- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

Michael Jordan began his tenure with the Wizards in earnest last night.

Now Washington knows where Michael is.

He is on the telephone, unloading Juwan Howard and his suffocating contract to the Mavericks.

Jordan, it seems, was right all along. It does not matter where he is, whether he is on a golf course, in a boardroom or shooting a commercial, so long as his cell phone is in working order.

Why, he could be ice fishing in Siberia or scaling Mount Everest or hanging out on the Riviera. The time zone is unimportant. The important element is time on the phone, not face time.

They said this one couldn't be done. They said no team would be brave enough to accept the rest of Howard's $105.5 million contract. They said Rod Strickland and Mitch Richmond would be the first to go.

Howard's departure changes the terms of the rebuilding timetable. Now the Wizards are making room in the salary cap. Now there is a reason to check out the free-agent sights around the NBA. Now there is a modicum of hope.

Hello, Vince Carter. Is that you in Toronto, still wrestling with the exchange rate, lamenting the absence of Tracy McGrady? Can you say no to Michael? And how about you, Antawn Jamison? Your time is coming, in 2002.

Like Jordan, Carter and Jamison are North Carolina guys. You know how the connection works. North Carolina guys are like family. They sleep in their heel-print briefs. They help one another out. So help already.

Jordan is in the game now. This is the game where money talks and the rest walks. Jordan can talk now. He can invite this or that free agent to town, shake hands and share his vision. They won't all reject his smile and his force of personality. They won't all be like the other Mike, the one at St. John's. Who knows, Jordan might say, if you help get this thing turned around, one day you could have Bugs Bunny in your future? Jordan can do that for a buddy.

It had to burn Jordan to be bound and gagged last summer as Jerry Krause flashed around his salary cap money in Chicago. It had to burn him that Krause had the money but not the tact to close a big-name deal. What Jordan would have given to have had a few moments with Tracy McGrady or Grant Hill or Tim Duncan. How sweet would that have been, to have beaten an old nemesis at his game?

That day is coming, possibly sooner than later, if more salary cap room is made.

The other names in the deal are almost footnotes, incidental to Howard's contract being shipped to Dallas.

As Jordan said, "Obviously, it gives us some mobility based on Juwan's contract."

The deal also should be beneficial to Howard's mental well-being, and not just because he is going to a contender. The contract was as much a burden on him as it was on the team. He never could play up to the expectations of the contract. He was a solid player, dependable, the best player on a woeful team. But he never could be what the contract demanded, a franchise player who could lead the team out of its wretchedness. He goes, and so go the boos that often filled his ears on Fun Street.

Jordan, if only for a night, has dispelled the notion that no NBA executive was inclined to work with him, not after he so thoroughly tormented their teams in the '90s. To those with grievances, the theory went, it felt good to see him hurt a little, to see his prediction of a playoff berth die in the first few weeks of the season.

The notion has not necessarily been debunked by this trade, if you consider the other person pulling the strings. Don Nelson is the ultimate Maverick. He returns to his team's bench Tuesday night after an extended absence necessitated by prostate cancer, and 48 hours later he's closing the deal on a player who he hopes can provide just enough help to lift his team into contention with the Lakers, Spurs, Kings, Trail Blazers and Jazz. Nelson plays by his own rules, too, and he is empowered by Mark Cuban's bottomless money pit.

In the short term, this changes nothing for the Wizards. This is just the beginning of the makeover. But good for Jordan and the franchise. And good for Washington.

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