In a series of franchise-shaking moves, the Washington Bullets announced a trade yesterday that sent center/forward Jeff Ruland and forward Cliff Robinson to the Philadelphia 76ers for center Moses Malone and forward Terry Catledge, then selected Louisiana State forward John Williams with the 12th overall pick in the first round of the NBA draft.
In addition to Malone, 31, a three-time NBA most valuable player, and Catledge, the 76ers' first-round choice in the 1985 draft, Washington received the 76ers' first-round pick yesterday -- the 21st overall -- as well as one of Philadelphia's two first-round choices in 1988.
With their second first-round choice, the Bullets selected Anthony Jones, a 6-foot-6 swing man from Nevada-Las Vegas, who played at Dunbar High School in Washington and spent his first two college seasons at Georgetown.
"We now have one of the top centers in basketball," said Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry of Malone. "Historically, that hasn't ensured success, but it's surely helped it along."
In 10 NBA seasons, after a two-year stint in the now-defunct ABA, Malone has established himself as one of the all-time greats. For his career, the 6-10, 255-pounder has averaged 23.9 points and 14.3 rebounds per game. A nine-time all-star, Malone may have had his greatest season in 1981-82, when he averaged 31 points and 14.7 rebounds for the Houston Rockets.
The next season he was traded to the 76ers and helped lead the team to the NBA championship. Soon after, however, his relationship with owner Harold Katz soured, and this season, Malone made a number of derisive public comments regarding the team's management.
For his part, Katz expressed dissatisfaction with Malone's season, in which he averaged 23.8 points and 11.7 rebounds but missed the last seven regular-season games and the team's 12 playoff games because of a broken orbital bone beneath his right eye.
Contacted by the Associated Press in Houston yesterday, Malone, who had previously expressed a desire to be traded to the NBA's Western Conference, said he was happy with the trade to Washington.
"I think the situation will be better in Washington than in Philly," Malone said. "The coaches in Philadelphia held me back from playing my game. I knew I could play better than this year. I'm going to love it. Washington is a great team."
To acquire Malone, the Bullets gave up Ruland, their team captain and spiritual leader, who averaged 18.7 points and 10.8 rebounds in his five-year Washington career but missed 97 games in the last two seasons because of assorted injuries. Robinson, who is joining his fifth team in eight seasons, averaged 18.7 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Bullets in 1985-86.
"Ruland meant a lot to the franchise, Cliff was great when he was here, but we have the chance to be something special," said Ferry.
Philadelphia General Manager Pat Williams said: "We would not have made the deal without Cliff Robinson. We were adamant about this. I know the Bullets hated to give him up."
At a news conference in Philadelphia, Ruland said: "I feel a lot closer now to what I want, and that's an NBA title. I can feel it breathing down my neck. That's all I've ever wanted to accomplish. The ring, that's what's pushed me. . . . I knew something was up. I had a feeling they'd make some moves. It's worked out better then I could ever have hoped. I'm elated."
Robinson was not available to comment yesterday.
Before the selection of John Williams, Ferry said: "You go into a draft thinking who'll be there and hoping. . . . We haven't had a break like this in a long time."
With the departure of Ruland, one of the better passing centers in the NBA, and Robinson, one of the team's better athletes, the Bullets were desperately hoping that Williams, a 6-9 forward, would be available. At 19, he is believed to be the youngest player in the draft, and he averaged 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds last season for LSU, which made the Final Four.
"I thought he'd go to San Antonio which took Johnny Dawkins of Duke with the 10th pick ," said Ferry. "I tried to make a deal with them. I was willing to give up the 12th and 21st pick to get him; that's how bad we wanted him. We need his versatility on our team."
If he's as good as billed, Williams may earn the starting small forward spot, though Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery said he "has the potential to play lead guard."
Contacted in New York, Williams said he felt he was better suited to the front court. "I like to get up and down the court and try to get the ball to the open man," he said.
"I came out of college because at times in tough games I thought I held my own against players like Kenny Walker and Chuck Person."
There were people who felt the Bullets should have used the 12th pick to select Syracuse guard Dwayne (Pearl) Washington. The selection of Williams now seems to make it critical for the team to re-sign free agent guard Gus Williams and/or Frank Johnson, another free agent who has missed the majority of the past two seasons because of foot problems.
Only yesterday, Johnson was given the okay from team doctors to resume playing basketball. ("I think someone was telling us not to take a point guard," said Ferry.)
As for Gus Williams, "we have a decision to make," said Loughery.
Malone has two years remaining on his contract at $2.2 million a year. Clearly, the Bullets could not have made the deal for him if Gus Williams had been signed to a new contract. Williams earned $700,000 with the Bullets last year, but because he is a free agent, he is not counted against the team's current salary cap of $4.2 million. Ruland and Robinson together made approximately $1.3 million.
Malone's salary, along with his disagreements with Katz, certainly were factors in his availability. There also was speculation that 76ers management was impressed with the quality and style of play the team displayed after Malone went out.
"I think after the playoffs we had a feeling they'd do something," said Ferry. "They've really got a new leader on the team Charles Barkley who's a dominant personality; maybe they felt it was time for a change.
"When Moses became available, we wanted to go all out to get him. We were one of the few teams that could put together a deal that appealed to Philly and could fit Moses' salary under the cap."
In Houston, Malone said that his injured eye was still healing. No one in the Bullets' braintrust felt the injury would be a concern by the start of the season. Instead, they chose to focus on what they hope will be a new-found physical strength.
"We weren't an aggressive team at all last year, and to win you have to be aggressive," said Loughery. "We've liked Catledge a long time. He and Moses will certainly add to that. . . . It gives us a chance to compete on a consistent basis with the teams in our conference and throughout the league.
"I personally believe you have to have players who you consider to be great. We had a chance to get one of the premier centers in basketball, and when you have that chance you have to take it."
Anthony Jones is expected to become the backup to all-star guard Jeff Malone. Ferry said the Bullets were very interested in Alabama forward Buck Johnson with the 21st pick, but he was selected by the Houston Rockets one spot earlier.
In the second round, Washington took Steve Mitchell, a 6-2 point guard from Alabama-Birmingham, and later took David Henderson of Duke, Barry Mungar of St. Bonaventure, Paul Fortier of Washington, Lorenzo Duncan of Sam Houston State and Joe Price of Notre Dame.