- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2000

It doesn't seem to matter who is watching the Washington Wizards these days, the team's play just continues to sink lower and lower.
Yesterday as the Wizards prepared to face the Los Angeles Clippers, the man most intimately intertwined with the success or failure of this team president of basketball operations Michael Jordan watched it prepare for tonight's game.
Jordan's most immediate concern is how the Wizards will adapt to life the next four weeks or so without guard Mitch Richmond, who is sidelined with a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee. But Jordan, who is committed to clearing salary cap space for the future, also indicated that the Wizards, who last week traded for small forward Tyrone Nesby, might not be finished dealing this season.
"We're still trying to better this team," said Jordan, who is expected to be at tonight's game at MCI Center. "We're still trying to improve it in whatever capacity we can. Is this our final team of the year? I can't say that."
Jordan did not say what brought him to practice yesterday, but certainly the plight of the struggling team had to be at the top of the list. The Wizards have lost 11 of their last 13 games, are in last place in the Atlantic Division, and are further out of first place (10* games) than any other team in the league. Jordan will no doubt be watching closely as the Wizards turn to second-year guard Richard Hamilton, Felipe Lopez and Nesby to pick up the scoring void (15.5 points) that Richmond's absence creates.
"It's going to be a test for Richard, a rude awakening," Jordan said. "I think Lopez picked up the scoring slack some in the last game and I think that's what's going to have to happen every night. Somebody is going to have to take it on themselves to defend, to cover for the 15 points we were asking of Mitch."
Despite playing more than 120 minutes less than Richmond, Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland the team's top three scorers Hamilton's 13.8 scoring average is not far below Richmond's team leading figure. However, Hamilton's defensive skills lag far behind his offensive ability. Hamilton has said on several occasions that he feels he is as good as any of the players in his draft class such as Steve Francis, Elton Brand and Shawn Marion and he is now going to get a chance to show it.
"I'm going to have to elevate my game even higher than what I have been doing," Hamilton said. "It's a challenge. I've been accepting challenges all my life. I don't want to be the type of player that is just a role player; a player who sits back and they don't expect you to perform at a high level. I want to be looked at as a player that when people come to watch they'll say, 'OK, this is a guy who is going to step up and help this team win a basketball game.' "
When it comes to Hamilton, Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton has some of the same concerns about his defense, as did his predecessors, Gar Heard and director of player personnel Darrell Walker. In fact, Leonard Hamilton is still not completely certain that Hamilton will remain in the starting lineup at shooting guard until Richmond's return. The coach says that Hamilton has the rare ability to come off the bench and give the team instant offense.
"There's no doubt we are still going to tinker with our lineup," Leonard Hamilton said. "We can't continue to keep going the way we're going. We're going to have to make some adjustments and maybe some people might be better coming off the bench. But we're going to have to keep tinkering with it until we start having the level of success that we want to have."
Whatever the case may be, Jordan will be camped out in the Washington area for the next few days, no doubt exploring trade possibilities of which there appear to be few considering the team's salary cap predicament and trying to monitor the fading pulse of the Wizards. As they face their hardest test playing the next month without their top scorer, Jordan expects to find out a lot about the team he owns.
"I don't know if they've been pushed in the past to dig deep," Jordan wondered. "But this is one time that they are going to be pushed. Hopefully they'll respond well. I'm hoping they will."

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