- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2000

Gosh, how Michael Jordan has slowed down. Less than two years after taking off his No. 23 for the last time, he's stuck in one spot like Ike Austin.

I refer, of course, to his delay in picking a coach for the Wizards. It has been almost a month since Washington's alleged NBA team played, the NBA Draft is approaching like Allen Iverson on a fastbreak and still no decision from Mike. Could it be that he can't get anybody to take the job? Or has Air Jordan simply become Be-Ware Jordan?

The most ridiculous part of all is that the Wizards already have their coach. His name is Darrell Walker, and from all reports he did a dandy job with a team that was all but comatose when he took over in midseason from the unfortunate Gar Heard.

Walker pushed and goaded his assortment of overpaid underachievers to a 15-23 record that impressed most people who could stand to be around the Wiz. At certain junctures, he got right in the faces of folks like Rod Strickland, Mitch Richmond, Juwan Howard, et al. That took a lot of guts on the part of an interim coach whose salary probably amounted to pocket change in today's crazy NBA world.

Now we hear that Jordan is considering Walker for a front-office job rather than as coach. Hey, Mike, why mess with a good thing? Keep him on the bench, where he belongs.

I can't get too excited about any of the people Jordan is interviewing. So Lenny Wilkens is the NBA's all-time winningest coach, so what? He's also 62 years old, and he would be nuts to take on a challenge like the Wizards. I mean, why spoil the rest of your life?

Rod Higgins and John Paxson have had as much experience being NBA head coaches as I have. St. John's Mike Jarvis would be a popular choice around town after the rebuilding job he did at George Washington, but pro basketball history is littered with the remains of college coaches who tried to move up. So Walker is the man, or should be.

Actually, though, I don't think the Wizards will have a real turnaround until majority owner Abe Pollin and general manager Wes Unseld spiritual father and son, according to Abe depart the scene. They're jolly good fellows, which no one can deny, but the evidence is pretty strong that they don't know how to build a winning NBA team nowadays.

Certainly, Pollin deserves better. He is among the most generous and respected owners in professional sports, and he has done more for this city athletically than anyone else. But when he turns over control of the Wizards to Ted Leonsis in a year or two, I'll applaud. Sports is a young man's game off the field of play, too, and whippersnappers like Leonsis and Dan Snyder are the ones who seem to be getting it done.

Because we can't sit at a GM's elbow and watch him do his job, it's more difficult to assess Unseld's performance. Although he's another person who is well liked by his peers, he didn't win as coach (202-345 in six-plus seasons), and he hasn't won in the front office. What else really matters?

And taking it from the top, it's much too soon to evaluate Jordan as president of basketball operations. We don't know whether he will be one of the NBA's smartest and most successful executives, or whether he will be remembered in these parts as a figurehead boss who will tire of the frustrations in two or three years and go off somewhere to play golf and count his money.

Of course, Jordan and the man he picks as coach will have their hands tied because of all those dratted long-term contracts. Juwan Howard is a nice ballplayer, but no way is he worth $10 million or $20 million a year, or whatever he makes. Strickland is more trouble than he's worth, even when he puts on his shorts the right way, and is coming off the worst year of his career. Richmond is a fine shooter, but there are plenty of 2-guards much younger and cheaper. The one Wizard who can get me worked up is Richard Hamilton, last spring's No. 1 draft choice, but we will have to see whether he can avoid being sucked into the mediocrity all around him.

I wouldn't be surprised if Jordan is already having some second thoughts about leaving his nicely cushioned world of TV commercials and megastar celebrity to command the NBA's Titanic. Resurrecting this franchise is going to take a long time and a lot of patience. The first step is to find your coach, and the Wizards were lucky to have Walker available when Higgins, their first choice to replace Heard, couldn't shake loose from the Warriors.

I imagine Jordan, and probably Pollin, would like to hire a name coach whose presence would arouse the masses, but there aren't any Pat Rileys or Phil Jacksons out there. After a coaching history including such losers as Gene Shue, Kevin Loughery, Jim Lynam, Bernie Bickerstaff and Heard, the Wizards might have stumbled onto the Right Man.

Mike, you never blew it as a player. Don't blow it now.

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