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Making his move

MJ ships Howard to Dallas in eight-player deal

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Posted: Thursday February 22, 2001 7:15 PM
Updated: Saturday February 24, 2001 10:20 AM

  Juwan Howard Juwan Howard should be more content now that he's playing for a contender. Doug Pensinger/Allsport

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Michael Jordan figures he's staved off the boos for a while. Juwan Howard is bidding them good riddance.

Jordan pulled off the improbable Thursday, trading the supposedly untradeable Howard from the Washington Wizards to the Dallas Mavericks in an eight-player deal.

"We've still got a long ways to go. I'm pretty sure you guys are going to stay on [me] until we start winning," said Jordan, who has endured a tumultuous first year as the Wizards president of basketball operations. "Right now, we've just made a step in the right direction. I've only kept you off [me] for a little while."

Howard and his salary cap-consuming contract were sent to the Mavs along with Calvin Booth and Obinna Ekezie for Christian Laettner, Courtney Alexander, Loy Vaught, Hubert Davis, Etan Thomas and $3 million.

To make room on their roster, the Wizards released Gerard King, Mike Smith and Felipe Lopez and placed Rod Strickland on the injured list.

"Michael Jordan has made a good deal for his team. He got a bunch of good guys and he's cut his payroll," Mavericks coach Don Nelson said. "They gave us an opportunity to acquire a very fine player, and we took advantage of that."

Trade Breakdown
Mavericks get:
F Juwan Howard
C Calvin Booth
F Obinna Ekezie

Wizards get:
PF Christian Laettner
SG Courtney Alexander
PF Loy Vaught
SG Hubert Davis
PF Etan Thomas

SI's Marty Burns
You didn't think Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would let the trade deadline pass without doing something, did you? Whatever one might think of Juwan Howard, he's a definite upgrade at power forward over Christian Laettner.

The Wizards, meanwhile, shed Howard's massive contract that runs through 2003 and pays him $18.75 million next year alone. Cuban will be glad to pony up the dough if Howard, who desperately needed a change of scenery, can play to his potential.

Dallas's core now features Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki, Juwan Howard and Shawn Bradley, with Gary Trent and Howard Eisley off the bench. Not too shabby -- and rather versatile.

As for Washington, it can clear Laettner's $6.6 million salary off the books at the end of the season. The Wizards also get a decent reserve guard in Hubert Davis and some promising youngsters in Courtney Alexander and Etan Thomas. It's taken him a while, but Michael Jordan has now cleared out two of the Wizards' four massive contracts (Juwan Howard, Ike Austin), with Rod Strickland's expected to be next.  

Jordan, who received a smattering of boos at a recent home game, had been working frantically to trade one of the three veterans -- Howard, Strickland or Mitch Richmond -- whose huge salaries and long-term contracts were paralyzing the Wizards' ability to acquire major free agents. Howard has two full seasons remaining on his contract and will earn about $40 million over that span.

"Sure, everyone said Juwan was an untradeable situation," said Jordan, who was swinging a baseball bat in his office as he negotiated on a speaker phone hours before the trade. "But you never know -- when you get to a situation where a team needs a particular player. ... He played well enough to create interest for himself."

Howard had been a disappointment since signing a seven-year, $105 million contract in 1996. However, he recently stepped up his game and was a rare bright spot for a losing team. He was leading the team in scoring with an average of 18.2 points and was second in rebounding with 7.0 per game.

"I would say it's a relief from all the booing I'm experienced," Howard said. "It's a test of strength. I've shown a lot of people that know me personally that I'll remain strong through those tough times. Hopefully, no other professional athlete will ever have to experience something like I've lived through the last couple of years."

And, as a bonus, Howard is heading for a playoff-bound team.

"They could have put me in a situation that is totally different from Dallas," Howard said. "It could have been a bad situation where a team does not win. Dallas is a team that's on the rise. As we all know, (Mavericks owner) Mark Cuban, he's a guy who's proven he wants to turn his franchise into a winning team."

Jordan said the Wizards should be close to getting under the cap at the end of this season -- when the remainder of Strickland's contract will likely be bought out -- and that the team will be in excellent shape to pursue free agents during the summer of 2002.

Strickland did turn out to be untradeable, having lowered his value with a suspension for missing a road trip and a drunken driving arrest in the last two months. He's now suffering from sore hamstrings.

"Quite naturally, teams are very leery of Strickland," Jordan said.

Laettner is averaging 7.5 points and 4.0 rebounds, but he comes with a prickly reputation and likely won't figure into the Wizards plans when his contract expires at the end of the season.

"In all honesty, Laettner is the only way we could make the deal work. We know Christian Laettner, and hopeful he can come in with a positive attitude," said Jordan, trying to suppress a chuckle.

Alexander, the 13th overall pick of the 2000 draft, is averaging 4.2 points and 1.7 rebounds. He and Thomas, who is out for the season with a toe injury, are the only two players in the trade who would appear to figure in the Wizards long-term plans.

Booth has been a pleasant surprise with his gritty play this season and at one point displaced Jahidi White as a starter. He is averaging 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 22 starts.

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