- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

Washington Wizards president of basketball operations Michael Jordan yesterday charged sometimes combustible point guard Rod Strickland with righting the team.
"Rod is going to be the catalyst of any success we have," Jordan said yesterday in a one-hour media session on the practice court at MCI Center. "Rod has been my project. I've been in touch with him just about every other day this summer.
"I think you have to put pressure on him, but I think he can handle it," Jordan continued. "If I didn't feel that was the case he wouldn't be here. There were a lot of people calling for his head, for him to be traded or whatever. But I have total faith in Rod."
The Wizards will begin their first training camp under Jordan on Oct. 3 in Jordan's hometown, Wilmington, N.C. In his news conference, Jordan touched on a number of topics. He indicated that talks with disgruntled New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing never got to the "serious level" before Ewing was traded to Seattle this week. And he also indicated that he has talked to reserve forward Tracy Murray since Murray acknowledged that he wanted to be dealt, preferably to a West Coast team.
But Jordan made it clear that he believes in the Wizards, who have made very few changes to their roster despite finishing last season 29-53. The only significant change over the summer was the hiring of Leonard Hamilton as coach. Trading center Ike Austin for four players in the last year of their contracts was strictly a move to clear salary cap space.
Jordan, who has repeatedly referred to the Wizards as underachievers, made clear his expectations for the season, which begins Oct. 31 at Orlando.
"I think they should be above .500, without a doubt," Jordan said. "A lot of the lack of success that they had was because of their effort on the basketball court."
Jordan said that firing coaches the Wizards have had five different head men in the last 17 months is not an option. He also indicated that it is time for the players to become more accountable for the team's play.
"You can look at the number of times they've made changes in the coaching staffs," Jordan said. "Well, now you've got to look yourselves in the mirror as players and say, 'Maybe it's me instead of the coaching staff.' I want the players to understand that you can't blame every coach that you bring in here for what happens on the court. They are going to get a fresh start."
This is clearly an important season for Strickland, who could not be reached for comment yesterday. He has one year remaining on his contract which pays him $10 million annually and the team has the option to pick up his contract the following season. However, the Wizards can buy him out for $5 million after this season. If they do, Strickland, who averaged 12.6 points and 7.4 assists, would be a 35-year-old free-agent point guard next summer.
In essence, it is almost as if Strickland is playing in the last year of his contract. If Jordan believes that Strickland can still be a major contributor for one more season at the end of this one, the Wizards will likely pick up the option. And Strickland has a knack of playing better when the pressure is on. The year before he signed his latest contract, Strickland averaged 17.8 points and a league-high 10.5 assists.
Jordan said he will be much more visible at MCI Center this year. In fact, Jordan said he would be at training camp every day and attend most, if not all, of the team's preseason games. However, Jordan said that he would not allow his presence to interfere with Hamilton doing his job.
"Certainly I'm going to have my input on what we should be doing," Jordan said. "But I'm not going to get involved with the actual X's and O's. I won't tell Leonard what should be done this way and what should be done that way."
Just as he believes the Wizards have room for improvement on the court, Jordan said he believes that he still has much to prove to those who question his acumen with regard to running an NBA franchise. Some general managers and agents have openly questioned whether Jordan will show the commitment needed to turn the Wizards around.
"I haven't done anything on this level that has contributed to this team's success, so I'm sure there are questions," he said. "I welcome them. I've got a lot to prove. Until I do it there are always going to be skeptics."
When he hired Hamilton to coach the Wizards, Jordan said the onus was squarely on the shoulders of the players. However, Jordan opened himself up for judgment in the future.
"Don't evaluate what I've done yet," Jordan said. "When I came on the season was well in progress, and there was very little I could do at the time. But that won't be the case at the end of this season. That will be a fair time for you to evaluate me. Whatever happens, at the end of the season I will take full accountability for it."

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