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Tom Knott: A finish Eddie didn’t deserve

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The firing of Eddie Jordan as coach of the Wizards was undeserved. The back-to-the-'90s move was implemented after the shell of a team stumbled to a 1-10 start.

And this team is a shell. It is a patchwork of parts that no one - not even the late Red Auerbach - could make chicken salad out of chicken fertilizer with it.

The starting lineup in recent games has featured a non-shooting point guard who played in Turkey last season, a rookie center who was expected to receive limited minutes this season and a physically hampered DeShawn Stevenson who is shooting 34.3 percent after 11 games.

That left Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison to shoulder the burden, and although they have played well enough, their diminished numbers reflect the opposition's tendency to focus the defense on them, especially in the fourth quarter.

It was the correct strategy of opposing coaches to let Nick Young or Juan Dixon or Stevenson or anyone but Butler and Jamison try to beat them.

That is why the Wizards have been unable to finish games on a successful note.

Twenty-five-win teams - and that appears to be the destiny of the Wizards - do not finish games well in the NBA. It is one of the bylaws of the NBA.

Bad teams throw a lazy crosscourt pass that is intercepted in the waning minutes of a one-possession game. That leads to an easy basket at the other end of the floor, and there goes the game.

That was the Young-inspired development that decided the Wizards-Rockets game Friday night. That was a play conceived from a second-year player who would not have been on the floor at the time if Gilbert Arenas was healthy and Roger Mason Jr. was still with the team.

Young has an all-or-nothing propensity about him at this point in his development. He either makes shots or doesn't. He does not see the floor. He does not shut down scorers. He does not get his share of long rebounds. He is Vinnie Johnson without the savvy and grit.

Jordan and Mike O'Koren, who was let go as the associate head coach, earned the right to keep their jobs during this 25-win season. They earned the right because of four consecutive playoff berths and a 43-win season in 2008 that was fashioned out of fortitude and the equanimity of the coaching staff.

Not that it would have been enjoyable to watch Young try to be Kobe Bryant or Andray Blatche have one decent game followed by two weeks' worth of disappearances connected to how many late nights he was spending at the Love nightclub off New York Avenue in Northeast.

Ed Tapscott, named the interim coach of the Wizards, cannot change this, and nothing against Tapscott, whose D.C.-based connections go back to his days as coach of American University.

Ernie Grunfeld obviously thinks otherwise. As the team's president of basketball operations, he apparently thinks the personnel is underachieving. And maybe the players were tuning out Jordan and O'Koren on some level after they have been sentenced to this injury-plagued situation since late January 2007.

But the evidence suggests otherwise. The team was playing hard, the team was competitive in most games, and the coaches and players seemed to be in agreement on what was ailing them.

They needed their franchise player to make shots in the fourth quarter. They needed Brendan Haywood to block shots and alter others. They needed Mason lurking on the 3-point line. They needed Blatche to be committed to the cause. And they needed Antonio Daniels to be healthy, looking to squeeze the last remnants of effectiveness out of his 33-year-old body.

All this was on Jordan and O'Koren?

Hardly. They are not medicine men. They cannot help Daniels with the Fountain of Youth. They cannot inject Blatche with a massive dose of passion.

What they could do - and they did this well - was help the team absorb the blows that kept coming its way since it had the best record in the conference at the All-Star cutoff in 2007.

Now Jordan and O'Koren are out the door, available to lead another franchise.

That will happen, too.

They eventually will head another team. That is coaching life in the NBA, unpleasant and unfair as it is sometimes.

And Monday in Tony Cheng's neighborhood was both unpleasant and unfair.