Expansion might help thin Bullets


Since Kevin Duckworth came to the Washington Bullets in a trade two seasons ago, the team has been unhappy with the center's performance. Now, after a season in which he was on the suspended list two times, there could be an opening for Duckworth's departure.

Today, all the teams in the NBA except for the Houston Rockets and the Orlando Magic will release the list of eight players they intend to protect for the expansion draft.

The Vancouver Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors are joining the league next season and will get a chance to pick one player from each of the rosters of current NBA teams. Some teams may wind up losing key bench performers; others will be hoping to unload disappointing players or high-priced salaries.

Washington has 11 players under contract, meaning the team will have to expose three players. Three candidates are Duckworth ($2.61 million), Rex Chapman ($2 million) and Larry Stewart ($700,000). All three are signed through the 1995-96 season.

Washington Bullets general manager John Nash said he's not going to tip his team's hand.

"We've made our decision," Nash said yesterday. "We're going to keep it confidential until [today]."

Duckworth, recovering from surgery on his left Achilles' tendon, averaged 7.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in 40 games last season. He started the season well but his play slipped as his weight increased and by midseason he had lost his starting job to Gheorghe Muresan.

Chapman averaged 16.3 points but was hindered by injuries (broken right thumb, strained abdominal muscle) that limited him to 45 games. He's expendable, with Calbert Cheaney seen as the starting shooting guard of the future.

Stewart, out of Coppin State, was a key player for the Bullets under former coach Wes Unseld, but he never fit in after Jim Lynam took command as coach.

Today's release could be one of the final acts of business in the league for some time. With the players operating without a collective bargaining agreement, there is a threat of a lockout that could occur as early as tomorrow if the Rockets win the NBA title tonight.

Should a lockout occur, the NBA draft will go on as scheduled June 28. But no trades would be allowed until the owners and players come to a new agreement.

"We've been told not to comment on that," Nash said when asked how the lockout would affect his off-season plans. "Let's just see what happens if it goes in effect."

Until that happens, Nash will continue to figure out what to do with the No. 4 pick.

One rumor circulating had the Bullets trading the pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for point guard Rod Strickland, but yesterday Nash said the Bullets more than likely would keep the selection.

"We're still open and we have been in discussion with different teams," Nash said. "But it's hard to make a trade and fit people in with the salary guidelines."

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