Looking to avert a public relations disaster after the loss of Juwan Howard to the Miami Heat, the Washington Bullets
started dealing yesterday, acquiring guard Rod Strickland and forward Harvey Grant in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The deal was a two-for-two swap, as the Bullets were unable to unload moody forward Rasheed Wallace and little-used guard Mitchell Butler.
The Bullets also moved to fill their void at small forward, signing free agent Tracy Murray to a long-term contract. Terms were not disclosed.
But they also lost some depth at point guard when Brent Price, a free agent who spent the last three seasons with the team, signed a seven-year contract with the Houston Rockets, a Texas television station reported.
It was the Strickland deal that at least made a few strides in helping the Bullets regain some credibility with fans upset by the team's loss of Howard. Strickland, a first-round pick of the New York Knicks in the 1988 draft, is coming off one of his best seasons, when he averaged 18.7 points and 9.6 assists (fourth in the league).
"I don't think there's any doubt that Rod Strickland is one of the top four point guards in the league," Bullets general manager Wes Unseld said. "I think he brings leadership and direction with this group, and that's needed. I feel comfortable with him."
It was the second straight year that the Bullets have made a run at Strickland, almost making a deal for him on draft day 1995 for the pick that turned out to be Wallace. Strickland has averaged 14.2 points and 7.5 assists over his nine-year career.
At every stop in his career (New York, San Antonio and Portland), Strickland has had problems getting along with coaches. Last year, he walked out on the team for 11 days, saying he could not get along with P. J. Carlesimo. He eventually returned and helped the Blazers reach the playoffs.
"That's some concern," Unseld said, "but, again, we will deal with those as we have to. We don't anticipate having any problems."
Strickland's arrival means that Robert Pack's career with the Bullets will go down as short-lived. Pack, a free agent who played behind Strickland in Portland, has drawn interest from other teams -- but not the Bullets.
Murray, a first-round pick in the 1992 draft, also started his career in Portland. Last year, with the Toronto Raptors, Murray averaged 16.2 points and 4.4 rebounds and was the only member of the team to play in all 82 games.
Murray is expected to immediately fill the Bullets' void at small forward.
"There's no doubt that [coach Jim Lynam] likes people who can shoot," Unseld said. "With the inside presence of Chris Webber and Gheorghe Muresan, it makes sense to have a person who you can kick the ball out to."
Grant, a 6-foot-9 forward, was a first-round pick of the Bullets in 1988. He was with the team for five years before being traded in 1993 for Kevin Duckworth. Grant started 75 games for the Blazers last season, averaging 9.3 points.
Houston's KTRK-TV, citing unidentified sources, said Price's deal was worth $18.2 million. Price, 27, averaged 10.0 points and 5.1 assists in 81 games last season.
Pub Date: 7/16/96