- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

PHILADELPHIA. — Michael Jordan came out of retirement to show the underachieving franchise on Fun Street how it could be done.

He failed, big time, on that count.

Jordan, assuming he is going back upstairs with the Wizards to resume his duties as president of basketball operations, has a serious mess to clean up.

It is not all his mess. Doug Collins has lent his self-fulfilling prophecies to the cause.

They came to be a one-two verbal punch these last two seasons.

Collins would issue his nightly bromides in honor of Jordan. The word "amazing" inevitably would be somewhere in the assessment before, more often than not, Collins would go about noting the flaws in the forces around Jordan.

Collins, in effect, would soften up the targets, and then, every so often, Jordan, from his pedestal in the sky, would hand out his indictments to complete the process.

The two-prong approach was bound to leave some cold, especially if the lead player either was an object of praise or, on his bad nights, above it all.

Before there was the issue of Kwame Brown, there was the quick rise and fall of Courtney Alexander last season.

It was a stunning turn for Alexander, to go from being one of the players pictured on the cover of the team's media guide to a frequent guest on the injured list.It kind of became a running gag among observers.

You usually could tell where Alexander was with the higher-ups, whether he was in or out of favor, by his trips to and from the injured list.Like the two perimeter players who followed Alexander - Larry Hughes and Bryon Russell - Alexander was an unnecessary piece, almost superfluous, a player without a team. Just as Jordan had Jerry Stackhouse by his side this season, Jordan had Richard Hamilton by his side last season.

Alexander, who preferred offense to defense, did not know that going into last season and didn't respond well to the reality.So whenever his young head needed clearing, he would be dispatched to the injured list, which took on the appearance of a doghouse.

Someone made that reference to Collins late in the season and he snapped, "I don't have a doghouse."His probably was just one of those uniquely Washington parsing of words. Collins is said to be fairly strong around crossword puzzles.

Russell, in a way, lived the life of Alexander this season before dying as a player. He left Utah in a huff and was only too happy to be away from the my-way-or-the-highway manner of Jerry Sloan. Sometimes you come to regret that your wish ever was granted.

Russell came to be one of the many unhappy campers on the roster after being sold one bill of goods and ordered to accept something less appealing. He will complete his exit interview today, and it will be good riddance for all parties.

Even from a distance, especially around all the farewell ceremonies, the Jordan aura can be too much, starting with Mariah Carey's form-fitting gown that caused a considerable amount of eye-socket damage at the NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta.

Try living around the aura on a 24/7 basis. It just might grate on your nerves at a certain point. It is just a game, after all. Jordan has not died for our sins.Jordan's two-season lesson plan came with a considerable amount of baggage. He was hardly just another player. He was an image in a TV commercial, only the image came with its own personality quirks, flaws, ego, likes and dislikes.

Let it be said, again, that Jordan was wonderful as a player. If you could not appreciate his abilities on the court, you really should find another sport to follow. This aspect of the comeback was impeccable.

Jordan was made to be a basketball player, and sad for him in a way, that his life probably never will be any better than that. How can it be? He was the best there ever was in short pants. There is no argument there.

It is too bad he does not have another season in his 40-year-old body. He is still an All-Star. He still has that flair, that competitive zeal, that Madison Avenue smile.Yet not that many of the Wizards in the locker room will miss his presence. He was management, the quintessential company man, an interloper, an extension of Collins. It was hard to be yourself in the locker room. You had to practice a form of self-censorship.

Jordan, in private, probably could appreciate the notion. He was not exactly a company man in Chicago, and it is humorous, on a number of levels, to imagine Jerry Krause coming out of retirement to play with Jordan and the guys there.

Good old "Crumbs" Krause. That was Jordan's nickname for the retired executive who never met a suit he could not turn into a sack of rolled-up laundry on his portly frame.

It is funny how it works.

Jordan, as much as he would hate to admit it, now has a lot more in common with Krause than he does with the players.

You could hear in it his words, starting with, "the young guys," followed by a shake of his head. He might as well have been the parents of the '50s, shaking their heads around the swiveling hips of Elvis.

Jordan is forever a basketball freak. He was able to stay past his time, to a time he no longer recognized. He did not defeat Father Time - no one does - but he brokered a fairly sweet truce.

He did not inspire anyone around him, as originally intended. He did not teach anyone. He was just this sweet solo act who still could belt out a marvelous tune.

He made the Wizards matter. Eighty-two sellouts at home the last two seasons attest to that.

Yet now, with the completion of the two-season experiment, Jordan has no mini-legacy to show for it.

There is no playoff berth, no sense of direction, just a team that ended in turmoil amid a hint the roster might be purged in the coming months.

Jordan believed that players make championship teams in Chicago, while Krause believed it was the front office. Jordan seems willing now to try to prove Krause right.

Collins and Jordan are not enamored with many players on the roster. They are happy with Tyronn Lue, appreciate the perspiration of Bobby Simmons and the intensity of Juan Dixon. After that, the rest of the personnel falls into a gray area.

Jared Jeffries was hurt most of the season. At least he made Brown work in practice.

Charles Oakley is out the door, alongside Russell.

Etan Thomas is tenacious underneath the basket, but, like so many on the team, he had issues with Collins, particularly early in the season.

Stackhouse came here to be the man, to be the ugly scorer that he is, and soon chafed at being Jordan's caddie. Stackhouse knew his strengths as a player, and being a spot-up shooter at times was not one of them.

Stackhouse is among the group of players to drop the F-bomb on Collins. Although it was Brown's F-bomb on Collins that attracted the most attention, Stackhouse beat Brown to it.

"I've had guys curse at me in the locker room this year, show no respect," Collins said earlier this week. "It was insidious."

And it was insidious.

The F-bomb, of course, is, unofficially, the official word of the NBA, although most players usually have enough discipline to limit its use to receptive audiences, such as agents and hangers-on, or to direct it to the poorly dressed members of the print media.

With the Wizards, because of the desperate mandate to make the playoffs and the tag-team partnership of Collins and Jordan that prevented a firewall between the players and coaches, the F-word became a form of therapy.It was not right. It did not help matters.Collins is correct. Sometimes you have to look at the players.

We're looking. We hear the F-word.What are you going to do, coach? It is your move. Whatever you do, don't roll over and whine later.Perhaps, in hindsight, an early-season suspension might have been the perfect message.

Instead, while the team was seething, Collins and Jordan were twiddling their thumbs.

One player got away with the F-bomb, then another and still another. Whose fault was that?

Collins has said the F-bomb won't be tolerated next season, without addressing the mystery of why it was tolerated this season.

A team that has no respect for its coach has no respect for the game, and the Wizards aptly demonstrated that in their so-called playoff-push portion of the season. Until they were eliminated from playoff contention last Friday night, their record going back to March 1 was 9-13.

Remember, this was Jordan's team. He would not let it happen. But he did, and so did Collins, and they allowed the seeds to be planted a long time ago.

Collins recognized the failing this week, though too late, just as he recognized too late that Lue should have been the team's starting point guard instead of Hughes.

So where does this leave the franchise?

Does Jordan return to the front office and stick with the coach who, abetted by Jordan, lost control of the team this season? Or does Jordan find a way to forge a peace between the coach and guilty parties? Or does Jordan run to the waiting arms of Bob Johnson, who was sitting in the house behind the team's bench on the night of Jordan's farewell on Fun Street?In case anyone forgets, Jordan has "options," and running from the mess of his making to Charlotte, N.C., is one of them.

Jordan, the player, was remarkable. He was fun and entertaining, and he gave it a good run.

It is hard to embrace the theory of those who suggest Jordan intruded on the development of the youngsters on the roster.

Brown, no doubt, would have averaged in double figures in, say, Denver, this season and accumulated a good number of double-doubles, but in the context of a lost cause. How useful, really, is that to a player in the long term?The NBA, like any professional sports league, is a win-now undertaking.

Otherwise, the leagues would not bother to keep score.

Jordan's comeback ended up being an either/or proposition, a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing.He merits an A on the court, in marketing and keeping hope alive the last two seasons.

He merits an F in personnel, team dynamics and setting up the team for next season.

He answered the principal question of the critics who wondered if he could play at a high level again.

No one imagined he would create so many other questions in his wake.

Jordan has lots of questions to address in the coming months, if he chooses to accept the assignment.

That is the first question. It stinks that it even has to be asked.

Then again, it goes with how the season concluded.

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