Bullets fill hole in middle by dealing for Duckworth Forward Grant sent to Blazers in trade

June 25, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Veteran forward Harvey Grant had his wish granted to be traded to an NBA contender, and the Washington Bullets obtained a bona fide center in Kevin Duckworth to relieve the defensive pressure on Pervis Ellison in a pre-draft swap with the Portland Trail Blazers yesterday.

The Bullets received Duckworth, 7 feet, 280 pounds, along with future considerations from the Blazers, who, after two straight losing trips to the NBA Finals, were prepared to move several starters after being eliminated in the opening round this year by the San Antonio Spurs.

Grant's future with the Bullets had become tenuous after the team was forced to match a six-year, $17.1 million offer sheet by the New York Knicks last summer. One contract clause gave Grant, who will earn $2.4 million this coming season, the option of becoming a free agent after 1993-94.

"That's not why we made the trade," said Bullets general manager John Nash. "Frankly, I don't think Harvey was going anywhere, not the way his contract was structured."

Nash referred to the likelihood that Grant, 27, was not about to forfeit the peak years of the contract, which guarantees him $13 million over the final four seasons.

In the latter part of the past season, Grant had begun requesting a trade to a contender.

"For us, getting Duckworth gives Coach [Wes] Unseld a lot more options up front," said Nash. "Duckworth's big body will enable him to defend guys like Shaquille O'Neal, Patrick Ewing and Robert Parish, and allow Pervis to move to power forward, his natural position."

Unseld liked the move.

"He gives us a quality we haven't had in quite some time -- size," Unseld said. "His abilities as an offensive player are evident and he knows what it takes to win."

But the Blazers obviously felt Duckworth, a seven-year veteran from Eastern Illinois, was expendable.

Often moody, Duckworth, 29, criticized the coaches for not showing confidence in him. A starter the four previous seasons, he averaged 23.8 minutes last year and ultimately lost his starting job to Mark Bryant.

"I thought he could have given us a lot more and he could have been a lot more positive part of what we were trying to get done," Blazers coach Rick Adelman said.

Clearly unhappy with his diminished role, Duckworth, like Grant, had been anticipating a change of scenery.

The Bullets and Blazers have been talking about the deal for about a year, Portland vice president for player personnel Brad Greenberg said. But the trade couldn't be made until Washington got under the salary cap, he said. The Bullets did so yesterday when they renounced the rights to Ledell Eackles.

Given substantial minutes, Duckworth has produced solid statistics. He was an All-Star in 1989 and 1991 and enjoyed his best season in 1988-89, averaging 18.1 points and 8.0 rebounds. This past season, he averaged 9.9 points and 5.2 rebounds.

"The two things that impress me most about him are his size and the fact that he seldom misses any games," said Nash. "But he is also a real offensive threat. He can shoot outside and also possesses effective post-up moves."

Size, or rather too much of it, has been a problem for Duckworth, who several times has topped 300 pounds.

"Kevin's weight will always be a concern," said Nash, "but we definitely think he brings more pluses than minuses."

By moving Grant, the Bullets also relieve a logjam at small forward, although there is no clear replacement for the team's leading scorer (18.6) last season.

Reliable reserve Larry Stewart of Coppin State could move up, and Unseld also might choose to experiment with forward Tom Gugliotta, last year's No. 1 draft choice, at the position.

Another possible solution would be for the Bullets to select All-America forward Calbert Cheaney of Indiana with the sixth pick in the draft Wednesday night. Cheaney impressed Nash and the Bullets' coaches at his audition last week.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, choosing fifth, are expected to take UNLV swing man J. R. Rider, who had been coveted by Washington for his scoring. That would leave the Bullets to choose between Cheaney and Wake Forest forward Rodney Rogers, who will audition today. But the Bullets apparently are split on Rogers, regarded as neither a pure power nor small forward.

"Cheaney could be a perfect fit," Nash said.

The Trail Blazers were saying the same things about the addition of Grant, who could replace small forward Jerome Kersey as a starter. Kersey reportedly is also on the trade block.

"Grant is a proven front-line scorer coming into the prime of his career," said Blazers senior vice president Geoff Petrie. "He can play either forward position. We're very excited about his acquisition."

"It hit me like a tornado," said Grant, speaking from his in-laws' home in Wichita, Kan. "Going from a team that won 22 games to one that's won 50 or more the last three or four years kind of makes you nervous."

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