- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2002

The Wizards are in the throes of a six-game losing streak mostly because of the lack of oomph from their post players. There is not an offensive threat in the bunch, in Kwame Brown, Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas, Charles Oakley, Jared Jeffries and Christian Laettner.
There is not one source of dependability there, with the exception of Oakley, the 38-year-old forward who was signed in October because of his grit and professionalism. Oakley has flashed those qualities during his limited forays on the floor. His 20-minute stint against the 76ers was a picture of effort, as he finished with eight rebounds, three assists and an untold number of floor burns, either from diving after a loose ball or taking a charge. Yet Oakley did not attempt one shot. He did not score. This is emblematic of the team's anemia in the frontcourt.
There is nothing tangible there, only Oakley's intangibles.
Youth is the accessory of Brown, Haywood, Thomas and Jeffries, the be-all justification that goes with each of their wrongheaded plays and disappearances. Brown had a tip-in basket to open the game against the 76ers and then spent the rest of the night being irrelevant. He is a long way from his opening-night performance in Toronto: 12 points, 18 rebounds and five blocked shots in 39 minutes. The pep is gone from Brown, the confusion back.
Haywood is still looking to find the potion of strength that was so essential to the team's rise from oblivion last December, when the Wizards fashioned a nine-game winning streak. Haywood has been the incredible shrinking 7-footer since hitting the so-called rookie wall last winter. A trip by Haywood to Pete Newell's Big Man Camp in the offseason has produced negligible results.
As for the others, Thomas is what he is, a role player, while Jeffries is a rookie, and Laettner a 6-11 spot-up shooter who seemingly wears cement shoes. Please, leave Jahidi White out of it unless he has undergone a hand transplant while on the injured list. He is not a scorer either, and scoring in the low post, either by Brown or Haywood or by committee, is what the Wizards desperately need.
Here is what the team's post players produced on offense against the 76ers: 11 points, nine from Haywood and two from Brown. Here is what the Wizards have received from the post in the six losses: 19.8 points a game. You can't win like that in the NBA, at least not consistently.
The Wizards might have pulled out the game against the 76ers if Michael Jordan had not come down with an odd bout of sharing the ball. Yet to borrow one of the favorite phrases of coach Doug Collins, it would have been a "fool's gold," no long-term tonic.
Hard as it is to fathom, the Wizards are averaging fewer points this season than last, 90.5 points after 16 games compared to 92.8 last season. This was not supposed to be following the offseason acquisitions of Jerry Stackhouse, Larry Hughes and Bryon Russell and a draft that resulted in the selections of Juan Dixon and Jeffries. Too often, though, in four- or five-minute stretches, the Wizards just can't put the ball in the hole. The scoring droughts are almost inevitable, given the team's dependency on the perimeter shot. The condition becomes more pronounced in the fourth quarter, as the opposition tightens on defense and fatigue erodes the leg strength of the team's outside shooters.
The Wizards' playmakers rarely look to those in the low post on these occasions. Why should they? Performance usually leads to trust among teammates, and no performance by the big men means no trust in them.
This can't persist if the Wizards are to be one of the eight playoff teams from the Eastern Conference this season.
Either Brown or Haywood has to emerge as a viable player, or Collins is going to have to rethink the team's method of operation.
Collins prefers to have two post players on the floor, except in certain situations late in the game. Could the team succeed by employing four perimeter players in the lineup with more frequency? Would this not open up the 3-second lane, either for Stackhouse or Brown, who so likes to put the ball on the floor? If not Brown, stick Jordan in the low post more often. It is what he does best at this point in his career.
The team would lose some shot-blocking and rebounding with such an arrangement. Yet the potential gains just might offset the losses.
The Rockets claimed two NBA championships, in 1994 and '95, with the four-out alignment, although Hall of Fame-bound Hakeem Olajuwon was the center of those teams.
A championship is not the standard with the Wizards. For now, they are just trying to get into the playoff hunt.


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