- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. When the Los Angeles Lakers signed him over the summer, former Washington Wizards guard Mitch Richmond was ecstatic.
Although the $1million contract he would collect from the Lakers was substantially less than the $10million he had earned the year before with the Wizards, the six-time All-Star, who turns 37 next month, knew that signing with the two-time defending champion Lakers could result in his vying for his first title the missing ingredient in a career that could put him in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
What he didn't count on was hardly being a factor at all in the team's pursuit of that title. Richmond has yet to appear in any of the Lakers' 10 playoff games. And during the regular season, a man who averaged a career-high 25.9 points in 1996-97, averaged just 4.1 points and 11 minutes, shooting a career-low 40.5 percent.
The prospects of Richmond seeing any significant time for the rest of the postseason remain bleak. He is clearly No.5 in a five-guard rotation that features Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Brian Shaw and Lindsey Hunter.
"It's difficult to sit over there when you know that you can help the team," Richmond said. "But my ultimate goal was to get a ring. Would I feel good getting one under these circumstances? Yeah, I would. I mean, anyone wants to participate in the process. We'll see what happens."
Coming off the bench is something Richmond one of the top 25 scorers in NBA history never had to deal with previously. Not when he teamed with Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin in Golden State to form Run TMC, nor when he was in Sacramento or Washington.
During those 13 seasons, however, Richmond appeared in just 21 playoff games. He has seen almost half that total (10) in the last month.
"It's fun, even if you aren't contributing like you'd like to, to be a part of the postseason," Richmond said. "But around here, you know what's expected of you. My job is to work with the young guys who are playing, push them hard in practice and be ready if I'm called."
Power forward Samaki Walker says Richmond has been extremely professional from Day1.
"He has no ego," Walker said. "That shows his character. He doesn't let his ego get in the way. His actions speak so loudly. Some guys just say they want to win, but their actions say different. Not Mitch."
Richmond does not miss Washington, where in his three seasons the Wizards went 66-148 and were booed more vociferously than their opponents.
He did not say so directly, but Richmond, who played under coaches Gar Heard and Leonard Hamilton, general manager Wes Unseld and then-president of basketball operations Michael Jordan, indicated that his Washington teams had too many problems for him to solve. One was that the team just tuned out the inexperienced, first-year coaches.
"We had a team that really needed some guidance at the time," said Richmond, a member of the franchise's all-time worst 2000-01 team that finished 19-63."A lot of people thought that I should have been the one that guided the team. But I think you have to have it from the top on down. If you're not going to listen to the coach, you're not going to listen to me."
"That team really didn't gel well. There were a lot of circumstances, a lot of things that went on that didn't let it gel."
Although some might suggest that Richmond should retire after his current contract expires, he doesn't see it that way. He feels that his right knee, which cut short his last season in Washington, will be strong enough to take him through another season. After that, who knows?
"No, I'm not ready to retire," Richmond said with a laugh. "I haven't played. I feel good. My knee has gotten stronger. I've got more flexibility. I'm not the player I was when I was 25 or 26. But I think I'll be able to contribute 20-25 minutes anywhere."


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