Price touches down, looks up New Bullet is eager to lead young team

September 29, 1995|By JERRY BEMBRY | JERRY BEMBRY,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- For Mark Price, there wasn't much of a warning. On Tuesday, he learned during a phone call from Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Wayne Embry that injuries had the team thinking about going in another direction.

A day later, Price was traded to the Washington Bullets after playing his entire nine-year NBA career in Cleveland.

"Obviously, the last 24 hours have been a bit of a ride for me," Price said last night, during a news conference moments after landing at National Airport. "I found out [Wednesday] afternoon when a guy from the radio called. He said there's a rumor going around that I was about to be traded. That's when I called my agent."

The call confirmed that Price, 31, would be joining the Bullets. It was a tremendous step for Washington, which got a four-time All-Star point guard without trading any of its young, talented players.

And Price will get the opportunity to play alongside younger brother Brent, who was dropped by the Bullets at the end of last season. Getting a special exemption from the league (Price normally would have had to be available to other teams), the Bullets yesterday announced that they will sign the younger Price. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

"I'm real excited to get a chance to play with Brent," Price said. "I'm 5 years older than him, so when I left for college he was still back at home. I feel I'll be able to help Brent with his development."

That will be fine, but the Bullets are especially looking forward to having Price help the development of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Rasheed Wallace and Calbert Cheaney, players considered the cornerstone of an up-and-coming team.

"It takes a lot more than talent to win in this league. We have to develop an attitude," Price said. "Hopefully, I can instill that by letting guys see how I approach games. And maybe I can make a difference."

He has spent his career doing just that. Though just 6 feet, Price has tall credentials. The NBA's career leader in free-throw accuracy, he led Cleveland to the top levels of the Eastern Conference during the late 1980s.

"He's one of the best three-point shooters in the history of the league, and he's a leader," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "And we have one of the best groups of young people in the league, a hungry, athletic group of people almost crying for attention."

Price said he and the Bullets will go through a learning process as he learns the players' nuances.

"The guys I played with, I had to learn their traits, where they are good with the ball, and where they're not good with the ball," Price said. "Sometimes, adjustment takes a little time. I've seen these guys play, but it's hard to face someone a couple of times and really know what they can do.

"Obviously there's a lot of ability there," Price added. "It's Coach Lynam's job to put it together, and, hopefully, I can come around and help him do that."

Last season, Price missed 34 games to injuries, 27 of those after he broke a bone in his right wrist. He recovered from that injury to play well toward the end of the season, and he says injuries are the least of his problems.

"My wrist feels good right now. No problems," Price said. "I'll take my physical [today], and I feel I'll be ready to go."

Price said he appreciated his stay in Cleveland and had a good relationship with ownership.

"It would have been nice to end my career in Cleveland, but, despite that, I leave there with a good feeling," Price said. "When you play somewhere for [nine years], friendships develop. We developed a special bond there, and that's something that we'll always have."

The move was surprising in that the Cavaliers got potentially little in return for Price. But Cleveland's decision to look toward the future came when management recently learned that Brad Daugherty likely would miss half the season as he continues to recover from back surgery.

Had Price stayed, he and Terrell Brandon probably would have shared minutes at the point, but Price said that was not the sole reason for his departure.

"With myself, Brad and [former Cavaliers forward] Larry Nance, they felt like they had a window of opportunity and that opportunity was three or four years ago," Price said. "The last couple of years it was a struggle, and the team started to decline. And they just felt it was time to make a change."

Price hopes the change will mean a return to an up-tempo style of play, which Cleveland coach Mike Fratello moved away from last season after the team suffered a succession of injuries. Price favors a wide-open, push-it-up-the-court style, and the thought of his running the floor with Wallace, Webber and Howard filling the lanes is almost scary.

"I hope we play it up-tempo," Price said. "Obviously, it wasn't my most enjoyable year, but, to Coach Fratello's credit, he did what he had to do for us to win."

That is why the Bullets acquired Price: to show the young players around him how to win.

"I hope I can be an influence to them," he said. "All that has happened is still a shock, but sometimes change is good. And I'm hoping that's the situation here."

NOTES: Price has worn No. 25 throughout his career, but that number was worn by Gus Johnson and has been retired by the Bullets. He'll wear No. 15. . . . Earlier yesterday at Bowie State, Lynam got to see top draft pick Wallace's first workout as a Bullet. Wallace, who beefed up during the summer, signed a three-year, $6.1 million contract Wednesday. "It was good," Lynam said of the workout. "He's not in great full-court shape. But he's a talented guy, I'll tell you that."

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