One Wizard Down

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

The Washington Wizards lost restricted free agent Lonny Baxter to the Charlotte Bobcats in the expansion draft last night. In the preceding days and weeks, speculation had mounted that either the expensive Jerry Stackhouse or the up-and-coming Juan Dixon would be taken off of the Wizards' hands. Instead, it was the third player Washington had left unprotected who was the first named called by the Bobcats as they revealed their selection in alphabetical order by the players' last names.

If they had selected Stackhouse, they could have looked to go the trade route, and ship him off to a willing team. If they had selected Dixon, they could have kept him as a young man coming into his own. Instead, they selected a restricted free agent merely because doing so lets them waste a pick.

The Bobcats likely didn't want anything specific to do with Baxter, but selecting him made him an unrestricted free agent. He can sign with any team of his choosing, with one exception: the Washington Wizards may not sign him for at least a year.

As an aside, there is some discrepancy as to who was left unprotected. Most sources suggested that only Stackhouse, Dixon, and Baxter were exposed.The Washington Times(see Newslines below) claims Christian Laettner was exposed as well. Yet they quote GM Ernie Grunfeld as saying, "The expansion draft rules only allow you to protect eight players, and we had 10 under contract, so we could not protect everyone." My math tells me that ten minus eight is two, not four. Perhaps Grunfeld didn't consider Baxter as "under contract," but that would still only explain three exposed players. Either way, Laettner was not selected, so it is a moot point.

Baxter is not a big loss to the Wizards, in the grand scheme of things. He was probably their third (or fourth, if Laettner really was exposed) choice as far as who they preferred Charlotte would take off their hands. Stackhouse would have great both for financial flexibility and headache minimization. Dixon would have been fine as he had seemingly fallen out of favor and out of the regular rotation. Baxter was, well, Baxter was option three. Baxter played just 12 games for the Wizards and was set to earn nearly $700,000 next year. Now he's gone. Is it a shame? Eh. A roster spot is a roster spot.

The Wizards now have ten contract players going into next year: Stackhouse, Dixon, Larry Hughes, Gilbert Arenas, Kwame Brown, Brendan Haywood, Christian Laettner, Jarvis Hayes, Jared Jefferies, and Steve Blake.

Do not expect them all to still to be Wizards come October.

As the Wizards now look forward to Thursday's real draft, they will have a tough choice as to who to draft at the fifth spot, but virtually all of the names are quality players. With Stackhouse and Dixon coming back, and a rookie or two thrown into the mix, head coach Eddie Jordan will have a very young, and likely very athletic, team to mold into his up-tempo image.

Clickhereto see a list of players that have worked out for the Wizards so far. John Edwards of Kent State is working out today. The NBA draft is tomorrow.

Here is what the Wizards press release had to say about the loss of Lonny Baxter: “While we certainly were not looking to move Lonny Baxter, the Expansion Draft rules only allow you to protect eight players and we had 10 under contract, so we could not protect everyone,” said Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld. “Charlotte made a good selection in Lonny. He has a solid future in this league and we wish him the very best in his career.” A 6-8 forward, Baxter was claimed off waivers by the Wizards on March 3, 2003 after he was released by the Toronto Raptors. In 12 games with Washington, Baxter averaged 3.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. He saw action in 36 games for the Raptors in 2003-04 and he played in Chicago from 2002-2004. For his career, Baxter is averaging 4.4 points and 1.9 rebounds in 12.4 minutes per game. Baxter played four years at the University of Maryland, helping to lead the Terps to their first National Championship in 2002 where he averaged 15.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He was named the NCAA East Region Most Outstanding Player in 2002, and he was a candidate for the Wooden Award that same year. Baxter finished his career at Maryland with 998 rebounds, second all-time in school history.


John N. Mitchell ofThe Washington Times writes: The Charlotte Bobcats selected Lonny Baxter, one of three Washington Wizards who played on Maryland's 2002 NCAA championship team, in the NBA's expansion draft last night.Baxter was one of four players left unprotected by the Wizards, along with swingman Jerry Stackhouse, power forward Christian Laettner and point guard Juan Dixon, a teammate of Baxter's at Maryland.

The Baltimore Sunran this Associated Press story: The Bobcats had been expected to select guard Juan Dixon off the Washington Wizards' roster but passed him over in favor of his former Maryland teammate Lonny Baxter, a well-traveled forward.Dixon, a second-year player who has averaged 8.3 points in 113 games, declined to comment through his agent, Calvin Andrews. Baxter has played two NBA seasons, appearing in 117 career games with the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors and Wizards with career averages of 4.3 points and 3.5 rebounds. He appeared in 12 games with Washington after being signed off waivers March 3. "He has a physical presence," Bickerstaff said. "He can rebound the basketball and has the ability to score with his back to the basket."

Greg Sandoval ofThe Washington Post writes: Baxter, who said last night he was happy and surprised to be part of the new franchise, recently bumped into Bobcats Executive Vice President Ed Tapscott while shopping two weeks ago."He just asked me how I was and mentioned that they had interest in me," said Baxter, who averaged 3.4 points in 12 games for the Wizards. "But he really didn't give me any guarantees."

Jon Wilner ofThe San Jose Mercury News writes: Childress is a personal favorite of Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld, who owns the fifth pick and is the father of Cardinal guard Dan Grunfeld."I've braced myself to go anywhere," Childress said. "This draft is different. There are going to be a lot of trades. No team has really said, 'We want this person at this number.'"

Greg Sandoval ofThe Washington Post writes: "Our preference is always to have college players with four years of experience," said Washington Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld.The sentiment is echoed by many other NBA executives. Why, then, hasn't a college senior been among the top 10 picks in either of the previous two drafts and why are they not likely to be among the top 10 this year?