He was brought in to help Washington replace a star they didn’t end up losing
The trade that brought Strickland to Washington in 1996 happened shortly after news got out that the Miami Heat had signed Juwan Howard to a seven-year deal. However, the NBA voided the deal later that month after they determined the Heat did not have enough salary cap space to sign Howard to his deal.
This led to an unusual series of events that allowed Washington to keep Howard, but it cost them a first round pick in the process:
The league and union agreed to restore Howard’s full Bird rights for the Bullets, even though the Bullets had already used the cap space freed up by Howard’s departure on free agents Tracy Murray and Lorenzo Williams — contracts which were upheld because, as Stern put it, “intervening player transactions could not be undone.” The league effectively retroactively allowed the Bullets to exceed the salary cap in a way no other team in NBA history has ever been allowed.
At the end of the day, the Bullets wound up with Strickland, Webber, and Howard heading into the 1996-97 season, which worked out well. But you do have to wonder how things would have gone differently for Strickland and the Bullets/Wizards if Howard had been allowed to sign his deal in Miami, or if he had just not bothered trying to sign with them in the first place.
There was talk about Strickland joining the Bullets in 1995
Richard Justice of the Washington Post reported in June of 1995 that the Bullets were considering a trade that was very similar to the one they wound up agreeing to the following summer to bring Strickland to Washington:
Meanwhile, Nash's best chance of acquiring a point guard seems to be in a trade that's still on the table: Rex Chapman and the fourth pick for Portland point guard Rod Strickland and the 18th pick.
The Trail Blazers have declined to do the deal unless the Bullets made Calbert Cheaney -- and not Chapman -- part of the package. So far, the Bullets have refused, but the lines of communication are still open.
Nash apparently hasn't even been tempted by the other offers. The Atlanta Hawks offered Mookie Blaylock for the pick. Toronto offered B.J. Armstrong and the seventh pick, and Nash continues to have discussions with Toronto General Manager Isiah Thomas. "Isiah and I have become fast friends the last couple of weeks," Nash said.
In the end, Strickland was traded along with former Bullet Harvey Grant, to Washington for Wallace and Mitchell Butler.
Making the trade in 1995 would have been much better for Washington than waiting another year
Regardless of whether or not the deal had included Cheaney or Chapman, the Bullets would have been better off taking that deal than the one they wound up doing in 1996.
There was good talent still on the board with the 18th overall pick in the draft in 1995. Theo Ratliff (who appeared in one All-Star Game) and Michael Finley, who appeared in two All-Star Games, were both still available at that point.
While Rex Chapman went on to have some more successful years in the NBA, he was out of Washington later that month. He was dealt along with Washington’s second round pick, Terrence Rencher in a draft night deal. In return, the Bullets got Ed Stokes and Jeff Webster from the Heat. Neither player cracked the rotation and both were waived by the end of December.
By the time the Wizards were finally ready to give up on Cheaney in 1999, Finley had already developed into a 20 point per game scorer with the Mavericks and Ratliff was emerging as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Philadelphia.
To make things worse, the plan they went with to fill the hole at point guard was an even bigger mess. Since they didn’t get a deal done for Strickland, and they couldn’t land a big name in free agency, they tried to fill the void by trading their 1996 first round pick for Mark Price. He only played seven games for the Bullets that season due to injuries and then left for Golden State in free agency that summer.
If Washington had just traded for Strickland in 1995, they could have solved their point guard problem sooner, which would have accelerated Chris Webber and Juwan Howard’s development. Most importantly, they still would have had their first round pick in 1996, which featured one of the most talented draft classes in league history.
The pick Washington traded for the Price rental wound up being the 12th overall pick, one spot ahead of where Kobe Bryant was selected. Granted, the Wizards probably would have picked lower if they had Strickland starting at point guard that season, but even if they had picked later in the first round, there was still other good talent they could have selected later in the first round like Peja Stojakovic, Jermaine O’Neal, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Or, they could have flipped the pick for another established player who would have provided more value than Price did.
Rod Strickland was never selected to an All-Star Game
Strickland is 11th All-Time in career assists, and was named Second Team All-NBA in 1998, but never got selected to play in an All-Star Game. Even though it was harder to make the East All-Star team than it is nowadays, he still had a better case than some of the players who made the East team in 1997 and 1998.
When the East needed an injury replacement for Alonzo Mourning in 1997, they took Joe Dumars (who averaged 14.7 points and 4.0 assists per game that season with a 15.6 PER) over Strickland (who averaged 17.2 points and 8.9 assists per game with a 19.7 PER). Dumars got in primarily because he was a household name and the Pistons were higher in the standings than the Bullets.
Then, in 1998 Strickland got frozen out thanks to some fan voting shenanigans. Penny Hardaway was voted in as a starter, even though he had only played 13 games prior to the All-Star Game. But as luck would have it, he was healthy when the All-Star Game came around. His inclusion meant there was one less spot for a deserving point guard like Strickland when it came time to pick reserves.
As luck would have it, Hardaway only played two more games before he got injured again and was forced to miss the rest of the season.
Rod Strickland has done something twice in the playoffs that LeBron has only done once
Averaging 18, 8 & 6 during a playoff run doesn’t happen often. According to Basketball-Reference, it’s only happened 34 times in league history. But believe it or not, two of those runs belong to Strickland, who pulled it off in 1996 with the Blazers and in 1997 with the Bullets. LeBron James only managed the feat once, in 2015.
Yes, it helps that Strickland didn’t get out of the first round in either playoff run, which makes it easier to maintain those gaudy numbers. But don’t forget Strickland was going up against the Jazz and the Bulls, who had some of the best defensive teams of that era.
He has the third-most assists in franchise history
Dozens of players logged more games for the franchise than Rod Strickland, but only two of them have more assists than Strickland picked up over 304 games: John Wall and Wes Unseld.
Rod Strickland was even better in the paint than you realize
Rod Strickland’s best days came before the analytic revolution, but what little data we have goes to show that Strickland’s finishes inside were both mesmerizing and effective.
According to Basketball-Reference’s shot location data (which only goes back to the start of the 2000-01 season), Strickland shot 63.1 percent within three feet of the rim. To give you some context, the only point guards who shot better than that from that area last season were James Harden, Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, George Hill, and Kyle Lowry.
As impressive as that is on its own merit, you have to keep two things in mind:
- Strickland did all that even though he never developed a consistent outside shot. Teams knew he wanted to take it to the hole and he still got there effectively.
- Because the data only goes back to 2000, you’re only getting Strickland’s numbers from age 34 and up. One can only assume the numbers during his prime are even better.
It’s a shame Strickland was never able to get his shot to the point where he could keep defenders honest outside, but it just goes to show how good he was at what he did be effective in spite of that limitation.