- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

WILMINGTON, N.C. Consider Doug Collins a year older, a year wiser and better prepared to guide the Washington Wizards.

Collins and his assistants have shifted their approach with the team in their second season, changes that they hope will pay off in a successful playoff run.

"More big picture and less micromanaging," Collins explained. "I'm giving my assistants a lot of time to be out there and teach and just sort of take a step back. I don't want the guys to hear my voice too much, I want them to figure things out a little bit on their own."

Don't misunderstand Collins, known as one of the NBA's best teachers, is still instructing plenty. His adjustments center on putting the onus more on the players; it's not that he's taking on less responsibility, but he wants the team to operate more as one group rather than as a part of a rigid player-coach dynamic.

"When you get really professional people who are self-motivated, I think you don't have to say as much because they really bring out the best in each other," Collins said. "That's one thing I'm really happy about with this team, I think they are starting to hold each other accountable. And that is when you have a chance to be a very good team."

Collins is optimistic because of newly added veterans like Jerry Stackhouse, who won the Central Division title with Detroit last season; and Bryon Russell, who spent nine seasons in Utah, went to the playoffs every season and played with future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and John Stockton. Both likely will start and can provide leadership.

And that doesn't even take into account Michael Jordan, who built his six championship seasons with the Chicago Bulls on his ability to bring his teammates together and as Collins said bring out the best in each of them. With the Wizards, although he may not start this season, he has done the same thing.

Collins is handling Jordan's situation differently this season as well. Last summer Jordan's focus stayed on getting into game shape, a process that was interrupted when he broke his ribs and continued when he healed. Ultimately, the intense preseason work plus Jordan's hefty minutes during the season contributed to his knee problems late in the campaign. Now coaches are taking extra precautions, like holding Jordan out of one workout a day and limiting his practice time.

"After coming back, he worked extremely hard to get in shape last year, then he broke his rib, then he worked extremely hard to get back, then he practiced too hard and overexerted himself," assistant coach Brian James said. "We want Michael to take these next four weeks as a slow progression, so he's ready [for the season opener] Oct.30 instead of Oct.10."

On the court, Collins is stressing defense first; last year he and the staff worked more on getting their offensive sets in place. They realize Larry Hughes, Stackhouse and Jordan are more than capable of getting the team going offensively, so making sure the Wizards are prepared defensively is a priority.

"Our whole approach to this camp is, we really want to set the tone defensively," assistant coach Larry Drew said. "We want to be able to guard people; we feel with the team now, we have guys who can put points on the board but our staple has to be our defense."

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