Dino's A Bomb In Physical Test Weatherspoon, Cage Remain Sixers

Posted: June 25, 1997

It took 11 years for a more celebrated basketball knee than Jeff Ruland's to pass through this city.

It took Dino Radja.

The reluctant Croatian, traded last Friday to the 76ers from Boston for Clarence Weatherspoon and Michael Cage, failed his physical examination in Philadelphia last night.

We'll never know whether the Sixers, perhaps having second thoughts, got what they really wanted.

Billy King, the Sixers' vice president of basketball administration, declared the trade ``null and void,'' although it is conceivable the Celtics could appeal to NBA authorities for an independent examination.

The Sixers' exam clearly stamped the 6-11 Radja ``return to sender.''

Radja had been complaining of soreness in his left knee and back pain. He missed 57 games this season, although most Boston reporters believe he could have resumed playing.

``It's unfortunate the trade didn't happen, because I have the utmost respect and admiration for Larry Brown and I believe the 76er organization is headed in the right direction,'' Radja said in a statement issued through agent Marc Fleisher.

Earlier in the day, Sixers president Pat Croce admitted ``there's a risk'' in the Radja deal.

``That's why this trade is predicated on a thorough physical,'' Croce said after unveiling the team's new logo and uniform at the Cherry Hill Mall. ``Otherwise, we would have done your basic A-B-C physical.''

This means that, as the teams careen into tonight's NBA draft, Radja's rights revert to Boston and the rights to Weatherspoon and Cage bounce back to the Sixers.

Weatherspoon and Cage had already passed their physicals with the Celtics. The Sixers' Jerry Stackhouse said there would be no problem welcoming back the two players, pointing out, ``We know how hard Spoon works and we're aware of Cage's longevity in the league.''

How Radja's wounded knee impacts the Sixers' blueprint for the No. 2 pick tonight is anybody's guess.

King would say only that coach Larry Brown and his staff had their list of possibilities narrowed down to guard Chauncey Billups of Colorado, forward-center Tony Battie of Texas Tech and forward Keith Van Horn of Utah.

``On Saturday, I thought we were locked in on who we were going to take,'' King said. ``On Sunday, we were all away from each other. On Monday, it got cloudy again.''

It is believed the Sixers have several trade offers on the table, including one from New Jersey that was somehow sweetened yesterday by Nets coach John Calipari, who has apparently placed a value on being in the catbird seat tonight after San Antonio selects Wake Forest's Tim Duncan.

One version of the Nets' upgraded offer would bring the Sixers New Jersey's picks at Nos. 7 and 21 plus two players for No. 2, Don MacLean and Lucious Harris.

``We're continuing to talk to Philadelphia and several other teams,'' Nets general manager John Nash said.

``We thought we might be close several times, but we weren't able to pull the trigger.''

King said there was no validity to rumors of a Sixers deal with Cleveland that would bring them forward Tyrone Hill or guard Terrell Brandon, but admitted having had conversations with Miami about a possible trade involving unhappy forward Derrick Coleman.

Radja arrived after 2 p.m., and when it became apparent that the process would not be completed before yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline, the Sixers and Celtics obtained a 24-hour extension from league authorities.

Failing the physical cost Radja about $2.4 million in a trade bonus clause over the three remaining years of his contract. He is earning $5.313 million per season, but would have gotten an $800,000 increase in each season had he joined the Sixers.

``We wanted Dino or we never would have made the trade,'' King said. ``I know people felt we were making the deal to move him elsewhere, but we weren't.''

Wasn't it just June of 1986 when, on the darkest day in Sixers history, they traded Moses Malone, Terry Catledge and two first-round picks to Washington for Ruland and Cliff Robinson? Wasn't that in the same breath as the deal that sent the No. 1 pick in the draft to Cleveland for Roy Hinson and $800,000?

Ruland had an awful knee, but management at the time located a doctor who got him through his physical. While Cleveland used the No. 1 pick on Brad Daugherty, who became a five-time All-Star, Ruland lasted five games. The franchise has never recovered.

Another decade, another wounded knee.

``[Radja's situation] is not going to impact our draft,'' King insisted. ``We've got it down to three players, and all three will help if Dino's on our team or not on our team.''

If the pick is Billups, that would fulfill Brown's vision of an interchangeable backcourt and a chance to use the electric Allen Iverson, this season's Rookie of the Year, off the ball.

``Everything I hear is, it's one of the three possibilities,'' said Eric Fleisher, Billups's agent. ``I've also heard more trade talk than I want to hear in a lifetime.

``If they take Chauncey, that would mean they've made a decision to build from the backcourt. With Chauncey as the lead guard, Allen would be freed up to score and be creative.

``If they feel they have enough up front, that would also be a reason to take him. It's always harder to find a point guard than any position but center, and from what I've seen the talent pool of point guards over the next two or three years could be lean.''

Well, then, what happens if the Sixers slip into a Battie mode, deciding they need an athletic 6-9 1/2 frontcourt player with shot-blocking and defensive skillswho can also make shots?

``Assuming they don't make a trade, I believe they're thinking about Tony,'' said Battie's agent, Joel Bell.

``He's worthy of being the No. 2 pick, and a couple of years from now people may look back and say he was the best player in this draft. Plus, Tony wants to play in Philadelphia. Sometimes taking a guy who's going to stay three years [the duration of the rookie contract for first-rounders] and leave isn't worth it. When a guy's first choice is the city that takes him, that's at least worth considering.''

Van Horn, the 6-10 small forward, flatly refused to visit.

``I just don't think they had a need for me, and I don't think it would be a great situation for me,'' Van Horn said yesterday in Charlotte. ``If they were to draft me, I would go in there and play as well as I can, but I think there's better places suited for me.''

Brown, though, has stoically repeated that Van Horn's stance would not stop the Sixers from calling his name.

``Everybody has his opinion, but we have some guys with talent,'' Stackhouse said. ``If that's how [Van Horn] really feels, we'll really look forward to playing against him.

``Somebody has to come. This team hasn't been successful in recent seasons, and a young player could think it's a downward spiral. I think we're about to end that spiral. I'd advise a young player to jump on.''

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