- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

ATLANTA It used to be so simple for Bryon Russell. Set a screen to free up John Stockton for an open jumper. Spot up and take the jumper, wide-open because the double-team scurried to surround Karl Malone.

Make nine consecutive trips to the playoffs.

"That was the best thing about playing there," Washington Wizards reserve forward Bryon Russell said of the first nine years of his career, all with the Utah Jazz. "There wasn't a whole lot of change while I was there. It got to the point where everybody knew what everybody else was doing.

"In Utah it was about running and executing to a T. Out there we only took shots if they were wide open. We never forced the issues. We just ran plays. We always were a team that hardly ever made a change."

For Russell, that resulted in a career that yielded some productive numbers. Coming into this season, Russell had career averages of 9.2 points and 3.8 rebounds.

But Russell is finding out he might have taken the stability and comfort he had with his teammates in Utah for granted. The Jazz some would say perhaps to a fault never tinkered with the core of the team. For instance, when Stockton and Malone started to establish themselves in Utah, a past-his-prime Moses Malone was the key player with the Bullets.

But the Jazz opted against re-signing Russell over the summer, instead signing Matt Harpring to be their small forward. The Wizards, who targeted small forward as their greatest area of weakness, signed Russell to a two-year deal.

Russell has yet to become comfortable with his new team. The Wizards (10-13), who play at Atlanta (10-13) tonight, are finding their way with seven new faces on the roster, including new starters Jerry Stackhouse and Larry Hughes.

At one point Russell was the third new starter, but he asked out of the lineup, clearing the way for Michael Jordan.

As a result, his numbers are down across the board. He is averaging just 5.7 points, his lowest since the 1995-96 season, and he is shooting 36 percent from the floor, the worst of his career.

"I'm just trying to fit in right now," Russell said. "I'm used to getting some good shots. I really haven't taken too many good shots recently. I'm a rhythm player. I like to get [the ball] in rhythm and let it go. Man, I play as aggressive as anybody else, but you have to hit me in stride, get it to me when my feet are set."

Wizards coach Doug Collins has emphasized recently the importance of getting Russell and the other new teammates better indoctrinated in the system. He understands the struggles the team is going through right now are foreign to Russell.

"He's used to having a lot of success in Utah," Collins said. "You have to remember that he was there for a while, and he was a part of a group of players who knew each other very well and expected to get to the playoffs.

"This is a little bit different situation. We've changed our team around drastically, and that includes bringing in Bryon. I want him to get comfortable. We talked about it. It will come."

Russell has scored in double digits just once in the team's last 12 games, against Milwaukee on Dec.3, when he tied his season high with 16 points.

However, he knows his role here is not to score. The Wizards want him to play tough defense, usually guarding the best scorer on the opponent's frontline. Tonight that probably will mean the Hawks' leading scorer, Glenn Robinson (20.9).

"My philosophy is that no matter how tough things are going, the one thing you can always do is play defense," Russell said. "That's what I'm asked to do, so I do it. The rest is going to come. For the team, not just for me. The key is you have to keep working hard."

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