- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

Now that the Washington Wizards know what's wrong with Michael Jordan's right knee and it's nothing serious they wish they could unlock the riddle of enigmatic guard Courtney Alexander.
Jordan yesterday had fluid drained from his right knee in Chicago, and an MRI revealed there was no acute damage in the knee, which has bothered Jordan for about two weeks. The injury will force Jordan, who experienced swelling and stiffness, to miss tonight's game against San Antonio. Jordan will join the team tonight and could be ready to play as soon as Thursday, when the Wizards travel to Houston.
"My body is sending me messages and I need to listen," Jordan, 38, said in a statement. "I hope to be ready to play on Thursday."
When Jordan does return, Wizards coach Doug Collins wants to cut back on Jordan's team-high 37.7 minutes per game.
"I want to get that down to around 32 or 33," Collins said.
With Jordan unable to face the Western Conference runners-up San Antonio Spurs, Collins left the door open as to whom he would start at small forward in place of Jordan. He did indicate that the starter would likely come from a group of three players Kwame Brown, Hubert Davis or Richard Hamilton.
"I sure don't want to play without Michael, that's for darn sure," Collins said. "But what it does is force the other guys to depend more on each other. Everything we do basically goes through him. He's our best defensive player, our best post player and he creates shots for other guys. Forget about his points. He's a guy who creates so many other things for our guys out there."
Conspicuously absent from Collins' list of starting small forward candidates is Alexander.
In fact, Collins made it seem as if Alexander, who is averaging slightly more than 18 minutes a game, might not see additional minutes in Jordan's absence.
"I'm not sure," Collins said, "I'm not sure."
Before the season began, there was no question that Alexander would have been Collins' first choice to play small forward in a situation like this.
After being traded from Dallas to the Wizards, Alexander exploded onto the scene. He was named Rookie of the Month in April when he averaged 22.4 points and scored a career-high 33 points against Toronto's Vince Carter.
This set the stage for what was to be the hottest battle in the Wizards' training camp in years, pitting Alexander against third-year guard Hamilton. But Hamilton easily beat out Alexander for the starting job mostly because he picked up Collins' offense, which is predicated on passing and ball movement. Alexander on the other hand, has been easily the team's and one of the league's most enigmatic players thus far.
When asked about Alexander, Collins says that he would like to see him be "more of a slasher and a cutter and less of a jumpshooter," and to maintain better focus for longer stretches when he's on the court. Until he starts doing those things, it appears obvious that Alexander will remain out of the rotation.
Yesterday Alexander, who has not appeared in the team's last three games, spoke about his troubles.
"The bottom line is for me to come out and try to regain my abilities on the basketball court," Alexander said. "I'm not Courtney right now. I'm not Courtney. On or off the court."
Alexander said that the reduced role has shaken his confidence.
"Anybody who knows me knows that I've never lacked confidence, and for the first time in my life I lack confidence, for a lot of different reasons. And I need to find myself first before anything."
At first it sounds as if Alexander is referring to off-court issues that may be affecting him. But Alexander, who measures all of his answers carefully, indicated that his poor performance on the court is beginning to impact every aspect of his life.
"Basketball is so important to me that it affects my life. Basketball is not just my job. Basketball is my livelihood, basketball is my life so they kind of go hand-in-hand," he said.
He has seen himself go from one of the league's more promising young players to a bench warmer averaging 4.8 points and shooting a frigid 32.8 percent from the field. On a bad team, he has become irrelevant.
"That has actually torn me apart, not being able to contribute at all. But I'm a man and life is not always peachy. I have to respond the way a professional is supposed to," he said.

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