Washington Wizards center Ike Austin is not pleased about being demoted and said, in time, he should be back in the starting lineup. However, Coach Gar Heard said Jahidi White is the starter and if Austin wants to get back in the starting lineup, he is going to have to earn it.
"I didn't come here for this," said Austin, who was acquired from Orlando for four players last summer. "I expect to be back in the starting lineup eventually. They didn't make the trade to have me as a backup. I deserve it. I don't think I did anything to deserve what happened. It's fine for now but eventually, they're going to have to do something about it."
White has averaged close to 10 rebounds and enhanced the team's interior defense since being named the starter last week.
"I want [Austin] to challenge Jahidi every day in practice, but for now I think Jahidi won the job per se," Heard said. "We had to make some changes at the time and when I went down our lineup, Michael Smith was playing well, Mitch Richmond was getting on track, Juwan [Howard] was playing well and so was Rod [Strickland].
"I felt we could get more physical inside at center and Jahidi was the guy. With he and Michael out there together we've gotten more physical and our defense has gotten more aggressive because of that."
Austin, who was sent to the bench after a seven-rebound, four-point effort against the Utah Jazz, said Heard was concerned that he was hurt when he was told of the demotion. Austin was recovering from a broken nose and had not played well, but otherwise, he said he was fine.
"They thought I was hurt but just before I got my nose broken I was averaging like 13 points and nine rebounds," Austin said. "After I got my nose broken it was a tough stretch for me. I think they figured it was time to make a move, which is fine."
Austin is averaging 8.4 points and 5.7 rebounds, but over the last three games coming off the bench, he has scored 15 points overall and grabbed just five rebounds. Austin rejuvenated his NBA career coming off the bench in Miami, earning the NBA's most improved player award in 1996-97.
After being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers midway through the 1997-98 season, Austin started for the Clippers and Orlando Magic.
"I'm not going to give anybody a job," Heard said. "The team is playing well with Ike coming off the bench. We'll stay with that for a while and see what happens."