- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2000

Leonard Hamilton was met with sympathy in Tony Cheng's neighborhood yesterday.

His introduction to Washington could have been confused with a wake. The poor guy has agreed to spend the next five seasons in basketball purgatory.

Hamilton either was desperate to reach the NBA or fell under the sway of Michael Jordan's considerable charisma.

"It was not a hard decision at all after I took everything into consideration," he said.

As the new coach of the Wizards, Hamilton is looking to keep hope alive. In his case, hope probably comes out to about 25 wins next season, 30 if he fashions a miracle or two.

The definition of miracle has been scaled down in these parts. Redefining words is a Washington pastime, whether the word is sex or niggardly.

Jordan used to walk on Lake Michigan. Now he is just another NBA executive who is restricted by the salary cap and indifferent personnel.

Hamilton has a chance to lead the NBA in heartburn next season, depending on what happens with the ever-incompetent Clippers. He tried to be upbeat. Give him that.

"I feel very fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity," he said.

God's blessings would be helpful to the franchise as well.

Smiles were doled out instead of black armbands. Brave words were expressed.

"I think we can make the playoffs [next season] without a doubt," Jordan said.

The pretense was predictable. It is June. The hard evidence does not start to accumulate until the fall.

Hamilton appeared to be aware of his surroundings, no small concern, considering the task before him.

His first reality check is expected to be provided by time-challenged Rod Strickland, the team's unconscientious objector at point guard.

Strickland is often late to team functions, and that is only if he bothers to show up at all. Being tardy is the most consistent aspect of his game, and it was an aspect that distressed Jim Lynam, Bernie Bickerstaff, Jim Brovelli, Gar Heard and Darrell Walker.

The list of ex-coaches would be longer, but Strickland has been in the employ of the Wizards only since the 1996-97 season.

One of the axioms of the NBA is that a team's success or failure starts with the point guard. Perhaps that explains the Wizards the last few seasons.

At least Strickland beats Ike Austin to the arena. The Wizards are still waiting for the center to appear after trading for him last summer. Austin's mug would be on the side of milk cartons, except for the fact that someone who bears a resemblance to him spent last season on the bench.

Hamilton is going to have to adjust his interpersonal skills. A college coach's word is law. The word of a coach in the NBA is sometimes put to a referendum.

"What I'm going to do first is try to bring a tremendous work ethic to the program," he said.

Long work hours, tough losses and sleepless nights are part of the job. Hand-holding is part of the job, too, and not just with Strickland.

Life is not fair, as Juwan Howard has come to realize, and not by traveling to Calcutta.

His $105 million contract has come to symbolize all that is wrong with the franchise. That is unfair to Howard, of course, although with $105 million, you can buy a comfortable couch and a good therapist.

Hamilton bought out his contract at the University of Miami, which is the front-office way of resolving an employer's kindness.

The buyout should dispel the suspicion that Hamilton was removed from Miami by Janet Reno's kidnappers. He really wants to be on Fun Street.

The Chinese food is very good, and the Mystics are making certain strides, and things could be worse. Mark Fuhrman could be still planting marijuana in Chris Webber's vehicle and belongings.

"Obviously, I'm extremely excited about being part of a new beginning for the Wizards," Hamilton said.

That is easy for him to say at this point. He has not looked at the team's game film from last season yet.

That ordeal comes later, and he has the city's best wishes. Hang in there, and good luck.

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