Looking to shore up their depleted shooting guard position, the Washington Bullets yesterday traded six-year veteran point guard Steve Colter to the Sacramento Kings for second-year guard Byron Irvin.
It is Irvin's third National Basketball Association team in less than three years. The former University of Missouri star was the No. 1 draft pick of the Portland Trail Blazers in 1989, but was traded to Sacramento with future No. 1 and No. 2 draft choices for veteran shooting guard Danny Ainge.
"From what we saw of Irvin scouting him in college, we liked his defensive toughness," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said. "He's also a good standstill shooter with 15-20-foot range. We needed help at the two guard spot, and we just feel Irvin can fill that need more than Colter, who is more of a point guard."
Colter, never known for his aggressiveness, enjoyed only modest success in two seasons as a backcourt reserve for Washington after playing a similar role for Portland, Chicago and Philadelphia. In six seasons, he averaged 6.8 points and three assists.
It was his laid-back approach to the game that wore on Unseld, who was also disappointed in the veteran's uninspired efforts during the just-completed exhibition schedule.
"I think this is a good break for me," said Irvin, reached at his home in Sacramento.
"With the Kings, I was backing up Bobby Hansen at two guard. I thought I should have had more opportunity to start the exhibitions. They needed someone to back up Rory Sparrow at the point. [Rookie] Travis Mays got hurt, so they went for Colter. I just think I'll get more of a chance to play with Washington."
Irvin has had some ankle problems in camp that were diagnosed as bone chips, but it did not prevent him from practicing or playing. Nash said he would have the Bullets doctors check him.
Irvin said he was looking forward to playing in Unseld's motion offense.
"That's basically how we played at Missouri," he said. "I found a lot of ways to get open for a shot, coming off picks or going without the ball."
Asked if he was frustrated riding the bench in Portland, Irvin said, "Everyone wants to play a lot of minutes, but it was a good learning experience playing on a team that went to the finals."
Unforeseen circumstances left the Bullets vulnerable at shooting guard. They traded scoring leader Jeff Malone to obtain forward/center Pervis Ellison from Sacramento.
Ledell Eackles was projected as Malone's successor, but Eackles, who averaged 13 points as a back-up last season, has sought to more than quadruple his 1989 salary of $250,000. The contract talks between Eackles' agent, Ed Sapir, and Bullets management were still stalemated yesterday
Earlier in the day, Unseld trimmed his roster to the 12-man maximum by cutting guard Tony Harris of New Orleans and forward Sam Jefferson of Georgetown. He retained free-agent guards Haywoode Workman, who had a brief trial with the Atlanta Hawks last season, and Larry Robinson, a rookie from Centenary.
As things stood, Robinson, who displayed a consistent outside shot in the preseason, was expected to challenge draft choice A.J. English of Virginia Union for the starting job in Eackles' absence. English, who was impressive in the June rookie camp, has been struggling to find his shooting touch.
"We're not putting undue pressure on either of the kids," said Unseld, "but there is still a chance that English could start for us."
But Irvin was obtained for insurance. The Chicago native, who was an All-Big Eight choice at Missouri, where he led the Tigers to the National Collegiate Athletic Association final 16 in 1988, had little opportunity to play for Portland as a rookie, with All-NBA guard Clyde Drexler and Yugoslav import Drazen Petrovic ahead of him.
Irvin was part of the Blazers' early-season backcourt rotation, but his minutes dwindled as the season progressed. Playing less than 10 minutes a game, he averaged 5.2 points. He scored a career-high 23 points in 27 minutes against the Nuggets in Denver Dec. 2.
Pro scouts recognized Irvin as a non-flashy, intelligent player who can create his own shots and draw fouls. Defensively, he has a tendency to go for the steal.
Whether Irvin proves a steal for the Bullets is another question. Meanwhile, general manager John Nash continues to scan the waiver wire.
NOTE: Point guard Darrell Walker, who has been plagued by a sore Achilles' heel, and forward Tom Hammonds, who had a pulled tendon, said they will be ready to play in the season opener in Miami Friday night.