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Riding the Bullets Bench September

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25 September- 30 September 1996

Top News Items between 25 September and 30 September 1996:

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Mitch Lawrence has written a series that gets a little deeper into Derek Smith, the man and player, for ESPNet Sportszone. Lawrence writes a column on the NBA Eastern Division for Sportszone, as well as his regular job as a columnist for the New York Daily News. If you've been following the story here, some of it has already been covered. But there are some other tidbits that help bring Smith even more to life.

Read the three articles at your leisure. But get to know the man that Smith was, on and off the court. He was very special.

wtf 25 September 1996
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The Bullets are looking to ensure that Rod Strickland shows up at training camp next week without a holdout looking for more money. Currently, the Bullets have NO money under the salary cap to pay Strickland any more money. And until September 22, general manager Wes Unseld had spoken to Strickland exactly once about the situation.

Juwan Howard and Chris Webber have been lobbying Strickland to join the rest of the team. Unseld finally spoke directly to Strickland on Sunday night, and it seems that it may be paying off. Said Unseld: "I started to initiate some calls and talking to people, only to find out that [Strickland] was doing the same thing. I'm not going to pitch him on anything other than I happen to think he's one of the finer guards in the league. I want to see Rod Strickland here."

Whatever Unseld and Strickland said on Sunday, it was effective. Strickland worked out Monday and Tuesday (September 23 and 24) with other Bullets players at the team's practice facility in Bowie. Unseld was pleased with the results of that discussion: "I don't think it was a matter of changing his mind. I just think it was a matter of understanding, and I think he did. He's probably been a little frustrated. People look at the amount of money he's making and say, 'Wow, that's a lot,' but by today's standards, it isn't."

Unseld also added: "I think he understood there wasn't a whole lot we could do. If I could have, I would have; let me say that. I didn't have to say that much. There was a desire he had that we could not fulfill. ... I don't want to speak for Rod, but my feeling is he feels this is a good chance to be on a good team."

I don't know what Unseld promised Strickland, but I'm glad this situation has been defused. If there's one thing Unseld is, it's a player's coach/GM/whatever. Players like him. So, let's take advantage of this and move on toward a trouble-free training camp.

wtf 30 September 1996
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Well, the Bullets sure made a grand show of it, showing off their brand new players. Chris Webber made all of the introductions, and it probably took a while to go through everything. First, there was Rod Strickland, then Lorenzo Williams, Tracy Murray, Ashraf Amaya, and Harvey Grant. (Grant is back with the Bullets for a second tour of duty, the lucky soul.)

Obviously, the thing was staged. There was even some attempts at humor (a good one, too): the players were modeling their jerseys as they were introduced, and then it was Harvey Grant's turn. Wes Unseld was asked to help Harvey with the jersey, so Unseld picked it up saying, "I've been saving this." Then he shook it out and about a pound of dust came flying out.

Then it was time to quiz the new players. Of course, many of the questions were aimed at Rod Strickland, who initially did not want to report to the Bullets:

An interesting side note on the Strickland stuff. It's rumored that the real reason Strickland didn't want to come here was not because of the woeful nature of the Bullets at the time of the trade (i.e., sans Howard), but that he wanted more money (don't we all). The Bullets have been trying to get Strickland for over a year, and now they have him. And Strickland didn't get the money he wants (and deserves). I hope they're happy (I know I am, for the most part).

Other notable quotables from the new players:

That's quite a bit of turnover. But you know what? Let's play the game that Tony Kornheiser (columnist for the Washington Post) did in his column after the press conference.

When the Bullets start the season, there will be only five holdovers on the active roster. Tim Legler will be on the injured list. Jim McIlvaine, Brent Price, Mark Price, Ledell Eackles, Bob McCann, Rasheed Wallace, Robert Pack and Mitchell Butler either have gone of their own accord or have been traded. ... That was a team with Rasheed Wallace at big forward and Brent Price at point guard.

This year, Chris Webber will be at big forward, and Rod Strickland will be at point guard. ... Everything else is more or less the same: [Jim] McIlvaine was a great shot blocker; Lorenzo Williams is a good shot blocker and a better rebounder. Tracy Murray is a great three-point threat, and then Legler comes back. Grant is a solid scorer. And who really knows the difference between Ashraf Amaya and Bob McCann? (Can you believe the league let them keep all these guys!)

So it comes down to Wallace and Price for Webber and Strickland.

Do You make that trade?

"Blindfolded," [Bullets coach Jim] Lynam said, grinning.

Now Lynam's job is to find playing minutes for all of these players. Good luck. At least it means that Howard and Webber shouldn't have to play 40 minutes per game, every game. Boy, this will be fun.

wtf 1 October 1996
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This has been in the planning stages for about a month--a chance to provide some first-hand impressions and photography of the MCI Center as it is constructed. The photos aren't developed and scanned yet, but I hope to bring them here soon (stay tuned).

It was a cool, partly cloudy Friday morning (September 27) when I decided to walk around (I had about an hour to kill downtown before a client meeting and after a volunteer activity). So I brought along my camera and took several shots of the Center going up. And it's going up nicely.

The past couple of months, when I drove by, it was nothing but a hole in the ground. There were constant lines of dumptrucks waiting to haul out the extra dirt that had no use there anymore. This time, there were actual steel girders going up on both end of the arena. (See figure.) The middle was still being dug out some; then comes the laying of the concrete foundation; then the addition of the beams that reach toward the sky. This, however, will not be a skyscraper.

MCI Center Construction, as of September 27, 1996 Take a look at the sketch I drew up to get a feel for the current state of construction, as I remember it. (The illustration is not necessarily to scale.) Most impressive is the fact that, at the north and south ends of the construction, steel beams are already anchored in the ground and are visible above street level. The anchored cranes (they are cranes that have fixed concrete bases so that they can lift heavier weights to higher reaches) were moving steel beams into various locations at the two ends, and welders were working at attaching horizontal beams to the vertical beams.

The construction entrance comes off of 6th Street, NW and drops to an intermediate level that I call the staging area. The foundation for most of the structure seems to be at this level, including the areas under the already rising steel beams. The staging area is all dirt, and dump trucks were still entering and leaving this area with dirt, and trailers holding the steel beams were also unloading in this area. Below this staging area was the last of the holes being dug, at another 10-20 feet below the staging area. This area was not complete, and I'm not sure what it is for (possibly entrance to the Metro stop?).

In between all of this was the continuing pouring of concrete reinforced with steel Riebar. Eventually, all of these activities should meet in the middle, coming from the north and south sides of the construction. Pouring concrete is generally a reasonably quick activity, so depending on the speed at which the hole is completed, the concrete may be done within a month. (Remember, the staging area also needs the concrete foundation.)

I hope to continue visiting the site every couple of months, providing updates on the construction. I hope they move quickly with the steel work, because welds in the cold weather are not always the strongest. But, IMO (and having watched one other major structure go up in this manner), the Center is currently on time for completion. So that, at the beginning of the 1997 season, the Bullets and Capitals will have a brand new home.

wtf 1 October 1996
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Well, the luster has certainly been coming off of the shining star of Juwan Howard this off-season. First, the free agency greed (which is partially justifiable, depending on your world-view), now a paternity suit.

A Detroit woman, Markita Robinson, claims Juwan is the father of her 4-1/2 year old son, MarTez D'Shon, and is seeking more than $11,000 per month in child support and $50,000 in legal expenses. Robinson was a former basketball star at Detroit's Murray-Wright High School and played college basketball at, and currently attends, Salem Teikyo University in Salem, WV. In an answer to the lawsuit, Howard denies the allegation.

The claims of paternity are a little convoluted. MarTez D'Shon was born on February 5, 1992 in San Francisco. The father listed on the birth certificate was Cedric Lee Cathey. Keep reading - Robinson filed a paternity suit against Cathey in January 1993 and re-filed it in June 1995 in state court in Lansing, MI. The first filing was dismissed for lack of service. For the second lawsuit, Cathey took a blood test. The second lawsuit was dismissed after blood tests excluded him as the father of the child.

According to court papers filed by Robinson, she informed Howard in early 1995 that he might be the father of the child. Howard claims he wasn't informed until spring 1996. At that time, Howard voluntarily provided a blood sampe to a Michigan laboratory hired by Robinson. According to a lab report included in paper's filed by Robinson's attorney, the results indicate that there is a 99.99 percent probability that Howard is the father of the child.

Both sides are now meeting before a judge to try and resolve the matter. We'll just have to wait and see how this one gets resolved. But, factually, it looks like Juwan can't hide from this one.

wtf 1 October 1996
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