Completing his bizarre journey south in the standings and any direction that led him away from Coach Don Nelson, Chris Webber forced the Golden State Warriors to trade him to the Washington Bullets on Thursday for Tom Gugliotta and three No. 1 draft picks.
Webber thus left the Warriors, an up-and-coming team that won 50 games last season, for the Bullets, who won 24.
The reason? He wanted to get away from Nelson.
Webber, 21, had also complained at one time or another of having to play center instead of power forward and of the trade of his friend, Billy Owens. He told friends he wanted to play in a bigger city.
In Washington, smaller than the Bay Area, he will at least rejoin his old Michigan teammate, Juwan Howard, who had been unsigned until Thursday, to start their own Fab Two.
Webber now has only to persuade the Bullets to trade for Denver’s Jalen Rose and draft current Wolverine seniors Ray Jackson and Jimmy King and the audacious, cocky, fashion-setting, critic-defying Fab Five will be together again.
“This is not a happy day for us,” a somber Nelson said at a news conference in Oakland. “This is not the way we anticipated the Chris Webber situation.
“We were building a championship team and Chris Webber was a part of that, but circumstances didn’t turn out that way.”
Said Warrior owner Chris Cohan, who had met last weekend with Webber: “He was up front. It was not a money issue. He wanted to be happy and he wasn’t going to be happy with the Warriors. He said it was mostly due to Don. . . .
“There’s going to be a coach and a boss. If you can’t work for him, there are other opportunities.”
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Webber, the NBA’s rookie of the year last season, had exercised an option, terminating his 15-year, $74-million contract and making himself a restricted free agent. He then sat out the start of the season.
Webber asked for a new contract with another “out” in two seasons, which would have made him an unrestricted free agent by the summer of 1997, free to leave Nelson if he so desired.
When the Warriors refused, Webber blasted Nelson, telling Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press:
“Listen, I’ve had coaches that were absolute jerks. I mean, they screamed at us all the time. But you still have to respect people. You don’t yell at them, ‘Why did we draft you?’ in front of little kids in the stands.”
Nelson, a screamer, has a reputation as a players’ coach who enjoyed a good relationship with them away from the floor. But when he blew up at Webber in a game at Charlotte last season, so did their relationship.
“There were some major problems that I didn’t know about,” Nelson said last week. "(Webber) said he wants to leave because of me. He says there’s a problem between us.
“I wasn’t tough on Chris at all. There were a few times, a few disagreements, but I’ve been tougher on other players.”
Nelson had insisted, since reports of last season’s differences, that he would leave before running a star player out of town. When Webber’s comments were reported, Nelson, who is also the Warriors’ general manager, repeated his pledge to move into the front office.
Webber called Nelson’s offer phony.
“That’s being childish,” he said last week. “I think he did that to play on fans’ emotions, cause sympathy for him.
“He knows he’s not going to quit and he knows I don’t want him to quit. All I want to do is talk.”
Webber, with permission, met with Bullet owner Abe Pollin, then signed a contract with the Warriors on Wednesday amid reports that a trade had already been agreed to--a common, if technically illegal, practice.
Indeed, the deal was announced less than 24 hours later. The Washington Post reported that Webber agreed to a one-year contract with the Bullets for $2.08 million with the option of becoming a restricted free agent after the season.
If Gugliotta, 24, is no physical match for the gifted Webber, he is a good player with no history as a head case. A 6-10, 240-pound power forward known for his all-around game, he averaged 17 points and nine rebounds last season.
The Warriors will also get the Bullets’ No. 1 picks in 1996, 1998 and 2000.
However, the NBA office has said it will investigate the deal to make sure no rules were broken.
If any were, Webber and Nelson may yet be together again, if briefly.