- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

For a player who has proved himself as the best on the basketball court time and again, Michael Jordan faces a great deal of uncertainty entering the 2002-03 season, his second with the Washington Wizards, 15th in the NBA and possibly his final as a professional.

Jordan, when healthy, has started nearly every game in his career; he played almost exclusively at shooting guard except for a stint at small forward last season; and he averaged better than 35 minutes a game for his career. He could be bucking all of those trends depending on how he gets through training camp and how coach Doug Collins molds the playing rotation.

"I expect to play the whole season," Jordan said at the team's media day yesterday. "That's my motivation, that's my challenge. For the most part I go in with the idea to play important minutes. If Doug feels like after seeing me play and seeing how the development of our team is, possibly I could better support the team coming off the bench, I will entertain that thought.

"If I am playing well enough to start, hopefully I can get to that point, too. Nothing has been determined. It's been talked about, yes, but until training camp happens, no one knows."

What has been determined, the 39-year-old Jordan said yesterday, is he will not play in preseason games. He will closely monitor his workload through preseason workouts to ensure that he enters the season in his best condition.

Collins wants to deliver on the promise that he couldn't keep last season to effectively limit Jordan's minutes in an effort to keep him fresh throughout the season, especially for the playoff push.

Last season Jordan played too many minutes during the Wizards' 2-9 start and in their unsuccessful run at the playoffs. With the Wizards 34-40, Jordan missed the final eight games of the season (five of which the Wizards lost) and they faded from the playoff picture.

"Early in the season, I'd like to keep under 30 [minutes]," Collins said of Jordan. "He couldn't [practice regularly] last year, he was too worried getting that knee ready to play games. We want to be able to keep his minutes down, we want to be able to build as the season goes on, we don't want to be where we've worn him down like we did last year and then him not be able to finish out the season. That's not the goal."

Jordan played in 60 games last season, when he battled problems with both his knees, undergoing surgery in his right knee in late February before returning for seven games. The factor that would seem to trump Jordan, 39, being a year older is that he has a solid conditioning base from practicing, training and playing before and during last season through his injuries whereas at this time last year he was fighting to round into game shape.

Jordan spoke extensively yesterday about his health. He consulted Stephen Haas, the Wizards' team physician, following last season and identified a method of resting and then strengthening his right knee.

Jordan said part of his problem was his flat feet were pushing his knee, hip and back painfully out of line, so he began to use orthotics to help correct the problem that caused soreness. He said he worked out during the offseason, sometimes on consecutive days, with few setbacks, but only became pain-free about three weeks ago.

"Once I went through that process and started wearing orthotics, my knee started to respond and I could see it in the way I played, the way I ran, my recovery from day to day," Jordan said. "That was the basis of my decision."

Collins and Jordan agree he should stay more in the backcourt than at small forward. There may be some matchups when he would play small forward.

"Predominately I will probably end up playing at guard," Jordan said. "It is a big task playing small forward when you really haven't played there that often in your whole career."

Some Wizards struggled at times last season playing with Jordan, perhaps looking to him too much as a six-time NBA champion and the game's greatest player rather than a teammate. Players yesterday said that shouldn't be as much of a problem, especially without all of the hoopla that came with his return last season.

"I think [it is less distracting]," center Brendan Haywood said. "Last year there was a big thing about him coming back, out of retirement and you had the whole media frenzy. This year, people questioned if he was coming back but a lot of people thought he was, so I don't think there will be quite the media crush there was last year."

Now that his status for this season is settled barring injury is this Jordan's last? Not surprisingly, his answer will keep everyone waiting.

"My main objective was to fulfill my contract," he said. "After this year will be 'after this year.' I never want to say never again. When I do say it, it will be 100 percent, not 99.9. I'm focusing on this year and at the end of the season just leave it as that."

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