- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

After 32 games last season, with the Wizards stumbling to a 13-19 record, Eddie Jordan was thought to be in a tenuous position, his future in doubt.

At least that was the perception outside the organization, given that he was hired 11 days before Ernie Grunfeld in June 2003 and thus was not the handpicked choice of the team’s president of basketball operations.

That may have been an erroneous perception, for Grunfeld always said the right things about Jordan in public and made himself available to the local press to quell the speculation in early January last year.

Jordan, of course, received a contract extension in the offseason after the Wizards made their second consecutive appearance in the playoffs, their first back-to-back accomplishment in 18 years.

Now Jordan and the Wizards are waging a spirited fight in the Eastern Conference, with Jordan in position to be the coach of the East All-Stars in Las Vegas if the Wizards have the best conference record through the games this Sunday.

Jordan has come a long way in the last 12 months, from an object of speculation to a potential All-Star coach, and maintained a calm dignity through it all.

His cool demeanor has served both him and the team well, with the Wizards of the last few seasons capable of driving even the most grounded person to fits of frustration.

But that is just not Jordan’s style unless sufficiently piqued. He routinely takes the blame following a loss and doles out praise to his players following a victory.

Even when Jordan’s relationship with Brendan Haywood was at its worst late last season — each essentially pretended the other did not exist — Jordan never rebuked Haywood in public.

Their relationship is much improved this season, as Haywood has played with more energy and conviction and perhaps forged a greater maturity.

Evidence of the growing warmth between the two revealed itself in the team’s impressive stint in Orlando 10 days ago, when Haywood was relieved late in the game and the two exchanged congratulations and smiles in front of the bench.

That was a sight that could not have happened if Jordan had poisoned the relationship with heavy-handed pronouncements in the press in the manner of the Larry Brown-Stephon Marbury feud last season.

Jordan resisted the nuclear verbal option, and now he is receiving much-needed production from a player who has a history of obsessing over his minutes on the floor.

Jordan hid his anxiety well after the Wizards began the season with high expectations and promptly started 4-9.

Other coaches might have held what amounted to therapy sessions with the press, as Jordan’s predecessor was prone to do.

Still other coaches might have been apt to implement changes in the team’s playing style and altered the very state that makes the Wizards a viable threat, which is their free-spirited shot-making capacity.

Jordan allowed the Wizards to be what they are and the results since their 4-9 start have been impressive.

Jordan can be tough when necessary, as Gilbert Arenas has seen on occasion the last few seasons.

In those rare games when Arenas is fighting with himself, Jordan has been known to let him work it out on the bench for an extended period.

Jordan can be feisty as well.

He was ejected from a desultory game in San Antonio earlier this month, angered not only because of the officiating but because of how the Wizards had failed to conduct themselves the previous night against the makeshift lineup of the Hornets.

Jordan knows when to push and prod his players and when to let them sort things out for themselves.

This instinct comes with experience, and Jordan, in his fourth season with the Wizards, already is the longest-tenured coach in the conference.

When the former star from Archbishop Carroll High School was named the head coach on June 19, 2003 — the franchise’s seventh head coach since the 1998-99 season — little did anyone realize that this would mark the start of a pronounced transformation on Fun Street.

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