- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A coaching change is not going to inspire the feeble frontcourt of the Wizards.

A coaching change is not going to confer a power forward’s body on Antawn Jamison.

A coaching change is not going to repair the defensively challenged nature of the Wizards.

The Wizards are what they are and what they were last season, the only difference being they had what amounted to three All-Stars in the lineup last season compared to the one they have now.

The trio of Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Jamison was gifted enough to overcome the routine struggles of the frontcourt. Arenas and Jamison both were selected to the All-Star Game last season, and Hughes possibly would have made the team as well if he had not been injured at the time.

Arenas is expected to make his second appearance in the All-Star Game this season, while Jamison is hardly an All-Star candidate and Hughes, of course, has run off to Cleveland and, predictably enough, is out again with an injury.

And that essentially frames the plight of coach Eddie Jordan and the Wizards. You cannot consistently win in the NBA if you do not have an actively engaged frontcourt unless there are several compelling performers around it, as was the case with the Wizards last season.

And the Wizards do not have an actively engaged frontcourt. They have players only entrusted with the role, not players who actually fill the role on a consistent basis.

Brendan Haywood shows up to play once every four or five games, or whatever his ulcer-causing pattern is.

The 7-footer fashioned a two-point, two-rebound effort in 22 minutes against the Jazz.

Haywood would have you believe that things would have been different if only he had received more minutes and touches against the Jazz, which is to ask his coach and teammates to ignore all the evidence lurking in his portfolio.

Haywood did not just roll into Tony Cheng’s neighborhood. He is in his fifth season with the Wizards, playing under his second coaching staff, and there is a “Groundhog Day” quality to his career. He makes progress, he excites the coaching staff with a game or two, and then he disappears for an extended period.

Doug Collins once thought Haywood could develop into a Robert Parish-like center, which was fairly high praise. Whether Collins actually believed that is debatable. Coaches sometimes say overly kind things of a player in the hope the player will try to meet the expectation.

Jordan suggested Haywood could be an All-Star at the start of the season. Maybe he believed that assertion then. He does not believe it now.

Haywood does not have to perform in the manner of an All-Star anyway. He merely has to be an element in the game, as he was against the Celtics, with nine points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes.

Now that Haywood has had a productive game of late, Jordan and the Wizards probably will have to wait another two or three games before he re-emerges.

So here is the makeup of the Wizards now: They have an All-Star in Arenas, two solid players in Jamison and Caron Butler, a number of serviceable role players if the right components are around them, no frontcourt, too many players not physically built to be effective defenders and a growing psychological issue.

That is not on Jordan. That is on the players, as the players concede themselves.

They are the ones going into games now looking as if they have just returned from a military tour in Baghdad, looking as if they need a soft couch and a good shrink to help them sift through their searing 13-19 record.

The Wizards are down by 24 points to the Rockets at one point at home one week and then down by 22 points to the Jazz at one point at home the next week.

That is an indication of tentativeness and fear, of a team struggling with its confidence and having a hard time adjusting to its scaled-down self.

It is not easy competing in the NBA with a mixture of frustration and disgust, which is where the Wizards are now.

They would not be human if they did not feel these things, if they were not questioning each other in private or at times in public, if they were not wondering if everyone has the same energy level and conviction on defense.

The one constant of the franchise since the mid-‘90s has been the revolving door of coaches. Nine coaches have led the franchise in the last 10 seasons, and Jordan is in his third season.

The pursuit of a quick fix often breeds instability in an organization because each time a coaching move is made, the latest savior brings his personal preferences of players to the arena, his system and his unique way of connecting to a team. And so it takes time for the coach to implement his vision.

Jordan has built up considerable good will after leading the franchise to its first playoff series triumph in 23 years last spring. He did not lose 50 IQ points in the summer.

Instead, just as it was last season, he must manage games with a frontcourt that would make him pull out his hair if he had hair.

Michael Ruffin is probably the team’s most dependable frontcourt player, and he is a role player with severe limitations on offense.

If you could transplant his grit, savvy and fortitude to Haywood or Etan Thomas, you would have the player the Wizards so desperately need.

As it is, the Wizards go into each game with Haywood at center and Jamison at power forward because of a lack of viable alternatives.

Haywood is soft and too often out to lunch, and Jamison is genetically cursed with the body of a glorified shooting guard.

Could Red Auerbach change that?

We see the Zen master, the exalted minister of the NBA coaching fraternity, has had little influence on Kwame Brown.

Coaches rarely make players at the NBA level. They craft systems intended to maximize the positives and minimize the weaknesses of their teams.

Jordan’s defensive principles worked just fine in the two seasons the Nets advanced to the NBA Finals, partly because Kenyon Martin was the power forward and Richard Jefferson the small forward of those teams.

Jordan has no such luxury on his roster today.

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