- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

As Washington Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton made his way around the practice court at MCI Center on the eve of his first NBA training camp, he was glad to hear the players' desire to put last season behind them.
"It's in the past," Hamilton said yesterday. "It's in the past. I wasn't involved with the pain of last year, but I think it is good that they are putting it behind them because it doesn't matter. You use it as a motivator, and you move on. You can't move forward looking back."
The Wizards made a few personnel moves over the summer following a season that saw them finish with a losing record for the 11th time in their past 13 seasons. They traded unproductive center Ike Austin and unhappy reserve forward Tracy Murray for a collection of marginal players mostly in the final years of their contracts. Otherwise, the team still resembles the high-salaried failure that finished last in the Atlantic Division (29-53) last season.
But as the team kicks off its first training camp today at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington the hometown of basketball president of operations Michael Jordan a prevalent theme yesterday was that this is a new beginning for the Wizards.
The Wizards had used Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., as the site for their training camp since 1992.
"I see a big change in the organization," said forward Juwan Howard, who last season saw his scoring (14.9) and rebounding (5.7) dip to career lows. "I see a big change in this organization's mindset on a positive level. That is key because that puts the perspective in the players' heads that the front office is doing its part. Players see that, and you start looking at yourself and you say, 'We need to do something to contribute.' "
As for last year?
"Man, forget about last year," Howard said.
Like Howard, point guard Rod Strickland had by his own admission one of the worst years of his 12-year career. Strickland began the season with injuries that hampered his conditioning, had a very public feud with former coach Gar Heard and missed the final 13 games of the season with a strained left quadriceps.
Strickland, who said he considered retiring last season, said he came back to vindicate himself. Last year Strickland averaged just 12.2 points and 7.5 assists. In four seasons with the Wizards Strickland has averaged 15.9 points and 9.2 assists. Over the same period, Utah's John Stockton has averaged 13.5 points and 9.4 points.
"I know what I'm capable of doing," said Strickland, who yesterday promised he would be in the league for the next two years. "This is a big year for me because I let myself down last year because I just didn't have it. I don't even think I always came to play. I had too much going on, and it affected what I had to do on the court.
"Last year was a rough year for me, big time. I'm looking forward to putting that behind me, coming back and having a good year."
Strickland said he doesn't expect any problems between himself and Hamilton, the former University of Miami coach who is in his first NBA job. Although many of the players have worked out together at the MCI Center practice court, NBA rules prohibit any coaching or instruction until the opening of training camp.
"I just think that we're all optimistic about this," Strickland said. "We've all had talks with him and communicated with him. I think we're confident that things will be different. Last year there were times when there was some finger-pointing, stuff like that. That wasn't good for any of us.
"But he's gotten it over to us what he wants from us. We have to come together as a team, with the coaches. The whole group has to become a cohesive unit. We just want it to be different. We expect it to be different."
This season the Wizards will have 20 players in camp, 17 of whom have guaranteed contracts. Both Jordan and general manager Wes Unseld were in Wilmington yesterday and were unavailable for comment. However, both have said on more than one occasion that the high number of guaranteed contracts should make for a more intense environment. NBA teams are permitted to carry just 12 players, plus three on injured reserve, on the roster at the start of the season.
This is of little importance to Hamilton. He is concerned with one thing: fielding the best possible team for the Oct. 31 season opener in Orlando.
"Until that time, we're going to put together a team that will reach its full potential this year," Hamilton said.

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