Tuesday, November 20, 2001

The question brings an incredulous grin to Richard Hamilton.
“How does it help me?” Hamilton says rhetorically after being asked how he will benefit from his removal from the starting lineup. “That’s a good question. I’ve got to think about that.”
He is more comfortable talking about the big picture when it comes to this touchy subject.
“How does it help the team?” he says, repeating the question. “Bringing me off the bench means that coach [Doug Collins] doesn’t have to sit me and MJ at the same time. I think it can help us because when MJ is out of the game I can be the focal point. There are benefits, but …”
Hamilton was removed from the Washington Wizards starting lineup after the Wizards fell to Golden State on Nov. 9. That night Hamilton, not known for his defense, had particular trouble staying with Golden State’s Larry Hughes, who scored 11 of his 26 points in the third quarter when guarded by Hamilton.
Since that time Collins has continued to tinker with the lineup, hoping to find some cure for the present six-game skid. One thing Collins has done in benching Hamilton is move Michael Jordan from small forward back to his natural shooting guard position, and inserting rookie Bobby Simmons at small forward.
Although Collins has pointed out that the Wizards’ greatest weakness is transition defense, he insists that Hamilton’s benching had nothing to do with his defense, which is clearly the weakest link in his game.
“The reason Rip is not starting has nothing to do with anything other than I don’t want Michael to start as a three,” Collins said. “And when I take Michael out I want Rip’s offense coming right in. What’s happened, especially early in games, Michael has been very aggressive to start the game and Rip has sort of just been out there. I want him to be one of our primary guys when he’s out there.”
Hamilton fully understands this concept. That does not mean, however, that he likes it.
“No, not at all. No,” Hamilton said. “I worked too hard. How I attack the game and want to play the game, I can’t be satisfied coming off the bench. I thrive on trying to be the best. I’ve done that my whole career. I don’t like to be ordinary. I don’t want to be considered a guy who just shows up and people just say, ‘Oh, that’s such and such.’ I want people to look at me and say that I’m one of the players they paid their money to come see. I don’t want people to say he’s on the team and that’s it.”
Although he is coming off the bench, there has been little fluctuation in Hamilton’s numbers. As a starter Hamilton averaged 17.5 points. In three games in reserve he’s averaging 17.3. Hamilton shot better as a starter, 46.8 percent compared with (34 percent) as a sub.
However, he has been less selfish with the ball, handing out 2.6 assists in reserve as opposed to the 1.83 he dolled out in his six starts.
Collins already has started six different lineups, and only Jordan, who could lose a seventh game in a row for the first time in his career if the Wizards fall to Charlotte tonight, has started every game. However, when he extracted Hamilton from the starting lineup, Collins added that he intends to expand Hamilton’s responsibilities as well. Hamilton is starting to see and will continue to see more time at point guard.
“The more positions I learn, the less the coaches can take me off the court. With Michael playing a lot of two you’ve got to find minutes other ways. I don’t want to be just set on playing the two because then I’ll always have to play behind him,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton acknowledged that every player on the team is going to have to make sacrifices. And he is aware of the pressure that comes with losing six games in a row and preparing to play nine of your next 11 games on the road. He knows that if things aren’t corrected by the middle of next month the Wizards will once again be in contention for the top pick in the lottery rather than the postseason.
Note The Wizards are likely to activate injured rookie center Brendan Haywood, possibly as early as today. Haywood has missed the first nine games of the season due to ligament damage in his right thumb. Haywood would be forced to play with his thumb in a soft cast.

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