as Kobe Bryant) or more often because they have overpaid them and can't get any team to take on such a huge salary (see Dikembe Mutombo).
There have been inquiries about certain Wizards, and there have been trades bandied about in the media that are nothing more than fiction. Teams have asked about Jahidi White, Washington's physical center who is earning $4.4 million this season, Brendan Haywood and Richard Hamilton. All are players who probably will play roles in the Wizards' evolution and are not likely to be moved. Neither is top pick Kwame Brown.
One player the team would like to trade is oft-injured forward Christian Laettner. Laettner, in the first year of a four-year, $21 million deal, has been almost irrelevant this year, so much so that Wizards coach Doug Collins has opted to stick with Popeye Jones who is making $1.3 million this season as the team's starting power forward.
"I don't think he's going to draw a lot of interest," one Eastern Conference general manager said, speaking anonymously.
Even with the huge trade yesterday between Indiana and Chicago that sent Jalen Rose to the Bulls along with Travis Best in exchange for Ron Artest, Brad Miller and Ron Mercer, impact trades have become less and less prevalent in the NBA because of the growing fear of the luxury tax.
The tax would force teams that are over a unnamed dollar amount in salaries and benefits to pay a tax for each dollar by which they have exceeded the limit.
"Absolutely that's why some trades aren't being done," said Steve Kaufman, the agent for Wizards guard Chris Whitney. "Teams don't want to pay the luxury tax, and it's just getting more complicated to make deals work with the salary cap."
However, there is growing speculation that the luxury tax might not be triggered this year, according to one NBA source.
According to the source, league salaries have risen at least 20 percent over the last five seasons coming into the 2001-2002 season. Out of fear of the tax, teams have not rewarded the kind of salaries once expected. More and more, the source said, teams seem less interested in awarding players with the maximum salaries they are entitled to under the league's collective bargaining agreement. As a result, this season has seen salaries escalate collectively only at a single-digit pace, making it more likely that the luxury tax trigger, which will be determined at the end of the season, won't be reached.
In other news, Wizards coach Doug Collins announced that Tyronn Nesby would start at small forward for the Wizards tonight in Detroit in place of Michael Jordan. Jordan will sit out the game to give his right knee, which has been plagued by tendinitis this season, a rest.
Jordan did not make the trip to Detroit with the team, opting to stay behind for treatment. This is the second game this season that Jordan will miss. Jordan also missed the team's 103-88 loss to San Antonio on Dec. 4.
Said Nesby: "It's going to be tough without Mike. But we want to show that we can win without him."

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