- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

Doug Collins knew all about the ups and downs associated with coaching Christian Laettner. The coach of the Washington Wizards knew that Laettner could be an All-Star forward or a headache for years to come.
But when it came to making a decision, Collins was in total support of granting Laettner a four-year, $21 million deal over the summer.
"I know what Christian is capable of," Collins said. "In his career, he's been capable of a lot of things. My job is to get the best out of him and to make sure that we put him in a situation where he can be as successful as possible."
At his best, Laettner is a smooth-shooting, versatile forward capable of driving around defenders or pulling up for a mid-range jumper. At his best he is an All Star, as was the case in 1997 in Atlanta.
At his worst, Laettner was called a bad teammate, one who treated his fellow players coldly if he interacted with them at all. But in his brief career with the Wizards, which began last season after his trade from Dallas, Laettner has been a model teammate.
"I can't say enough about how much he has worked with the younger guys, especially the younger big men," Collins said. "After practice, before practice, during practice, he's always there for any of the younger guys. He's assumed a leadership role on this team."
That, to hear some tell it, would be a first. Washington is Laettner's fifth team since he entered the league in 1992 following one of the most storied college careers in history. But Laettner has never lived up to his college legacy, part of the reason he has been traded four times.
Today Laettner says the key to making him a happy teammate is playing the game the right way, something he thinks the Wizards, under Collins and with Michael Jordan on the roster, are now ready to do.
"I've been on teams in the NBA where we don't play the right way," said Laettner, who has made stops in Minnesota, Atlanta, Detroit and Dallas. "I'm just excited about the team. So if it looks like I'm rejuvenated or whatever you want to call it, those are the reasons. Michael is playing with us so there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic and happy and have fun out there.
"The last thing is we're doing things the right way out there," added Laettner, the most accomplished big man on a team short of talented post players. "We're passing the ball. We're doing things that will help me be successful in basketball, like move and pass and cut and play together. We don't stand around and watch people go one-on-one."
Laettner is the type of player who believes that the coach's philosophy is what ultimately makes players better. He said that the coach has to maximize his players' abilities and that the scheme must be geared toward making the team better.
That's what Laettner said he experienced under coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, where he won two national championships and as a senior in 1992 won three player of the year awards.
"We played within a system," Laettner said. "That's why we had so much success. In the NBA, you don't find a lot of that. So much of it is one-on-one stuff. Look at the Lakers. Phil Jackson doesn't run the triangle like that. He tries to get everyone involved in the offense. Of course, it helps when you have players like Kobe and Shaq. But the offense is all about good passing. That's what Doug is implementing. It's not the triangle, but it's got some of the same things in it."
Laettner was asked why he didn't accept an offer from a team that has better chance at winning than the Wizards. Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York reportedly were interested in his services.
"I felt like I wanted to be here, and it felt like Doug wanted me the most," Laettner said, "and I'm happy with my decision."
Notes
The Wizards face the Detroit Pistons tonight in a preseason game at Grand Rapids, Mich. Michael Jordan, who did not play in the team's intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday due to a strained left foot, practiced yesterday and will make a game-time decision whether to play. … Jahidi White, who also missed the scrimmage with tendinitis in his left knee, practiced yesterday and likely will play. Definitely out are Brendan Haywood (left thumb) and Loy Vaught (back).

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