- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Now comes the hard part with the Wizards, starting with coach Doug Collins.
Do you fire him or fire most of the players?
If you are cold to either proposition, do you try to broker an uneasy peace between the parties and encourage the prospect of a healing process?
Collins has two years left on a four-year contract worth $4million annually, no small going-away gift to a franchise that is expected to take a considerable financial hit following the retirement of Michael Jordan.
Collins, in the waning days of the season, came to sound a like person whose feelings would not be jarred by a pink slip.
Aside from being fed up and hurt by the players, Collins has several reasons that possibly explain the curious timing of his decision to go public with his complaints on the night of Jordan's farewell on Fun Street.
With Collins, a firing leads to the obvious element, the remaining pot of money paid in full, plus the freedom to resume his career as a television analyst while being spared the arduous undertaking before the team next season.
Collins does television well, and as an added bonus he no longer would be subjected to attacks from minutes-obsessed players.
All too many players have only two notes: minutes and touches. There are only 240 minutes to be distributed among the players in a game, there is a finite number of possessions on offense and there is often a tug-of-war between the coach and players to sort it all out.
In this regard, the Wizards missed the quality citizenship of Popeye Jones more than ever seemed possible going into the season. He was a player who knew what he was, a role player who never worked himself into a lather over minutes and touches. You could start him or bring him off the bench. It did not matter to him. His level of energy was going to be the same. He was just happy to be playing in the NBA, because he was from Murray State, and players from Murray State are rarely associated with the NBA.
Jones used to tell the young players on the team to appreciate where they were. He was a solid locker room guy in that way, and his words carried a certain clarity and power because he had no agenda other than to play the game with heart and sweat.
The Wizards ended up missing Jones, just as they missed the 3-point shooting of Chris Whitney and Hubert Davis, along with the high energy of Tyrone Nesby, crazy as that thought is, because Nesby was a character.
Next season will not be about making the playoffs with the Wizards. It will be about taking stock of the young players and setting a long-term foundation. It will be about coping in the clutches of the 82-game season and resisting the quick fix, an approach the franchise has been too quick to embrace since the playing days of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes.
Whatever you do with Collins, you keep Kwame Brown, Etan Thomas, Jared Jeffries, Juan Dixon, Bobby Simmons and Tyronn Lue. You don't have to sell Simmons and Lue on Collins. They flourished under him.
If the coach and players cannot agree to chalk up the whole ordeal to the burden of being glorified props in Jordan's last season, then, as frustrating as it is, you swallow the cost and go after a Jeff Bzdelik-type coach someone who is eager, looking for a break and comes cheap.
You also explore, in the coming months, the level of interest around the NBA in Christian Laettner, Jahidi White, Brendan Haywood and Larry Hughes.
You especially work to get rid of Hughes, who revealed himself to be a three-time loser, counting his previous stops with Philadelphia and Golden State.
Hughes quit on the team like a dog on the West Coast trip in late March after being benched in favor of Lue. Hughes came down with a sore right ankle at that point and ended up missing eight games.
You have nowhere to go with a malingerer, especially one who wears blinders on the floor and has an inflated sense of his ability.
Hughes undoubtedly is high on Jordan's hit list, assuming Jordan resumes his duties as president of basketball operations. Being stuck with Hughes next season goes against Jordan's competitive principles. The team would be paying good money to send another bad message to the locker room.
You don't think the players knew what game Hughes was playing in the last few weeks of the season? He was playing the get-even game with Collins. They had their problems, too, during the season, and Hughes could not sacrifice his ego for the good of a team clinging to the last remnants of playoff hope.
Hughes ended up being the petulant employee who beats his boss to the parting shot. The boss can't fire the employee because the employee quits, only this employee quit on his teammates as well.
Charles Oakley and Bryon Russell are already out the door, with no good memories, just a lot of words at odds with their dwindling capacity to be productive. They should have been mollified by the paycheck.
This leaves the question of Jerry Stackhouse, the team's enigma who could not hide his discontent at being stuck in Jordan's halfcourt world.
Stackhouse's inclination was to push the ball, to play at breakneck speed, which did not jibe with Jordan's desire to pace his 40-year-old body.
Stackhouse is all about touches and shot attempts, which he can justify on some nights but not on enough nights. He aspires to be a franchise player when, in reality, he is a second-tier All-Star, a resourceful scorer who lacks the wherewithal to carry a team.
Stackhouse is too easy to defend in the closing minutes of a tight game, largely because he has no confidence in his outside shot and his only recourse is to bull his way to the basket and hope to draw contact and a whistle from the referee.
The decision, to stay or go, is Stackhouse's, if the situation is allowed to go that far. He is slated to make nearly $7million next season and is not likely to find anyone willing to improve on that figure. By staying in Washington, Stackhouse also is apt to think he could get his wish, which is as many shots as he wants a game.
Not that anyone in the organization would be upset by his departure.
His drain on the team's salary cap is measured in the context of a few additional victories, hardly a cost-efficient exchange. There also is his me-first attitude and the conflict it could pose on a team more predisposed to funnel the ball to the low post next season.
All these details are being calculated against the open wound of another 37-45 season.
The challenge before the franchise in the coming weeks is to implement a clear vision in place of the raw disappointment.

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