Tuesday, May 23, 2000

Would you want to coach the Wizards? I wouldn’t. They’re old, they have serious cap problems, their team chemistry bites and, as an added bonus, they traded away their first-round pick this year.

And those are just the personnel issues.

Which might explain why Mike Jarvis broke off negotiations with the team yesterday and said he was staying at St. John’s. Or maybe it was all about money. (The Wizards reportedly were offering $2.3 million a year for four years; Mike wanted $4 million a year for seven.) All I know is that a month into the offseason, the Wizards still don’t have a coach.

Michael Jordan can talk all he wants about being thorough and finding the right fit, but the fact of the matter is top coaches aren’t exactly beating down his door. Heck, Lenny Wilkens, one of the first to interview with him, says the Vancouver job might have more going for it than the Washington job. And since the Grizzlies now have the second pick in the draft for the third year in a row he could be right.

The question that bears asking at this point is: What has Jordan’s impact been on all this? When he was brought in to run the basketball operation, it was thought or perhaps hoped he would have no problem attracting a big-time coach because, well, he’s Michael Jordan. He would use his North Carolina connections or his NBA entree or his personal magnetism to lure a Roy Williams or a Phil Jackson/Pat Riley-type to Washington.

But that hasn’t happened, has it? Instead, the Wizards were wooing Jarvis, who has had wonderful success in the college ranks but could hardly be described as a Sure Thing. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve loved Jarvis since the moment I met him, not long after he took over George Washington’s bedraggled program. Men don’t come any finer than Mike Jarvis. But his lack of experience at the pro level would give anyone pause. And after almost 20 years in the NBA wilderness, Wizards fans are looking for certainty; they’ve had their fill of possibility.

A coach who’s a certainty, though, probably isn’t going to have much interest in the Wizards, because a hot commodity like that usually wants total control. He wants to be the coach, and he wants to be the de facto general manager, too (much as Riley is in Miami and Rick Pitino is in Boston). But he can’t have that here, not with Jordan around.

Then there’s Michael’s inexperience to consider. How many coaches coaches who are in demand, that is would want to work under a guy who has never made a draft pick, never made a trade? Right now, we have no idea what kind of an eye for talent Jordan has or how creative he can be working around the cap. And until he proves himself an able manager, I’m not sure how desirable the Wizards’ coaching position is going to be.

Here’s another thing that doesn’t make the job particularly attractive (and is entirely Michael’s doing): The recent addition of Rod Higgins and Darrell Walker to the front office staff. Higgins was Jordan’s first choice to replace Gar Heard in midseason (Golden State wouldn’t let him go), and Walker, of course, did replace Heard. If the Wizards wind up hiring a college coach or even a former NBA assistant the presence of Higgins and Walker will only complicate matters for him.

Why? Because if the team struggles at the start of next season, some of the veterans will undoubtedly grouse that he’s in over his head knowing that if they complain loudly enough, Jordan might turn to Higgins or Walker. Were Higgins and Walker not so readily available, however, the players would have to be more patient with the new coach. And that’s what a new coach needs as much as anything time to sell his program. I’m not convinced Jarvis would have gotten it.

Recent Wizards coaches, remember, haven’t been given very long leashes (except for Wes Unseld, who doesn’t count because he’s Abe Pollin’s surrogate son). Kevin Loughery lasted 1 and 1/2 seasons, Jimmy Lynam 2 and 1/2, Bernie Bickerstaff two and Heard just a half. And it wasn’t so much that their teams underachieved; their teams just weren’t very good. And Jarvis would have been similarly out-horsed, at least in the early going.

Let’s face it, the Wizards have miles to go before they contend, and you have to wonder if anybody Jordan hires right now will see them to the end of that journey. We’re talking about a cleanup job on the order of Chernobyl here. We’re talking about a two-decade melting down of a franchise.

But that will be someone else’s problem now. It won’t be Mike Jarvis’. Jarvis has picked up his ball and gone back to New York. Can’t say I blame him.

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