WASHINGTON -- Across the street from the MCI Center, there's a larger-than-life drawing of Chris Webber painted on the side of a building. From the day he was acquired in 1994, Webber was expected to be the cornerstone of the Washington Wizards, but yesterday his stay with the team came to an abrupt end.
The Wizards traded Webber to the Sacramento Kings for six-time All-Star shooting guard Mitch Richmond and veteran power forward Otis Thorpe. In effect, the Wizards gave up youth and potential for accomplished veteran leadership -- something that has been severely lacking in recent years, especially this season when the Wizards failed to make the playoffs.
"Those of you who know Mitch Richmond, you should be comfortable in what he can bring," said Wizards general manager Wes Unseld, who said he has had talks with Sacramento for three weeks. "He brings a stability and maturity that a young team like us needs."
Considered one of the best shooting guards in the NBA, Richmond, 32, was the league's fourth-leading scorer (23.2 points) this past season, his 10th. He also became just the fourth player in NBA history to average 21 or more points in each of his first 10 seasons.
Thorpe, 35, is a 6-foot-10 power forward who averaged 10.2 points and 7.3 rebounds while playing for Sacramento and the Vancouver Grizzlies. The 14-year veteran was a member of the Houston Rockets' 1993-94 championship team.
"We have acquired two players who have been very productive in this league," Unseld said. "This deal will help make the Washington Wizards a better basketball team."
It was the Wizards' biggest trade since Nov. 17, 1994, when Webber was acquired from the Golden State Warriors for Tom Gugliotta and three first-round draft picks.
That same day, Washington signed rookie Juwan Howard, leading many to believe that the two former Michigan teammates would make Washington an instant contender. But the Wizards made just one playoff appearance in their four seasons together.
"I don't know how bad the chemistry was," Unseld said. "I don't know how good it was. We'd like to think we had the keys, but they wouldn't fit the door. We couldn't get them to turn."
Webber had perhaps the best year of his career during the 1996-97 season, when he averaged 20.1 points and 10.3 rebounds, earning a spot as an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve. His 21.9 points this past season was his best average in any of the four seasons in which he played more than 50 games.
But Webber had his problems. In January, he was arrested by Prince George's County police and faced numerous charges, including possession of marijuana and resisting arrest. Police used pepper spray to subdue Webber, who this week had his driving privileges revoked for four months because of the incident.
In April, a Connecticut woman alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Webber and Howard at a Potomac home rented by Howard. A grand jury has heard from witnesses about the alleged assault. Neither Webber nor Howard has been charged.
Unseld said the off-court problems had nothing to do with the deal, although he is pleased to get two solid citizens in Richmond and Thorpe. Thorpe, however, has had problems with coaches in Detroit and Vancouver.
"Of course, you always want to bring in good people, but it was not that big of a factor when I made this call," Unseld said. "I tried to get Mitch Richmond from the day I took over as general manager. I thought he was the perfect fit. The type of ballplayer he is and what he brings are the types of things this team sorely needs."
The criticism against Washington during much of the past four years was that Webber and Howard were basically two power forwards trying to coexist. The trade means Howard will be moved back to power forward, where he became an All-Star in 1996 when Webber was hurt, and Calbert Cheaney will be moved to small forward.
Webber was not available to comment, but his agent was surprised.
"It's kind of disappointing to hear he was traded, where in fact, through all this turmoil, he felt good about where he was at," said Fallasha Erwin. "He said, 'I want to be here. If they trade me, I want people to know I want to stay.' "
(Trade statistics, 7D)
Pub Date: 5/15/98