- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Nine players on the Washington Wizards' roster are 26 or younger, and these were the guys who were supposed to have their development stunted by Michael Jordan's presence.

The consensus before the season was that players like Richard Hamilton and Courtney Alexander would see any growth they had made in their brief NBA careers wasted as Jordan sopped up minutes intended for them.

Now that Jordan will miss the rest of the season because of a swollen right knee and possible further surgery, the team's younger players sound as if they will miss his presence in the locker room. And as he spends the summer deciding if he wants to endure another season, they indicated they would welcome his return for one last hurrah.

"I hope so," said guard Tyronn Lue, the former Los Angeles Lakers reserve whom Jordan targeted for the Wizards in free agency last season. "Being the type of player that he is and the competitor that he is, his main goal was to make the playoffs and he didn't achieve his goal this year. So I would look forward to him coming back next year."

At times during the season, Jordan played point guard, sharing minutes with Lue and starting point guard Chris Whitney. However, Jordan spent most of his time at small forward, and at times, depending on the lineup and what Wizards coach Doug Collins was trying to accomplish, Jordan switched to his natural shooting guard position.

Coming into this season, the biggest battle was between Alexander and Hamilton for the starting shooting guard job. Hamilton locked it up before the Wizards broke camp and has had a productive season as one of the best mid-range jump shooters in the game.

However, Alexander, who is now starting, has endured a sophomore slump. Alexander, traded from Dallas last February, averaged 17 points in 27 games with the Wizards for the rest of the season. But this season he has played in just 49 games and averaged 9.4. Regardless, he feels he is a better player because of his year with Jordan.

"I try not to think about [Jordan not returning] right now," Alexander said. "Michael's future is going to be up to Michael. I want what's best for him. I enjoyed the ride with him, if this is it. If not, we all welcome him back next year. He's the ultimate competitor. We all don't want to see him in this predicament, but I want to see him do what's best for him.

"He's at a point in his life and his career where he has to take care of himself. Getting us to the playoffs is one thing; staying as healthy as he possibly can for life after basketball is another thing."

Christian Laettner said if Jordan can do all of the things he needs to do to ensure his knees will hold up, he will come back.

"He loves the game," Laettner said. "I've heard him say a lot of times that the court is his only escape. He really wants that. I think he'll do anything he can to get that escape where people can't touch him and have to leave him alone for those 48 minutes. But it will all come down to how his knees feel."

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