Baxter's game between sizes

Wizards: Washington is the third team that's trying to get a feel for where ex-Terp Lonny Baxter can play inside.

Pro Basketball

March 12, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - It was perhaps fitting that in his first game for the Washington Wizards, Lonny Baxter, the square peg who has never fit perfectly in any round NBA hole, had trouble fitting into the oversized shorts the team gave him.

Of course, pouring his 6-foot-8, 260-pound frame into anyone's uniform has been enough of a challenge for Baxter, now with his third team this season. The thinking around the NBA has been that the former University of Maryland standout is too small to play center but not quite quick enough to play power forward.

That he's getting a shot with the Wizards, the team closest to his hometown of Takoma Park, makes things a little better.

"[Playing in Washington] hasn't sunk in yet," Baxter said this week. "It's kind of a dream come true to come back to the home team. Unfortunately, it's just for a short period of time, the rest of the season. I wish it could have been earlier."

Baxter, 25, started the season with the Chicago Bulls, the team that drafted him in the second round - the 44th pick overall - in June 2002. Baxter played in 55 games last season and finished 13th among rookies in rebounding (3.0 a game).

But when the Bulls fired coach Bill Cartwright earlier this season and replaced him with Scott Skiles, Baxter saw his playing time diminish, and he was traded to the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 1 as part of six-player deal.

Baxter made his way into the rotation, getting four starts in 36 games and averaging 13.5 minutes. But general manager Glen Grunwald waived him on Feb. 28, much to the consternation of coach Kevin O'Neill.

In both cases, Baxter said he didn't know why things went south. "It's hard to say," the soft-spoken Baxter said. "It's one of those things that you just can't put your finger on."

Fortunately for Baxter, the Wizards called. As fate would have it, he cleared waivers in time to play against the Raptors in his first game.

Originally, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan was noncommittal about his chances to play, saying he didn't envision changing his eight-man rotation much.

However, with the Wizards effectively eliminated from the playoff chase, and with Jared Jeffries (knee), Kwame Brown (ankle) and Jarvis Hayes (hamstring) all hobbling this week, Baxter is likely to get more time.

"There's an opportunity for both parties: for us to look at him, and we know the type of player he is, and for him to show the league ... he's the type of player that can stick to it with an NBA team," Jordan said when Baxter was added to the roster.

Baxter, averaging 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds in two seasons, will be a free agent when the season ends, and the process of trying to fit in is likely to start over again.

"Right now, I'm worrying on what we have here," Baxter said. "I'm focusing on the games we have left and finishing the season with the Wizards."

If nothing else, Baxter's return home reunites him with former Maryland teammates Juan Dixon and Steve Blake. When last they were all together on a floor, they were leading the Terps to the 2002 national title.

They won't be taking the Wizards to the NBA's Sweet 16, namely the playoffs, but the Terps' terrific trio is back together again.

"You wonder where everyone else is," Blake said. "It's fun to have him here."

Baxter at least can find comfort in his "tweener" status with Dixon, who is supposedly too small to play shooting guard and not quite proficient enough of a ball-handler to play point guard in the NBA.

"It's opportunity," Dixon said of Baxter's predicament. "Sometimes, you have certain players in front of you, and Lonny's just waiting for his opportunity to ... show people he could play."

Wizards tonight

Opponent: Atlanta Hawks

Site: Philips Arena, Atlanta

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: CN8/WTEM (980 AM)

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