The Cleveland Cavaliers, their championship hopes damaged by injuries to key players, have turned their attention to next season by trading leading scorer Ron Harper to the Los Angeles Clippers for the NBA rights to Danny Ferry.
Ferry, the 6-foot-10 Duke forward who was the second pick in this year's draft, refused to sign with the Clippers and is playing for an Italian professional team under a one-year contract worth a reported $2 million. Harper, a 6-6 guard, leads the Cavaliers with a 22-point average.Cleveland also received former Georgetown forward Reggie Williams, while the Clippers got the Cavaliers' first-round picks in 1990 and 1992 and a second-round pick in 1991.
Cavaliers general manager Wayne Embry said Ferry is committed to remaining in Rome through the end of the Italian season in May, but Cleveland is confident he will return to the United States after that.
"He's the type of person, once he makes a commitment, he wants to live up to the commitment," Embry said. "We respect that. When that season is concluded, we'll try to sign him to a contract. He will only be 23 when he joins us."
Ferry averaged 22.6 points and 7.4 rebounds as a senior. Duke reached the NCAA Tournament Final Four in three of his four seasons.
Embry said the trade doesn't mean the organization is throwing in the towel for this season, even though injuries to all-stars Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance have made it apparent the Cavaliers won't have an easy time getting to the playoffs. Cleveland has been eliminated in the first round each of the past two years.
"I remain optimistic," Embry said. "We went into this season hoping to improve. Until we can advance past the first round of the playoffs, we are not a contender.
"Boston waited a year for Larry Bird. San Antonio waited two years for David Robinson. You will see. Danny Ferry will be well worth the wait."
Harper, a native of Dayton, Ohio, and a product of Miami of Ohio, was the eighth pick overall in 1986, the year Cleveland also acquired Daugherty and Mark Price.
Harper had become one of Cleveland's most popular players because of his flashy offense. In his final game with the Cavaliers, a win over Golden State on Wednesday, he scored 18 points and got the team fired up in the first half with a spectacular reverse layup and a short bank shot off a 360-degree spin.
His outside shooting has improved somewhat over the years but remains the weakest part of his game.
He joins a rebuilding team that was stung by the loss of 1988 first-round pick Danny Manning to a serious knee injury and by Ferry's decision to play overseas this year. Manning is forecast to return soon, and the Clippers also announced Thursday that they have re-signed free-agent center Benoit Benjamin, who had been threatening to sign with an Italian team.
"Anytime you get traded you can feel bad, but I feel this trade is good," said Harper, who had been mentioned regularly in trade rumors for a couple of years. "I'm going to a good, young ballclub. They like to play my style, go down the court and score points.
"When I first got to Cleveland, we didn't win a lot, either. We may not win 50-something games the first year, but I guarantee you if we work hard, we can win 50 in the future."
The trade of Harper, coming while Daugherty and Nance are still weeks away from playing, left Cleveland coach Lenny Wilkens in a bind. The 6-7 Williams, the fourth choice overall in the 1987 draft, has averaged a disappointing 10.4 points in two-plus seasons as a 40 percent floor shooter for the Clippers and won't likely make up for the loss of Harper.
Craig Ehlo will start in Harper's shooting guard spot for now, Wilkens said.
Clippers coach Don Casey said he liked the trade, engineered by general manager Elgin Baylor.
"It was a busy day for the franchise, between the trade and Benoit signing," Casey said. "It is a matter of getting new bodies into the flow of things. The problem is, we don't have a lot of time to practice. We're into the season. It will take time to mesh together. I think he (Harper) will bring leadership to the team. He's been there. He will add a large dimension."
Harper was in the final year of his contract with Cleveland.