- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 20, 2002

BOSTON When the Washington Wizards gather for training camp in October with or without Michael Jordan every position but shooting guard will be under contention.
"Rip [Richard Hamilton] is going to be a starter, but every other position is up for grabs," coach Doug Collins said during a break at Shaw's Pro Summer League. "If you look at our team right now, you could be looking at four different starters from what we had last year."
A year ago, Hamilton went into training camp wondering whether he or former Wizard Courtney Alexander would get the nod at shooting guard. It was a given from the beginning of last season's camp that Jordan, Chris Whitney, Christian Laettner and Jahidi White were starters.
After the Wizards signed Larry Hughes to a three-year, $14million deal Thursday, it appears that the 6-foot-5 Hughes will start in the backcourt alongside Hamilton.
The Wizards have pursued Hughes, 23, for years. In fact, they almost had a deal for him last year at the 2001 All-Star break, but it fell apart when Golden State tried to throw in disgruntled center Marc Jackson at the last minute.
The acquisition of Hughes almost assures that Jordan provided he returns would come off the bench. Collins has said that if Jordan does come back, he would prefer that he play shooting guard, his natural position, rather than spend time battling larger small forwards.
"I'm going to do like Michael said," Collins said. "He's told me to put the team together as if he's not going to play."
Before he faded near the end of last season, Jordan said he would play this season if his health permitted. Jordan did not have the offseason knee surgery he suggested he might need to ensure a return, and most sources within the organization maintain that he has not told them anything.
Collins said that the competition for starting positions could only serve to make the team better.
"The good thing we have now is competition, which is nice," Collins said.
Last year there was a battle between Whitney and Tyronn Lue at point guard, but Whitney, probably based on his experience, won that job. Hughes' addition likely will pit the two in another head-to-head battle this time for reserve minutes and perhaps a roster spot.
Laettner, owner of the largest salary on the roster (three years remaining on a $21million deal), might not start at power forward after a mediocre season in which he was the team's seventh highest scorer (7.1 points) and played in just 57 games.
Popeye Jones, who took over that position, is looking for a new contract and might not be back. This will make for a heated battle at power forward between Kwame Brown and Etan Thomas.
White was the primary starter at center last season, but second-year center Brendan Haywood is expected to push him. The two are even now, but Haywood is not concerned with what will happen later.
"Would I like to start? Yeah," Haywood said. "But I'm in the mode where I'm going to take the opportunity that's there for me. If I go out there and earn a starting spot, then that'll be great for me. At the same time, if Jahidi White is starting I'll have no problem with that because I feel that I've proved that I can come off the bench and be effective."

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