- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2000

WILMINGTON, N.C. The Washington Wizards will swing open the doors of Trask Coliseum on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington tonight and unveil a preliminary look at the team. Without question, most who will pile into the auditorium will be there to get a glance at Michael Jordan, Wilmington's most famous son and the Wizards' president of basketball operations.
But what Jordan and the coaching staff will be watching most intently will be the individual battles for roster spots, which are soon to heat up. The Wizards will break camp tomorrow and travel to Memphis, Tenn., where they will play the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday in their first preseason game.
The most heated battle on the roster is at shooting guard where backups Laron Profit and Felipe Lopez, players with similar skills and attributes, are trying to make the club.
"You have certain guys at certain positions that certainly have to compete," Jordan said.
And that position is backup shooting guard.
"You want as much competition as possible so that those guys can be motivated to improve," Jordan said.
Profit, acquired from Orlando last year in exchange for a second-round pick this year, showed enough last year in training camp to earn a spot on the roster. However, with Mitch Richmond and promising rookie Richard Hamilton soaking up all the minutes last season, Profit played just 225 minutes all season. Profit, who is guaranteed $525,000 whether he makes the squad or not, averaged 1.5 points.
Lopez, entering his third season, was acquired in the offseason from Vancouver along with Cherokee Parks, Profit's former Maryland teammate Obinna Ekezie and the recently released Dennis Scott in exchange for center Ike Austin. Lopez averaged 9.3 points as a rookie with Vancouver. However, a shoulder injury reduced his playing time last year and he averaged just 4.5 points. He is guaranteed $831,000 by the team this year.
Both players are probably the most athletic in camp. Profit's strong suit has been his defense and his quickness. However, Lopez might be even quicker, and he is probably a better defensive player.
Both have looked impressive so far in drills and scrimmages. Lopez can be credited with the most impressive highlight move of the camp so far. During one five-on-five session, Lopez caught the ball on the left wing, blasted his way through a congested middle and ultimately tomahawk dunked on 6-foot-9, 290-pound Jahidi White.
Profit, who was told to work on his jumper last season, has shown that he is much more capable of knocking down the 17-footer that once gave him problems. He also has spent extended sessions after practice working with assistant coach Larry Drew and scout Walter Davis.
"I think they are similar in a lot of ways," Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton said. "Felipe probably has the edge defensively right now because he has had more experience in the league. But I think what will give both of them their best opportunity is for them to play to their strengths. What natural skills they have they need to focus in those areas.
"But they both seem to be extremely athletic; they both are guys who are slashers who take the ball to the basket. But I see more types of battles coming up. Right now, though, I'm not trying to look that far down the road. I'm just trying to give everybody an opportunity to learn the system and become consistent. Then we'll really start evaluating."
Profit sees his competition with everyone, not just Lopez.
"We're all kind of anxious to prove ourselves, to see where we fit and where we belong," he said. "Of course we're all trying to compete and catch eyes. We know what's at stake. That's what the NBA is about. Competition is on your mind all the time. But we're just trying to take it one day at a time. I want to get on the team, I want to show what I can do. It's on your mind but right now we're all learning and taking it day-by-day."
When asked if he was aware of the competition between himself and Profit, Lopez was more direct.
"It is like that," Lopez said. "It is a situation where you have to let your game decide. You have to show that you can be a piece of this team. You can't come out and try to do things that you cannot do. I've got to come out here and, no matter what … No matter who is in front of me I've got to compete."
Notes Injuries have reduced the number of available bodies in camp to just 15. Rod Strickland (hamstring), Chris Whitney (ankle), Gerard King (torn ligament, right ring finger), and veteran forward Michael Smith (sinus infection) all missed yesterday's morning session. Strickland is expected to play in tonight's scrimmage… . Forward Lorenzo Williams had exploratory surgery on his right knee that revealed cartilage damage. Williams will begin rehabilitation this week and is expected to be out eight weeks.

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