EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As Tom Gugliotta entered the visiting locker room at the Meadowlands Arena last night, the red Washington Bullets jersey bearing his name was hung in a locker. Yet minutes before, Gugliotta had found out that he had worn the Washington jersey for the final time.
Thirty minutes before the Bullets faced the New Jersey Nets, Gugliotta was leaving the arena and heading home after having heard that he had been traded, along with three first-round draft picks, to the Golden State Warriors for Chris Webber. The trade ended an intense week of rumors that focused on Gugliotta.
"It definitely makes it a lot easier, knowing what you have to do now," a saddened -- but relieved -- Gugliotta said before leaving. "Knowing you're leaving a team that you enjoyed playing for, it's tough.
"But I'm not going to a bad situation. Really, there's nothing to be upset about other than the guys on the team I'm not going to be playing with anymore."
Once Gugliotta was considered untradable. Washington's first-round pick in 1992 (No. 6 overall), the 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward was a member of the All-Rookie team his first season when he averaged 14.7 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. Along with Calbert Cheaney (1993 first-round pick), Gugliotta was considered by general manager John Nash to be the cornerstone of the franchise.
"He probably did believe that at the time," Gugliotta said. "But that's the way it goes. This is something he felt he had to do and he's going with it. I can't blame him. I can't fault him. There's no hard feelings."
Gugliotta had participated in the morning's shoot-around. Just as he was about to board the team bus for the arena, he was pulled aside by coach Jim Lynam and notified of the deal.
"[The bus ride] was the most difficult part, knowing that you're not going to be with them anymore," Gugliotta said. "You won't get to play with a lot of them the rest of my career."
Throughout all the rumors, Gugliotta publicly said that he was not affected. But yesterday he admitted that he was carrying a lot of weight over the past week. In his last game with the Bullets on Tuesday against in Orlando, Fla., he had four points and four rebounds.
"It takes its toll, although I tried not to let it," Gugliotta said. "When you sense it's getting close or something is going to happen, it bothers you. You're unsettled.
"If your heart's not in it, it's hard to do anything. It's been on my mind, definitely. I knew both sides were trying to work something out, and I knew I was involved."
Gugliotta is walking into a good situation. With solid players such as Rony Seikaly, Latrell Sprewell and Tim Hardaway, the Warriors have a solid team that has played well despite $l Webber's absence. If the Warriors remain healthy once Chris Mullin returns, they figure to be a contender.
"As little as I've seen them play, it's a great team -- a playoff team," Gugliotta said. "It can't be a bad situation for me. I look at the situation I'm going to and it feels like I'm taking 50 steps forward in terms of wins and losses. I can't complain."
Yet Gugliotta was looking forward to taking those steps in a Washington uniform, after suffering through two losing seasons. appeared the team was on the verge of a turnaround this season.
"I played here my first two years where it was depressing," Gugliotta said. "Now this year you still obviously have a long way to go in the season. But seeing where you are turning things around, and we were playing well -- that hurts a little bit."
Shortly after arriving at the arena, Gugliotta called Warriors coach Don Nelson.
"We didn't talk about anything other than me getting there soon so I can get going," said Gugliotta, who will fly to meet the team either today or tomorrow."
And before his teammates took the court, Gugliotta was gone. A Bullets travel bag slung over his shoulder, he met his mother, who was to drive her son home to Maryland.
"I think of guys like Doug [Overton], Don [MacLean], and Brent [Price], guys I came in the league with and shared a lot of first- and second-year worries," he said. "I've developed some good relationships here. I'm going to miss it."