- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Perhaps more than any other team in the NBA, the Washington Wizards have shown a great propensity to tear their roster apart after each succeeding failure, only to fail again.
One season Chris Webber is the focus. The next, Juwan Howard. Then Mitch Richmond, who begets Richard Hamilton, who begets Jerry Stackhouse.
On and on it goes, with usually the same result: looking for luck in the lottery (that is, when the Wizards haven't traded away their first pick).
In coming days most likely next week retired superstar Michael Jordan will sit down with majority owner Abe Pollin to discuss, among other things, his return as president of basketball operations.
It is no secret that Jordan will be looking for complete control and freedom to pull the trigger on deals and sign players within salary cap restrictions who eventually can do what even Jordan couldn't pull off by himself make the Wizards winners.
But will Jordan be able to do this considering the rancorous condition of the team? Anytime a coach describes the behavior of certain players toward him as "insidious," which Doug Collins did Monday, it is clear that issues exist above and below the surface.
To that end, changes must be made again. This is something not new to Jordan. Since he took over as team president in January 2000, only one player (little-used center Jahidi White) remains from the pre-Jordan years.
However, even Jordan is not certain what his first order of business will be.
"It's tough to assess right now," Jordan said of changes the team must make to improve on back-to-back 37-45 finishes. "Obviously, we did change our team three years ago. And we will continue to change. I don't think I'm afraid of change."
No one under contract is believed to be untouchable. After all, there are no All-Stars on this roster.
Including Jordan, the Wizards have five free agents, the others being Charles Oakley, Bryon Russell, Tyronn Lue and Bobby Simmons. Jerry Stackhouse still has two years remaining at approximately $7million a season. He can opt out of his contract this summer, but that probably won't happen unless he feels like he can no longer co-exist with Collins.
Oakley, who is contemplating retirement, and Russell have played their last games as Wizards; both appear quite happy to pack their bags.
Stackhouse's decision is crucial to any plans the Wizards have because it will govern to what degree they can sign free agents beginning in July. If Stackhouse were to opt out, the Wizards could be as far as $12million below the salary cap, which is expected to jump slightly from $40.27million.
The Wizards like point guard Lue, who earned $1.87million to back up Larry Hughes, whom they signed last summer to a three-year deal for $15million. Collins said he made a "mistake" by not starting Lue all season ahead of Hughes, a clear indication that the latter could be moved.
The Wizards also like Simmons' work ethic and could bring him back on the cheap.
As unspectacular as Christian Laettner is, there is still a market for the veteran forward, who was one of Jordan's favorite teammates. A team like the Los Angeles Lakers could make a push for Laettner, whose midrange jumper makes opponents pay for double-teaming key players.
Because of Kwame Brown's spotty play and feud with Collins, the value of the former top pick has plummeted. The Wizards may be forced to trade him while they can get something for him, but they are leery that he could become another Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber or Ben Wallace forwards who might have led the Wizards to the NBA Finals had they remained.
The Wizards cannot afford to stand pat with White and Brendan Haywood as a two-headed center; neither has the requisite hands or footwork. However, White is expected to make a little more than $5million next season, and his injuries and continuing weight problems may scare away suitors. Haywood, who comes cheaper (just more than $1million next season) has a better grasp of the game and likely would be the Wizards' starter.
Etan Thomas, the 12th overall pick in the 2000 draft, has played just 85 games since then due to injuries but appears still to be in the team's plans
Injuries also delayed the Wizards' evaluation of Jared Jeffries, the 11th overall pick out of Indiana. Collins lamented his injury perhaps more than any other this season because he felt Jeffries was capable of playing more than 20 minutes a night. The team remains remain high on Jeffries and Juan Dixon, although the Wizards are not certain if the former Maryland star can make it as an NBA point guard.
The bottom line is that the Wizards failed once again to reach the playoffs, partly because they changed their mandate from developing younger players to getting to the playoffs in Jordan's last season.
They have some pieces in place, but not enough to get the job done. And for Jordan, that just won't be good enough.
"We have got to find the right mix to move in the right direction and get where Philly and a lot of other teams are," Jordan said of the coming offseason. "We may have to keep, I think, certain components on this team that we can utilize in that capacity, but then there's things on this team that I think we probably need to change, or they may need a different atmosphere. But I think until we put ourselves in the position where we consistently play the way we should play every night, we have to make changes. And it may be minor, but you still have to make changes."


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