Washington Bullets General Manager John Nash suspended center Kevin Duckworth indefinitely without pay yesterday morning after learning that his weight had ballooned to more than 310 pounds in recent weeks. The team released a statement saying Duckworth had failed "to keep in good physical condition."
Nash needed a roster spot to activate Chris Webber for last night's game. He'd already told forward Kenny Walker he would be placed on the injured list because of his chronically sore knees, and Walker returned to his home in Kentucky yesterday and was unable to return in time for the game.
Nash abruptly changed his mind about Walker after being informed that Duckworth's weight had gone from about 295 pounds to more than 310 pounds when he weighed in Thursday.
"I made a decision as a result of Kevin allowing himself to get out of shape," Nash said. "I found out this morning the extent of the problem. We know and he knows what constitutes good playing condition for Kevin Duckworth. It's not necessary to talk about it publicly. But it's safe to say his conditioning has affected his performance. That has been clear the last couple of outings."
It seems unlikely he'll ever play for the Bullets again, but Nash said: "Sure he might. I can't predict what can happen. I told him he'll be reinstated as soon as he gets himself into good playing condition. He hasn't done that yet."
The suspension will cost Duckworth, who was to make $2.61 million this season, $31,859 per game. Nash informed Duckworth of the decision by telephone and last night Duckworth was reported on his way back to his permanent home in Portland, Ore.
Nash also had failed to make contact with Duckworth's agent, Herb Rudoy. Rudoy likely will file a grievance on Duckworth's behalf, and the matter probably will wind up in arbitration. Sourc\es said Duckworth has no specific weight clause in his contract.
However, Nash maintains that both the Bullets and Duckworth agree that his best playing weight is 280 pounds. Duckworth had promised to come in at that weight this season after weighing more than 340 pounds at one point last season. He reported at just more than 300 pounds and just before Christmas was less than 300 pounds. Nash maintains that Duckworth's sore Achilles' tendon is a result of the extra weight.
Duckworth's suspension comes after a season and a half when he and the Bullets have been at odds several times. He reported out of shape last season after being acquired for Harvey Grant, and soon clashed with former Bullets coach Wes Unseld.
He played well in the first few weeks of this season, but he began having trouble with the Achilles' tendon in the second week, and he hasn't performed well since then.
Nash was also extremely irritated at Duckworth for actions that Nash believes helped kill a couple of proposed deals. The Bullets were close to sending Duckworth to the Los Angeles Clippers, but when the two teams played in late December, Duckworth declined to play, saying his Achilles' tendon was bothering him.
Two weeks ago, the Bullets and Celtics had agreed to a Duckworth-for-Xavier McDaniel deal, but the Celtics refused to complete the trade. Celtics General Manager M.L. Carr told Nash it was because Duckworth had told The Washington Post he didn't want to play in Boston. Other sources indicated that Carr simply decided against making the trade.
Nash also has had discussions with the Utah Jazz for Duckworth.
Duckworth is scheduled to make $2.8 million next season, and the Bullets had hoped to get rid of Duckworth in order to use his salary slot on a free agent. Yesterday, sources said no trade was in the works, and the Bullets' only hope may be in Toronto or Vancouver picking him up in the expansion draft.
Nash also was unhappy with Duckworth last month when he announced that he would no longer play until his Achilles' tendon got better. What irritated the Bullets was his follow-up statement that he would be willing to play if he were on the floor for more minutes. He missed nine consecutive games, but hasn't played much since returning. In four games, he has been on the floor for 20, 19, 17 and 7 minutes. He has scored a total of 12 points, and with Webber back, figured to play even less. "He came in this season in better shape," Nash said. "He didn't come in at the level he'd promised to come in. We hoped he'd work toward that level, and he was making progress until recently. We're halfway through the season. We can't afford to wait any longer." Asked if he hadn't allowed Duckworth to remain on the roster in even worse shape last season, Nash said: "Yes, without much success."