- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2001

BOSTON Michael Jordan has been playing and watching a lot of basketball in Chicago recently. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Wizards' president of basketball operations was the driving force behind the team's draft day acquisition of DePaul University junior forward Bobby Simmons.

"Michael would always talk to us about how good Bobby looked," coach Doug Collins said of Jordan, who played against Simmons in Chicago before last month's NBA Draft while preparing for his possible comeback. "That's why you didn't see a lot of [Jordan] after we picked Kwame [Brown with the top selection]. He went right to work seeing what he could do to get Bobby here."

What that ultimately required was for the Wizards to finagle a deal with the Seattle SuperSonics, who drafted the 6-foot-7 swingman with the 42nd pick. The Wizards gave up the rights to otherwise worthless 1997 pick Predrag Drobnjak to get Simmons here.

"I think that was a good deal," Collins said through a smile at courtside yesterday at the Pro Summer League at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Meanwhile, the Wizards got the signatures of free agents Tyronn Lue and Popeye Jones onto contracts. Lue, who played for the NBA champion Lakers last year, is believed to have signed a two-year deal worth slightly more than $3 million. Jones's contract is for one year and believed to be between $1.2 million and $1.5 million.

Christian Laettner, who previously agreed to re-sign with a four-year, $21 million deal, is expected to officially sign today.

Simmons started at small forward in the Wizards' 98-71 loss to the Atlanta Hawks last night at Clark Athletic Center, played 22 minutes and finished with four points on 2-for-5 shooting. Despite the poor showing, assistant coach Larry Drew said Simmons had been Washington's most consistent player in the minicamp leading up to the summer league.

Simmons said having his rights traded to the Wizards a team short on small forwards was a blessing.

"I was happy to come here," Simmons said. "I think there is more of an opportunity for me here than there would have been in Seattle. So I've just got to make the best of the situation and try to catch on."

Simmons, who last year led DePaul in scoring (16.7 points) and rebounding (8.6), signed a one-year contract for $332,817 that is good only if he makes the team.

At the moment, small forward is perhaps the weakest position on the Wizards' roster. Second-year man Mike Smith, far from a lock to make the roster, is the only true small forward.

Simmons had a distinguished career at DePaul. As a sophomore he was named second-team All-Conference USA and was a third-team selection last season. He is the only Blue Demon to accumulate 1,000 points, 700 rebounds, 200 assists and 100 3-point baskets.

But more than anything, it was his experience playing in front of and at times with Jordan in his hometown of Chicago that led to Washington's acquisition of his rights. According to Collins, Jordan was impressed with a lot of things he saw in Simmons. And it didn't hurt that he looked good head-to-head with NCAA player of the year Shane Battier when they worked out for the Wizards.

"Michael played with him in Chicago and he liked his court demeanor and his awareness," Collins said. "He got in great shape, and he lost a lot of weight. When we worked him out, we saw his ability to shoot the ball, and he knows how to play. We felt that he could be a better pro than he was a college player. I think that he is one of those guys that will continue to develop."

As with all players in this league, Simmons' game is not without flaws. Last night it was clear that he needs to work on his defense, both on the ball and when a larger player is posting him up. He also needs to work on his ballhandling skills. When Simmons was at DePaul, he was not a primary ball-handler. But in the NBA, a 6-7 man must be able to put the basketball on the floor and drive around people.

"The key is to get him to start playing like a perimeter player," Collins said.

Simmons seems to have accepted that doing so is his best shot at earning a roster spot in Washington or elsewhere.

"From Day 1, you can tell that the game is so much faster," Simmons said. "There are a lot of things about my game that have to get better. I'll work as hard as I can to get them where they need to be."

Note Forward Michael King was the most impressive Wizard last night as Washington's summer record fell to 0-2, shooting 7-for-11 to lead the Wizards with 16 points in 28 minutes. He also had five turnovers. Brown got into early foul trouble and finished with eight points, four rebounds and one blocked shot in 27 minutes. Larry Lewis led Atlanta with 19 points.

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