- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

For 10 years, the Chicago Bulls' combination of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen was easily the most lethal in the NBA, perhaps in history. Jordan is generally recognized as the game's greatest all-around player, and Pippen was a threat to score 30 and shut down a team's top scorer on the same night.
That, however, was three seasons ago, and the six-time champion Bulls have been disbanded by imprudent management. It's 2001, Jordan is attempting a second comeback with the Washington Wizards and Pippen is a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, his second team since leaving the Bulls.
And while Jordan would love to have Pippen by his side tonight when the Wizards (2-2) take on the Boston Celtics and their talented duo of Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, Jordan knows he doesn't have any one player capable of filling Pippen's shoes. And right now he's not willing to put that much pressure on any player on the Wizards' roster.
"It's unfair. I played with those guys for years," Jordan said. "Those guys evolved as I continued to evolve. To ask Rip [Richard Hamilton] and Courtney [Alexander] to do the same in a short span of time is not fair to those guys. One is two years removed from college, and the other is a year removed from college.
"Neither one of them has had an opportunity to play in a winning situation. To ask them to step right to the forefront and accept that kind of responsibility is kind of unfair. In the long term I'd love to see those guys step forward and be part of a supporting cast somewhere in the future. But right now, when I'm 13 years into the league and having come from the situation in Chicago with the supporting cast like Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc, that's totally unfair."
Hamilton, averaging 17.5 points this season, still needs to get bigger physically and better defensively. He says he was preparing himself mentally to take his game to the next level even without Jordan's return. Last year, Hamilton averaged 18.1 points.
"Even if Michael didn't come back I knew I had to step up my play," Hamilton said. "Any opportunity I get to step up, I'm going to take advantage of it."
Although Jordan doesn't expect Hamilton to play like Pippen, tonight will be one of those nights he wishes Hamilton could fast forward his evolution.
Tonight the 6-foot-7 Hamilton often will find himself matched against the much stronger Pierce (6-6, 230), a player adept at playing in the post and the perimeter. That he is 45 pounds heavier than Hamilton is a gigantic advantage in itself.
"Paul Pierce and Antoine are a heck of a combination," coach Doug Collins said.
Last season, Pierce and Walker formed the league's second-highest scoring duo (48.7) behind the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant (57.2). This year, Pierce (28.5) and Walker (22.5) have been even better.
While Jordan was contemplating his comeback, Walker was one of the players he worked out with in Chicago. Yesterday Jordan, who is averaging 22.3 points, described the 6-9, 245-pound Walker as a talented but enigmatic player.
"He is by far one of the most talented players in the league at his size," Jordan said. "The thing that he is missing is the education to play with those athletic skills and the ability to play with other people and make other people better. He's improving but not nearly as fast as he could if he just sacrificed some of his offensive capabilities for the benefit of other players. He's a great guy, but he has a hard head. He has his own vision."
Notes Rookie center Brendan Haywood had his left thumb removed from a cast and placed in a splint. Haywood, placed on the injured list with a torn ligament in his left thumb at the start of the season, has been cleared to begin workouts. … Rookie forward Kwame Brown did not make the trip to Boston. Brown is recovering from a sprained right ankle.

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