- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

The Wizards are limping to the end of another NBA season, destined to be on the outside again.
This has become an annual rite of spring in Washington. The cherry blossoms and rodents come out in response to the warm weather, and the local NBA team packs up its belongings until next season.
The franchise is seemingly forever stuck with the same bad ending, no matter how many times it changes coaches and personnel. It even has changed its name and venue over the years. Yet none of the changes ever frees the franchise from its moribund place in the NBA.
Not even the best basketball player ever could provide a tonic to the woes of the last generation.
The franchise has advanced to the playoffs only once in the previous 14 seasons, in the 1996-97 season, and that was merely a three-game cameo against Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
The franchise has not won a playoff game since 1988 and a playoff series since 1982.
There is next season. There is always next season.
The Wizards cling to the notion that they somehow made a push to competence this season, however illusory that push may be. It was prompted by Jordan, whose 39-year-old knees eventually succumbed to the demands of the 82-game season.
Beyond Jordan, is there a genuine foundation on Fun Street? Does the franchise have a future with Richard Hamilton, Courtney Alexander, Brendan Haywood and Kwame Brown?
The evidence is mixed. There probably is not a heavy lifter in the bunch, excluding Brown, who is only one year out of high school.
It is too soon to project where Brown might be as a player in five seasons. He undoubtedly is going to have a long NBA career. That hardly would justify his standing as the No. 1 pick overall in the NBA Draft last June. To do that, he has to become a franchise player. To that end, who knows?
Brown has shown hints of promise lately. He has shown more conviction around the basket. He no longer appears to be as overwhelmed as he was early in the season.
He is less susceptible to dribble-induced turnovers. He is less inclined to take a 15-footer on whim. He is not eternally out of position on defense, although he remains a sucker for the pump-fake maneuver on the perimeter.
Brown has learned a few things along the way, and his increasing productivity reflects this to a degree. It also reflects where the team is in the season. The season is almost over, Jordan is out of the lineup, and the sense of purpose has dissolved. The team is what it is, down to its last five games, playing in an anxiety-free environment.
This is the bookkeeping phase of the season, the conclusions to be drawn from it limited.
If you recall, Alexander exhibited flashes of specialness near the end of last season, putting up impressive numbers in a series of lost causes. It didn't really translate into a significant role for him this season, despite expectations to the contrary.
Someone has to score in a 48-minute game, after all, and that prospect is significantly easier for someone entrusted with the role on an abysmal team.
As if to make that point, when it mattered this season, Alexander could not find his shot or place in the rotation. He was not the team's third scorer, as originally envisioned. He was not even on the active roster for 26 games, so shaky was his equilibrium.
The quality of his future, like Brown's, remains unclear.
The same could be said of Haywood and Hamilton.
Haywood is the 7-footer the Wizards so desperately need, especially if he ever develops an offensive game with his back to the basket. He was an active defensive presence before the All-Star break. Then he hit the so-called physical "wall," as rookies do.
As for Hamilton, if he has learned nothing else in his three seasons in the NBA, it is that he needs to find a weight room, pack a sleeping bag and stay there until he can absorb the body checks doled out to scorers.
Sometimes you get the calls in the NBA. Sometimes you don't. Either way, Hamilton knows the antidote to the bumping is a stronger frame.
Otherwise, the Wizards are where they usually are, consigned to the lottery and an offseason with no easy fixes in sight.

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