Originally created 04/11/98

Week of woes leaves Wizards in disarray



WASHINGTON -- It took Chris Webber forever to answer the question. A huge drop of sweat ran down the left side of his face. By the time he spoke, he nearly choked on his barely audible words.

"He wasn't there," said the Washington Wizards forward, who then smacked his lips to try and regain his composure as he sat in front of his locker. "I thought you were innocent until proven guilty."

Webber was referring to Wizards general manager Wes Unseld, who blasted his players this week for a "lack of judgment" that "has allowed them to be put into positions of having accusations leveled at them."

Webber and teammate Juwan Howard have been accused of sexual assault by a woman who attended a party at Howard's suburban Maryland house early Monday, but they have not been charged. While the players have received words of support from family and friends, the Wizards organization has not publicly given its two most highly-paid stars a vote of confidence.

"I'm disappointed," Webber said.

It should be noted that Unseld referred not just to the latest allegations, but also to a long list of misbehavior, alleged misbehavior and bad luck that has contributed to making the Wizards one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA this season.

Webber is awaiting trial on charges of marijuana possession, assaulting a police officer and speeding stemming from an arrest in January. Last week, point guard Rod Strickland was in court being sentenced for driving while impaired. Howard recently completed an alcohol education program to get a driving-under-the-influence charge dropped.

Also this season, Strickland and Tracy Murray got into a fight in a hotel in Charlotte, N.C., reportedly over something one of them said to a woman.

In addition, there are players lost for the season because of injuries: Gheorghe Muresan, Tim Legler, Lorenzo Williams and now Strickland, their floor leader, who tore a leg muscle Tuesday.

Thursday night, everything caught up with them. Coach Bernie Bickerstaff said "the culmination of everything just coming down" produced the Wizards' worst effort of the season. They scored only 29 first-half points in a 102-83 losss to Detroit, a team that had lost seven straight.

The Wizards' playoff hopes are slim. They have five games left and two teams to catch. Under normal circumstances, a good day's practice would be in order, but Bickerstaff gave his players Friday off.

"We're going to get away from each other," Bickerstaff said. "And I think they probably need to get away from you (the media). Stay in the house and just get away from everybody."

Police want to question Webber and Howard, but that is taking days to arrange because the players' lawyers have conflicts. The case documents remain sealed because charges have not been filed.

The Washington Post, quoting an unnamed restaurant employee, reported that Webber and Howard were part of a loud, booze-drinking group that had to be asked to leave a Georgetown eatery hours before the party. Webber appeared to make a passing reference to the report as he discussed the effects the past week have had on his fun-loving reputation.

"I think everybody reaches a point in their life when it's hard to smile, and you start reevaluating everything ..." Webber said. "None of that matters. I think there'll definitely be some good times."

Webber and Howard, who have been unable to recreate the winning magic they had as teammates at Michigan, now are subjects of trade rumors.

But Webber likes the chemistry on the Wizards: Even though they're not winning, they're also not fighting.

"It's amazing," Webber said. "We should have been in-fighting by now. We should've been going at each other's throats in the locker room, being upset. I love every one of these guys. They've been there for me. I've been there for them, so that is one plus -- if we all are together next year."