Washington Wizards starting point guard Rod Strickland did not attend practice yesterday, one day after he was fined and held out of a preseason game against Cleveland for missing practice Wednesday.
Coach Gar Heard said he spoke to Strickland by phone before practice and was aware that he would miss the session. Heard said Strickland's absence was excused. However, Heard and General Manager Wes Unseld planned to speak to Strickland either last night or today and said he could be disciplined further.
Strickland is supposed to return to the Washington area today but he is not expected to play in tonight's game against the Cavaliers at Baltimore Arena. Chris Whitney would start if Strickland does not play.
"I'm concerned for the team and Rod is a big part of this team," Heard said. "Every day he misses puts us behind. I can understand his situation and it will be dealt with in-house."
Neither Heard nor Unseld would comment on why Strickland missed practice or his whereabouts. Strickland is not injured, Heard said. Neither Strickland nor his agent, David Falk, could be reached to comment.
Strickland was excused from Tuesday's practice to attend a funeral in New York. He failed to show up for practice Wednesday and did not inform the team. A team source said Strickland left a message with the team trainer after practice, saying he missed his flight from New York.
The Wizards fined Strickland an undisclosed amount for not notifying them of his situation. Washington also decided not to take him on the trip to Cleveland Thursday, where the Wizards lost to the Cavaliers, 95-83, in a game that featured mainly reserves.
After the game, Heard said that some of the young guards trying to make the team could have benefited from Strickland's presence.
Heard, in his first full season as a head coach, said he is certain that Strickland is trying to test him, but he also said he is not trying to make an example out of the veteran guard.
"We have rules we go by," Heard said. "Everybody has the rules. Rod broke a team rule. That's what we have to deal with."
Players seem to be concerned about Strickland, not angered or bothered.
"We know that whatever business he's taking care of, when he comes back, we'll make adjustments," forward Juwan Howard said. "We want him here. He knows that. We just hope that everything works out with him. That's our floor leader, our point guard, our quarterback. We hope he comes back soon."
Strickland not only has to resolve his absences from practice, he also must stand trial Wednesday on drunken driving charges stemming from an April arrest. He faces charges of reckless driving, a repeat DUI offense and failure to exhibit a driver's license. If convicted, he could face up to 15 months in jail and fines. Washington plays an exhibition game against the Celtics in Boston the night of his trial.
Before this week, Strickland and Howard had been the only starters not to miss a practice, scrimmage or exhibition game because of injuries or excused absences. Strickland had looked sharp and had flourished in Heard's up-tempo offense.
With Strickland missing the past three days--and probably tonight's game--the team's chemistry and development are lagging behind Heard's expectations. Starting shooting guard Mitch Richmond (strained right hamstring), center Ike Austin (strained left hip flexor) and power forward Aaron Williams (back spasms) all have been out at least a week.
Williams and Richmond are projected to re-join the team Monday when the Wizards face the New York Knicks in Albany, N.Y. Austin, however, is questionable after aggravating his hip injury while running yesterday.
"It's slowed [the team's progress] down a lot," Heard said of the injuries. "Mitch hasn't worked with us since we left [training camp]. Ike's been out and Rod's missed a couple days. We haven't had our starting lineup on the floor. It's going to take us a while. We just have to make out with what we have right now."
Wizards Note: Rookie center Calvin Booth (sore right hamstring) will not play tonight. . . . Heard plans to trim his roster to 15 or 16 on Sunday. Teams can keep 15 players--12 on the active roster and three on the injured list.
CAPTION: Coach Gar Heard said he is certain Rod Strickland, above, is trying to test him. "We have rules we go by."