Rookie shooting guard Richard Hamilton could start for veteran Mitch Richmond against the Seattle SuperSonics at MCI Center tonight if Richmond's sore left knee continues to trouble him.
Richmond, who has started every game for the 1-3 Wizards, has not practiced the past two days and was unable to play in the final minutes of Washington's 112-87 loss to New Jersey Sunday night.
Richmond had a knee-to-knee collision with another player in the Wizards' loss to Orlando Saturday night, which caused the knee to swell and hurt to the touch, he said. That discomfort compounded existing pain caused by tendinitis.
If Richmond feels well enough after the Wizards' shoot-around this morning, he will start, Coach Gar Heard said. Should his knee still bother him, Richmond probably won't play at all, Heard said. The final decision may not be made until shortly before game time.
If Richmond does not play, Maryland rookie Laron Profit likely will back up Hamilton. Small forward Tracy Murray also could play some shooting guard, Heard said. The Wizards also may use a three-guard offense at times that could feature point guards Rod Strickland and Chris Whitney along with Hamilton.
"If Mitch is able to go I'd rather him start the game," Heard said.
Had Washington had a game last night, Heard said he would not have let Richmond play.
"We already know my timing is not there but I have to be on the floor to get the continuity and rhythm," said Richmond, who is averaging 10.8 points per game, well below his 23-point career average. "I don't want to go out there and hurt my teammates more than I have but I want to be out there. That's where you get your confidence and rhythm. If it is up to me I'm definitely going to try and play."
Hamilton said it does not matter to him whether he starts. The 6-foot-6, first-round draft pick from Connecticut started all six of Washington's preseason games and is averaging 10.3 points in 18 minutes per game in the regular season.
It is Hamilton's defense that is a concern, Heard said. Because he is a wispy 175 pounds, opposing teams have had little trouble posting up Hamilton near the basket.
"I'm confident whenever Coach puts me in," Hamilton said. "If it's at the beginning of the game, the middle of the game, whatever. I've just got to be mentally prepared."
The knee injury is another setback in what has been a frustrating start for Richmond, who signed a four-year, $40 million contract over the summer. After losing more than 10 pounds from last season and spending more than a month working out with Wizards coaches before training camp, Richmond strained his right hamstring on the second day of training camp.
He practiced for less than a week, total, before the season opener against the Atlanta Hawks, in which he made just 3 of 13 shots. He responded with a 20-point game in a loss to Boston Nov. 3 but has scored just 17 total points in the two games since. Richmond's worst performances have come at home, where he has made 6 of 24 shots.
"Maybe I am pressing a little bit," Richmond said. "I'm trying to get off to a good start and I'm rushing my shot, not gathering myself and I'm rushing the ball. It's something that I can overcome. This is a difficult time for me and my teammates."
Richmond, 34, has been one of the NBA's most durable players in his 11-year career. He was the only starter to play in all 50 games for the Wizards last season.
Except for a broken thumb that limited him to 45 games when he was in Sacramento in 1992-93 and a few nagging injuries that held him to 70 games with the Kings in 1997-98, Richmond has never missed more than five games in a season.
"This is a difficult time for me because I never had a situation like this where I had an injury that's kept me out like this," Richmond said. "To have an injury like this hamper you is frustrating because I came in in pretty good shape. To miss a month of training camp then to try to get back into the flow and then have another injury is very frustrating."
Heard said Richmond's inability to practice and the possibility of him missing a game is another roadblock in his disjointed starting unit's effort to gain continuity. However, he said with 78 more regular season games, the team will come together.
"When we talked early, we said that at the beginning of the year we're going to struggle," Heard said. "We're going to struggle until we get into a good flow. We had Ike [Austin], Mitch and Rod [Strickland] out and now Mitch might miss a game. We haven't gotten into a flow. Once we get into a flow we're going to be a real good team."