In a move he called "the logical choice right now," Washington Wizards Coach Gar Heard benched center Ike Austin before last night's game against the New Jersey Nets at MCI Center and gave former Georgetown star Jahidi White the first start of his two-year career.
"We need kind of a change-up at home to get this turned around," said Heard, referring to the Wizards having lost 8 of 11 games at MCI Center before last night. "It's something I've been thinking about, and I decided to do it this afternoon. We'll see what happens, but I'm going to ride with it for a few games."
Austin's offseason acquisition from the Orlando Magic, for inside players Terry Davis and Ben Wallace and guards Tim Legler and Jeff McInnis, was considered significant to the Wizards making the playoffs. But the 6-foot-10, 270-pound Austin has not provided the low-post presence Heard and other team officials had expected.
"They're trying to find an answer for us to get a win at home," Austin said. "It's a coach's decision. I'll just have to live with it. I've come off the bench [during his six NBA seasons] and I've started. So it's not a big thing for me."
Heard worked the 6-9, 290-pound White, the Wizards' second-round draft choice in 1998, with the first unit during the brief shoot-around yesterday morning. Heard later confirmed the promotion to White in a meeting.
White had been impressive during a 21-point loss to the Utah Jazz Tuesday. He grabbed six rebounds, made both of his shots and blocked a shot in 15 minutes.
"With Juwan [Howard] and Mitch [Richmond], on the floor, we've got enough scoring out of the starters," Heard said. "Jahidi also can block shots, be a presence early in the game. Maybe he can set the tempo a little."
Austin should benefit from coming off the bench with outside threats Tracy Murray and Chris Whitney, Heard said.
Austin also met with Heard again before tipoff--and was publicly accommodating.
"I've got to keep working, doing whatever I can to help us win," he said. "Eventually, there'll be a time he'll put me in [the starting lineup again]--if I deserve it."
CAPTION: "We need kind of a change-up at home to get this turned around," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said of starting Jahidi White (55).