Jahidi White's strong play since being inserted into the Washington Wizards' starting lineup last week not only has improved the team's fortunes, but has sent White's stock skyrocketing. The second-year center from Georgetown becomes a free agent after the season and several teams already have their eyes on White, league sources said.
"I'm not even thinking about that," White said. "I'm only concentrating on winning. All that will take care of itself."
Interest in White was there even before he was named a starter. League sources said the Wizards have fielded calls regarding possible trades for White since the preseason, when he started five of six games for the injured Ike Austin.
The New York Knicks are believed to be one of the teams eyeing White.
The Wizards apparently have no desire to part with White, who has significant potential and an affinity for the area. Since White earns $385,000 this season and trades have to be for equal salary value, they likely would not deal him because they would not receive a player of such caliber in exchange.
To keep White, the Wizards likely will have to pony up millions this summer. Although White won't command the eight-figure salaries the Wizards doled out to guards Rod Strickland and Mitch Richmond over the past two offseasons, league sources said money spent on White would be a sensible investment.
In similar news, the power-forward hungry Los Angeles Lakers have been doing checks on Wizards forward Juwan Howard, a source said. However, there have been no discussions between the Lakers and the Wizards about Howard, according to a league source. It is believed the Lakers' interest in Howard is only exploratory.
Washington would not part with Howard unless it gets what it feels is a franchise player in return, a league source said. Lakers small forward Glen Rice is such a player, but he will be a free agent at the end of the season and is seeking a contract likely to be in excess of $10 million a year.
The Wizards, already well over the salary cap, want to start making their team younger and likely would not want to pay such a large salary to the 32-year-old Rice.
Croce Plays Peacekeeper
Philadelphia 76ers owner Pat Croce felt relieved about the outcome of Monday's peacemaking meeting between Coach Larry Brown and star guard Allen Iverson. However, Croce was not and still is not comfortable about hearing Brown admit that he contemplated stepping down as a result of his clashes with Iverson.
"Yes, I am concerned," Croce said. "I have to be. [Leaving coaching jobs] is in his genes, his DNA. It's a concern and now it's time to make this environment conducive to winning, to be the best. I want him to know that he can be boss. We fly first class, eat first class. What else you need, coach? You need me to shine your shoes? I'll mow your lawn, too. Anything you want."
Croce is well aware of Brown's nomadic history and the fact that Brown has an escape clause in each of the remaining three years--including this season--of his five-year, $25 million contract. Croce apparently has broached the subject of a contract extension with Brown. While trying to keep Brown, Croce also said there is no way he would trade Iverson, who requested to be dealt after being benched for the final 20 minutes of a game last week. Iverson's demands spurred the meeting with Croce, Brown, Iverson, General Manager Billy King and assistant coach Randy Ayers. Iverson later backed off, saying he wanted to finish his career in Philadelphia.
"I will not accept ultimatums by Larry or Allen," Croce said. "I don't want Larry Brown retiring and I don't want Allen Iverson traded. I have one of the best players in the league and one of the best coaches in the world.
"We're going to work it out or I'm going to kill both of them."
Orlando Is a Hot Spot
First-year Orlando Magic coach Doc Rivers already has team executives across the league sweating. By keeping the Magic competitive and having a strong rapport with many of the league's players, sources around the league said that Rivers may be able to lure some of the best free agents to Orlando next season.
With a roster filled with players in the last year of their contracts, the Magic will have a deep well of money to spend next summer. Rivers's magnetism and ability to get the most out of players--plus Florida's lack of a state income tax--may be the perfect mixture to land big-time free agents such as center Tim Duncan, forward Grant Hill and guards Eddie Jones, Isaiah Rider and Jalen Rose.
"People around the league are scared because they're getting the feeling that guys want to play for him," a source said. "Plus they see he can coach." . . . Former Wizards guard Jeff McInnis is regarded as the best guard, if not the best player, in the CBA. However, it is no lock that he will get another shot in the NBA. A handful of teams are interested, but McInnis's history of being disruptive in the locker room may scare teams away.
McInnis had a nasty run-in with Denver Coach Dick Motta as a rookie and was seen as a divisive element in Washington's locker room last season. He is aware that any chance he may get in the NBA will be his last, a source close to McInnis said.
If McInnis gets another chance, it probably will occur once teams can begin signing players to 10-day contacts in January, a source said.
CAPTION: Jahidi White's impressive play has generated league-wide attention.