Good feelings abound for Richmond, Wizards He sees move boosting playoff chances

team appreciates experience

May 21, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Mitch Richmond was glistening yesterday.

The television lights at an MCI Center news conference might have had something to do with it, reflecting off his silver jewelry, his diamond earrings and bald head.

But for the veteran guard, traded last week to the Wizards along with Otis Thorpe for Chris Webber, it also may have been a glow of happiness.

Richmond long had wanted out of Sacramento, where he toiled for seven seasons, with just one playoff appearance.

It wasn't supposed to be this way for him. Richmond spent his first three seasons in the league with the Golden State Warriors, reaching the playoffs each year while playing alongside Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway.

Then he was traded to the Kings for Billy Owens. Richmond went on to become the fourth player in NBA history to average 21 or more points in each of his first 10 seasons.

But in recent years, he began insisting -- politely but firmly -- on being traded. This season, deals with the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Miami Heat seemed close, but didn't come off.

Now, seven seasons after the future looked so bright, Richmond may be with a team as talented as the one he broke in with.

"When I first came in, I always knew we had something special, that we had a pretty good team and I knew that hopefully we could just get it done," Richmond said. "When I went to Sacramento, you always think the grass is greener on the other side, and I really missed winning and being able to be in the postseason and going as far as you possibly can."

But how much greener is the grass in Washington? Both the Kings and Wizards finished ninth in their conferences this season, missing the playoffs.

Still, the Wizards finished one game out of a playoff berth, and Washington coach Bernie Bickerstaff said a player like Richmond could put his team back in the postseason, especially if it is able to retain free-agent point guard Rod Strickland.

Though not referring directly to Webber -- who was charged with marijuana possession and resisting arrest during the season and was the subject of a sexual assault investigation -- Bickerstaff cited maturity as a factor, calling Richmond "a good role model for our young basketball players."

Aside from the 23.2 points Richmond averaged on the way to second-team All-NBA honors this season and the NBA championship ring that Thorpe has, another factor that kept coming up as a positive was the veteran-led Utah Jazz, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Seattle SuperSonics.

All were among the league's elite this season and all have mature, proven players, a designation the Washington franchise hasn't had since Moses Malone was with the team during the 1980s.

"People have a tendency to talk about age, but I don't see [Karl] Malone or [John] Stockton or Michael [Jordan] or the Pacers or Mark Jackson, any of those guys having any problem whatsoever," Bickerstaff said.

"We've got a guy who's done it over and over. There are no doubts whatsoever about what he can do. I just think that at this time, that that's an extreme need for our basketball team."

Pub Date: 5/21/98

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