Washington Bullets center Kevin Duckworth, in his ninth year in the NBA, has been around long enough to know that a trade can come at any time. He doesn't want his final destination to be Los Angeles, to play for the Clippers.
Clippers coach Bill Fitch, in desperate need of a center, earlier this week asked Bullets general manager John Nash about the availability of Duckworth and Gheorghe Muresan. But Duckworth said he doesn't want to wear the uniform of the NBA's worst team.
"A trade's a trade. A rumor's a rumor," Duckworth said. "But I don't want to go there. If there's any truth to it, I will ask them not to trade me there."
Duckworth's comments came after a practice -- and a players-only meeting called by Duckworth -- in preparation for tonight's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at USAir Arena. The game is a sellout, the team's seventh straight.
Washington has lost four straight, a streak that coincides with the loss of Rex Chapman (sore groin, doubtful tonight) and Don MacLean (tendinitis in both knees, on the injured list). Now the Bullets may be without Duckworth, who has an Achilles' tendon injury. He was on the bench to start the second half of Thursday's loss to the Utah Jazz and played briefly in the fourth quarter.
"I knew he wasn't right," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said of Duckworth, who had four points and four rebounds in 16 minutes. "He was running around and limping badly. It became more evident when he came back in the second half."
Should Duckworth be unable to go, Chris Webber may move from power forward to center and Juwan Howard would start at power forward. Early yesterday, it looked as if Duckworth's injury would force him to miss part of the four-game road trip that starts Monday in Phoenix. But by midafternoon, doctors said the injury wasn't as bad as originally thought.
Nash had said earlier in the day that there was a possibility Duckworth would need to take injections for the injury.
"I'm not taking any injections," Duckworth said. "It's not about [playing tonight]. It's about my career."
Duckworth is averaging 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, and those numbers have dropped during the losing streak. Since scoring a season-high 20 points against the Dallas Mavericks, Duckworth has had nine points against Dikembe Mutombo and the Denver Nuggets, nine points against David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs, three points against Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets and the four-point outing against the Jazz.
Yet, 7-foot centers with some skills are such a rarity that the Clippers called earlier in the week.
"During the conversation [with Fitch] he said he had an interest ++ in a center, both Gheorghe and Duckworth," Nash said. "I wouldn't even characterize it as trade talks."
Should the talks turn serious, the Bullets would have to ask whether they can they afford to lose Duckworth now. Webber does not want to play center, and he and Howard have spoken about how much they've learned from Duckworth in their brief time here. A trade of Duckworth might force Muresan to play more minutes than he can handle.
Asked whether the Bullets can go without Duckworth, Nash said, "I don't know. Kevin Duckworth is a center and is of value to us. But we're a team that's winning one out of three games. I think we're a better team than that.
"We've done a lot of changing," Nash added. "We need stability. We need Rex and Don back. Our greatest problem right now is scoring. You hold Utah to 95 points, you should be in the game."
It was a surprise that Duckworth, normally one of the team's quiet players, had called the team meeting.
"I just wanted to say something to the fellows," Duckworth said. "I just wanted to see where we are, that's all. It went great."
NOTES: Shooting guru Buzz Braman was at practice, overseeing the free-throw technique of a team that hit 12 of 27 attempts Thursday. "Some guys are struggling with their mechanics. But the good news is that the guys are close to being good shooters," Braman said. . . . The April 1 game at Detroit has been moved to April 2 at 1:30 p.m. so that NBC can offer the game on a regional basis. The Bullets haven't played a regular-season game on a network since Nov. 14, 1982, when CBS aired a game at Philadelphia. The last network appearance was a playoff game at Detroit on May 8, 1988.
Opponent: Minnesota Timberwolves
Site: USAir Arena, Landover
TV/Radio: HTS/WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: The Bullets look to end their four-game losing streak against the Timberwolves, the second-worst team in the league. Minnesota had lost a team-record 14 straight games at home before winning last night. G Isaiah Rider (18.6 ppg) and G/F Doug West (16.1) are the top scorers for the Timberwolves. Again the Bullets will be short-handed, with C Kevin Duckworth doubtful with a sore Achilles' tendon. The Bullets won both meetings with the Timberwolves last season.