Wizards fans hope for new beginning

On The NBA

May 09, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

There was a report on a Washington television station last week that Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin is considering selling the team, the Washington Capitals hockey team and the new MCI Center.

When that report aired, the many frustrated fans of the Wizards were likely crossing their fingers, hoping that the news would somehow become reality. Because those fans are getting tired of a franchise that lately has shown few signs of improvement.

With the trade for Mitch Richmond and the signing of Rod Strickland, the Wizards expected to make the playoffs. Just as the team expected to be a league power in 1994, when Juwan Howard and Chris Webber were paired in the frontcourt.

The reality is the Wizards have become one of the worst teams in professional basketball. The proof? Outside of the two Canadian teams -- Toronto and Vancouver -- that entered the league in 1995, only Washington and the Dallas Mavericks have failed to win a playoff game (each team made one playoff appearance in the 1990s).

Washington enters the off-season needing to address many areas. Such as who will be the new coach, because Bernie Bickerstaff was fired and interim coach Jim Brovelli is expected soon to be relieved of his duties.

Another area to address is whether to re-sign Richmond, whose scoring average of 19.7 was the first time he averaged below 20 points in his 11-year career. Richmond's shooting percentage of 41.2 was also a career low, and he failed to hit more than half his shots in 22 straight games to end the season. He can command $14 million a season as a free agent, but the 33-year-old showed signs of old legs.

The needs of the franchise go well beyond who the next coach will be and whether Richmond will be the shooting guard. And perhaps a change of ownership and in the front office will offer the franchise a fresher perspective.

That would be a welcome change for a franchise that -- while other teams rebuild -- just seems to be sinking lower each year.

Laker discontent

As if the Shaquille O'Neal/Kobe Bryant battle to seize control of the Los Angeles Lakers isn't bad enough for the underachieving team, newcomer Glen Rice is weighing in that he isn't being used correctly.

It seems Rice, scored 40 points in the regular-season-ending win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, is unaccustomed to playing a secondary role.

"Tonight was a great example of when you use me," Rice said after the Portland game. "I always felt that I fit in, I just wanted to do more. I know my capabilities. And I know the one thing I can do for this team. If you allow me to do those things, I can assure you that I can make our chances of winning much better.

"Coming from Charlotte, where I was pretty much the primary scorer I knew I was going to sacrifice that a little bit," Rice said. "I didn't realize that I was going to have to sacrifice as much as I have been lately "

Rice must be the only person who didn't realize he was going to be the third option, behind O'Neal and Bryant. Rice said last week he might be inclined to look elsewhere next season (the Lakers can exercise a $7 million option for next season), which may not be a bad move if he wants to be a go-to guy.

"That thought has crossed my mind," Rice said. "If I can't fit into the system here yeah it's a possibility that I probably should be someplace else."

Around the league

How's this for a conspiracy theory? The Detroit Pistons believed they were set up to lose in their regular-season finale overtime loss at Philadelphia on Wednesday so the league could have the Miami-New York first-round matchup. Had the Pistons won, the Knicks would have moved to seventh place and faced the Indiana Pacers.

A questionable call came with 13 seconds left, when Detroit's Jerry Stackhouse appeared to be fouled intentionally by Aaron McKie with his team up by two. No call was made, Allen Iverson hit a short jumper to send the game to overtime, where the Sixers won.

"It's because it gives them New York and Miami," Detroit center Bison Dele said. "You know those ping-pong balls that come out of the wheel for the lottery? Every ball in that thing had the same number [Wednesday]."

Atlanta Hawks center Dikembe Mutombo claimed another victim last week when his elbow broke the nose of Miami forward Mark Strickland. Mutombo this season broke the noses of Boston center Vitaly Potapenko and New Jersey center Jayson Williams.

After missing most of the season with a severely sprained ankle, Milwaukee Bucks guard Sam Cassell was activated a week ago yesterday and threw up 16 shots in 22 minutes against Boston.

"It was wild and crazy coaching a guy who doesn't like to run plays, doesn't know any plays, and takes 16 shots in 22 minutes," coach George Karl said.

Standing 6 feet, Iverson is the shortest scoring champion in NBA history. The previous shortest, Kansas City's Tiny Archibald, was listed at 6 feet 1 when he won the title during the 1972-73 season.

When Iverson clinched the scoring title on the last day of the season, it put an end to one of the closest scoring races in league history.

Iverson's average was 26.75, beating out Lakers center O'Neal (26.31) by less than half a point (0.44). That tied for the third-closest race in league history. The closest? George Gervin (27.22) by 0.07 over David Thompson (27.15) in the 1977-78 season.

Quotable

"We've gone from a Mercedes to a Yugo."

-- Charles Oakley, after the once-hot Toronto Raptors were eliminated from the playoffs nine days ago.

"Everybody wants to say Alonzo Mourning's the MVP, but I will run through Alonzo Mourning time in and time out."

-- Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal.

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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