Strickland now ready to join Bullets Contract impasse 'done deal,' guard says

September 26, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- Rod Strickland was so upset after being traded to the Washington Bullets two months ago that he didn't bother to report for his physical.

In fact, up until a week ago, there was some doubt whether the talented -- and often moody -- point guard would report to training camp without a new contract.

But Strickland will be at camp next week, old contract in hand, thanks to some recent conversations with general manager Wes Unseld. And yesterday, in his first meeting with the local media, the Bullets' latest point guard savior was doing his best at a little damage control.

"It's all a done deal," said Strickland, who will make $3.036 million this year. "Right now, it's all about coming in and playing. I wouldn't be here if I didn't feel good about it."

There's a lot to feel good about a team that, in just over a month, will begin its final season as the Bullets (they become the Wizards for the 1997-98 season). Four other off-season pickups -- Tracy Murray, Lorenzo Williams, Harvey Grant and Ashraf Amaya -- also were introduced yesterday.

Add those five players to a team that includes a healthy Chris Webber (who, in a cameo appearance yesterday, introduced the new players), Juwan Howard, Gheorghe Muresan and Calbert Cheaney, and the Bullets have the potential to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

"When we were tipping off for the start of the season last year, there was talk about the playoffs, and I'm sure that's preliminary to getting to where you want to go," coach Jim Lynam said. "But we're not going to put a lid on where we go with this thing. Because to me, the sky is the limit."

That's partly because the Bullets have one of the league's most talented starting front lines, and the corresponding depth on the bench: Williams, who averaged 8.0 rebounds with the Dallas Mavericks last season, is 6 feet 9; Amaya, who played for the Vancouver Grizzlies, is 6-8; and Grant, in his second stint with the Bullets, is 6-9.

It helps that Murray is one of the best three-point shooters in the game, who brings with him an air of cockiness.

"The 2 spot [Cheaney's guard position] is open," said Murray, projected as a top reserve. "Coming off the bench will be an adjustment, so I'm really going after that 2 spot."

But the sky is the limit mainly because of Strickland, who very well may be the best player in the league to never play in an All-Star Game. He had all-star numbers last season (18.7 points, 9.6 assists), but is best known for his feuds with coaches. Strickland left the Portland Trail Blazers for 11 days last season because of problems with coach P.J. Carlesimo.

"Overblown? It's probably been overwhelming," Strickland said, laughing, when asked about his off-the-court problems. "But it's never affected my play. Any time something has happened, I've tried to play harder just as an attempt to even the playing field."

Strickland gives the Bullets a point guard that can penetrate and pass, something that has been absent from the team for years. At age 30, he provides veteran leadership to a team loaded with talented young players. He has been in the playoffs in each of his eight seasons in the league.

"He's the one guy who has been there before," Lynam said. "Because he's been around and because he has won, he's a vital guy to what we already have."

And he's apparently ready to play.

"I'm going to come in and lead by example," Strickland said. "I'll bring some leadership, to go along with a great deal of talent. I think we have unlimited potential here."

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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