#9 Washington Wizards Along with the fans, new star Mitch Richmond had to sweat out the re-signing of last year's star

February 08, 1999

On the third Sunday after the NBA lockout ended, the Wizards
threw open their doors to fans and proffered God as well as 10
commandments. More than 14,000 were drawn to MCI Center, but
most chose to worship an idle idol instead. "We want Rod! We
want Rod!" they chanted before a free intrasquad scrimmage. It
was a plea for Washington general manager Wes Unseld to sign
free-agent point guard Rod Strickland, who last year, his second
with the Wizards, led the NBA in assists. His agent, David Falk,
was seeking a five-year, $55 million contract for the 10-year
veteran; reportedly concerned about Strickland's physical
conditioning and eating habits, the club was offering half that
over three years, plus two more years worth $23 million if
Strickland met certain performance incentives.

The Wizards did have second-year guard God Shammgod manning the
point for one squad that afternoon. They had also taken out a
full-page ad in The Washington Post, announcing their 10-point
contract between the team and its fans. For example, the 10th
point was, "We will never forget that the fans are the lifeblood
of this game." The lifeblood's response: Spoil the Rod and spare
the children.

Last Saturday night the chant was still going strong during an
exhibition loss to the Sixers, and as of Monday the 32-year-old
Strickland remained unsigned. That day Unseld declared, "If it's
not done by the time we open the season [Friday], then it's not
going to get done." Five-year vet Chris Whitney was penciled in
as the starter, but because it was unlikely that Strickland
would sign elsewhere--he can't earn anywhere near what the
Wizards are offering him with another team this season--the
feeling around Washington was that it was just a matter of time
until the missing member of the conference's top new backcourt

"We all know that we need him," said the other half of that duo,
six-time All-Star Mitch Richmond, an off-season trade
acquisition from Sacramento. "The main reason I came here was to
play alongside Rod."

Richmond, a 46.3% career shooter, should help open up the inside
for power forward Juwan Howard, who is coming off a
disappointing season but has displayed an improved focus and a
nifty little jump hook. Small forward is manned by streak
shooters Calbert Cheaney and Tracy Murray.

Alas, the year-old MCI is the only center that the Wizards can
point to with pride. Gheorge Muresan, who missed all of last
season, suffers from chronic ankle problems and may never play
again. Terry Davis, a 6'10" journeyman, will most likely open
the season as the starting pivot.

With Strickland running the show, this team is a playoff
contender. But if the Wizards don't bring him back, they'll
really be hearing it from their fans, who clearly will worship
no false Rods.

--John Walters

COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA/NBA PHOTOS Hot shot Washington will need newcomer Richmond to provide his customary firepower.


Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Calbert Cheaney 158 12.8 ppg 4.0 rpg 1.17 spg 45.7 FG%
PF Juwan Howard 54 18.5 ppg 7.0 rpg 3.3 apg 46.7 FG%
C Terry Davis 247 4.4 ppg 6.5 rpg 0.32 bpg 49.6 FG%
SG Mitch Richmond[+] 33 23.2 ppg 4.0 apg 1.26 spg 44.5 FG%
PG Rod Strickland[1] 27 17.8 ppg 10.5 apg 5.3 rpg 1.66 spg

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 21

F Tracy Murray 99 15.1 ppg 3.4 rpg 44.6 FG% 39.2 3FG%
F-C Otis Thorpe[+] 139 10.2 ppg 7.3 rpg 3.0 apg 47.1 FG%
G Chris Whitney 184 5.1 ppg 2.4 apg 1.4 rpg 35.5 FG%

1997-98 Record: 42-40 (fourth in Atlantic)
Coach: Bernie Bickerstaff (third season with Wizards)

[+]New acquisition
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)