Williams, Bedford hope trading places works Two players try to leave troubled careers behind

October 10, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA — SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- A new town, a clean slate.

That was the underlying message in the trade Thursday night that sent Washington Bullets forward John Williams to the Los Angeles Clippers for veteran center William Bedford and rookie forward Don MacLean of UCLA, the 19th pick in the 1992 NBA draft.

Both Williams and Bedford, who was traded by the Detroit Pistons this June, come to their new teams with personal problems that seriously cloud their basketball future.

In fact, Bedford, a lottery choice by Phoenix in 1986, has created so many doubts in his six unproductive seasons, that Bullets officials regard the 7-foot-1 center as merely a possible bonus in the trade. The Bullets consider MacLean, a record-setting scorer (2,608 points) at UCLA, the key ingredient.

The Clippers, meanwhile, are uncertain which John Williams will surface this season. Once labeled a future NBA All-Star, Williams, who turns 26 later this month, has been trying to get his career back on track since suffering a knee injury in December, 1989.

Plagued by weight problems, the former LSU star was suspended without pay the entire 1991-92 season after Bullets doctors judged he was unfit to play. This decision was later supported by an independent NBA arbitrator.

Coach Wes Unseld, who initiated the trade in talks with Clippers coach Larry Brown, said, "The upside is that a persistent distraction is no longer with our team."

In past negotiations, there were contingency clauses based on Williams' weight. But this consideration was finally waived by the Clippers, who believe Williams, a native of Los Angeles, will be more motivated to play in his hometown.

General manager John Nash and Unseld wished Williams success in his new surroundings.

"Hopefully, he'll get his game back together in Los Angeles," said Nash. "I don't think that would have happened in Washington."

Asked if he were frustrated by Williams' unfulfilled promise as a Bullet, Unseld said, "No, my real concern was possibly seeing a talented young man lose a fortune in money and an opportunity to be comfortable the rest of his life."

Williams, drafted 12th overall after only two collegiate seasons, and Bedford were part of a star-crossed 1986 NBA draft.

Drug problems would claim the life of Len Bias, the No. 2 pick by the Boston Celtics, and the careers of Chris Washburn (Golden State) and Roy Tarpley (Dallas). Bedford, from Memphis State, was chosen sixth by the Phoenix Suns. The Suns were plagued && by drug problems in 1986-87 and traded Bedford to Detroit the following year.

Bedford missed the entire 1988-89 season because of drug problems and dramatic mood swings that are now controlled by medication. In the past three years, Bedford has played sparingly as backup to Pistons center Bill Laimbeer.

A Bullets official said Bedford has only one year remaining on his Pistons contract, at a reported $900,000. He likely will have to prove himself quickly to Unseld or be traded again. Bedford was expected to arrive at training camp late last night.

The Bullets still have to sign MacLean, but Nash said he will continue to pursue the negotiations MacLean's agent, Art Tellum, was conducting with the Clippers prior to the trade.

It is estimated Tellum has asked for an opening-year salary of around $500,000 and would not require the Bullets to use Ledell Eackles' $780,000 salary slot that is still being reserved for their own first-round selection, forward Tom Gugliotta of North Carolina State.

Once considered a likely lottery choice, MacLean's stock fell his senior year with his offensive statistics and an unimpressive performance against Indiana in the NCAA tourney.

MacLean, an excellent perimeter shooter, and Gugliotta are both viewed as small-forward types, with Gugliotta possessing superior passing and one-on-one skills.

"In a way, we're adding three first-round picks to our roster," said Nash, alluding to veteran guard Rex Chapman, a No. 1 pick by the Charlotte Hornets in 1988 who played only one game for the Bullets last season after being acquired in February in exchange for forward Tom Hammonds.

With nine frontcourt players listed among the 13 top roster candidates, Nash has hinted strongly of another trade, with a two-way guard his prime target. Forward Larry Stewart, the Coppin State grad who made the all-rookie second team last year, could be the bait.

NOTES: Harvey Grant left camp early yesterday to join his wife, Beverly, who was in labor and about to give birth. Pervis Ellison and Buck Johnson sat out with back pains. Free-agent forward Reggie Cross reported for work. All of the players completed the required 1 1/2 -mile run, with Michael Adams leading the pack.

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