- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 6, 2000

Washington Wizards president of basketball operations Michael Jordan is dribbling around the idea of replacing interim head coach Darrell Walker. Jordan would like a coach in place by the draft lottery on May 21. Several candidates have popped up this week, including the winningest coach in NBA history, Lenny Wilkens. Jordan is also said to be considering Rod Higgins or John Paxson, a couple of old teammates from his Chicago Bulls days. Former George Washington University coach Mike Jarvis might also be on the Wizards wish list. In the short term, because of hefty player contracts which the team can't unload, it doesn't matter who gets the job. The coach's position is just one small piece in a puzzle that will take years to complete.

The Wizards have had chances to get big names before, only to look foolish for passing them up. Doc Rivers, named coach of the year last week for the Orlando Magic, was passed up for Gar Heard. Ouch. That makes Wilkens difficult to pass up. He is one of only two ever to go to the Hall of Fame as both a player and coach. He also won it all with the Seattle SuperSonics. However, that was back in 1979. The project known as the Wizards will take several seasons. The 62-year-old Wilkens may not want to stay around the league that long. His laid-back coaching style may not be what this team needs either. This Wizards team needs a leader who isn't afraid to show problem players like Rod Strickland and Ike Austin who is running the team.

Higgins and Paxson are both known to have sharp basketball minds. Jordan was reported to have wanted Higgins when he joined the Wizards, but Higgins' team, the Golden State Warriors, weren't willing to release their up-and-coming assistant coach without a big payday. Paxson has been doing Bulls games on radio but hasn't been on an NBA bench since he put in a year as an assistant in the mid-1990s. Higgins and Paxson may be great head coaches someday, but they shouldn't get their feet wet at the MCI Center.

Jarvis is the sentimental favorite because of his history in Washington. After several successful seasons at GW, Jarvis moved on to a high-profile Big East job at St. John's. Jarvis may be ready to move on to the NBA after messy tussles with the NCAA over player eligibility, but, like Wilkens, Jarvis is known as a laid-back coach. And college coaches have a sketchy history of making the leap to the pros. Former New Jersey Nets coach John Calipari and current Bulls coach Tim Floyd are recent examples. The Wizards job has a way of destroying coaches. It would be a shame to see Jarvis have that kind of homecoming.

Because of hefty player salaries in place before his arrival, Jordan's hands are tied. It will be another season before some of these contracts begin to run their course. Then the Wizards can dismantle the team and start over. Trades of big-money players like Strickland, Mitch Richmond and Juwan Howard are unlikely. Walker's brief stint as head coach started rocky, but the team ended the year stronger than at any time during the season. With so few games under his belt, it is difficult to tell whether Walker is a good X's and O's man, but he is a tough disciplinarian who rewards lesser-known players who work hard with minutes on the floor. At this point, most Wizards fans would be satisfied with five players on the court giving 100 percent. Next season will be a wash. It is better to keep Walker than to bring a new coach into this mess. Once salary cap room is cleared after the 2000-2001 season, the Wizards can re-evaluate the head coaching position. Top candidates will be more inclined to make the move to Washington if money is available to lure high-profile free agents.

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