Rod Strickland’s legacy in Washington is complicated. There are a lot of good moments, but you can’t separate them from all the bad moments, even if they aren’t all his fault.
It’s not his fault the Bullets decided to give up Rasheed Wallace as part of the deal to acquire him in 1996. It was just one of many shortsighted moves the team made over that decade which limited their ability to build a good team. It’s also not his fault that he nearly kept the deal from happening because he wanted Washington to renegotiate his deal. I don’t even blame him for trying to force his way out in 2000. It was clear the team was going nowhere and he was running out of time to play on a contender.
However, a lot of the bad moments in the Rod Strickland era were exclusively his fault. No one forced him to eat hot dogs and pizza before games. He could have done a much better job trying to get along with his coaches and teammates. Certainly, he deserves all the blame for his multiple run-ins with the law in Washington.
When it comes to this franchise, you can’t have the good without the bad. But if that’s the case, then the inverse is also true: You can’t have the bad without the good. For as rough as it was at times, especially near the end, you can’t separate the bad moments from all the good things he did in Washington.
The trade that brought him to town helped the Bullets get over the hump and return to the playoffs in 1996 after an eight year drought. Then, the following season he put together one of the most impressive seasons in franchise history, averaging 17.8 points, 10.5 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game while earning Second Team All-NBA honors.
Only six other players have ever averaged 17, 10 & 5 in a season: Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, James Harden, and Guy Rodgers. The three who are retired are all in the Hall of Fame and the three who are active are on the fast track to Springfield as well.
Strickland racked up those gaudy numbers at age 31. The only other player who posted those numbers at his age is Magic Johnson. Oh, and Rod put those numbers up on a team that only averaged 91.8 possessions per game. That’s six fewer possessions per game than Westbrook’s Thunder averaged last season, almost nine fewer than Harden’s Rockets, and over 30 fewer than some of Oscar Robertson’s teams in the Sixties.
The inseparable mix of good and bad every key figure in franchise history. You can’t think about Gilbert Arenas’ daggers without thinking about his guns. You can’t remember Chris Webber’s disappointing end without being reminded of his promising start. You can’t celebrate Wes Unseld’s legendary career as a player in Washington without being reminded of his disappointing tenures as a coach and GM. You can’t enjoy the highlights of Michael Jordan’s time in Washington without the constant reminders that most people try to pretend it never happened.
This week, we’ll examine this complicated duality as we remember Rod Strickland’s topsy-turvy tenure in D.C. As we dive in, we’ll get a better understanding of his contributions, his impact on the franchise, and hopefully learn a little more about our fandom in the process.