- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

Michael Jordan is looking to have one last go-around in the playoffs, which has led to the de-emphasis of Kwame Brown, Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas.

This is not a bad development, contrary to some of the bunk being peddled around the NBA. Jordan and the Wizards are obligated to win as many games as possible and leave the youth-inspired rebuilding movement to Jerry Krause and the Bulls, among others.

The five-season mess in Chicago is instructive, if only because the Bulls are in the midst of their third or fourth rebuilding plan, with no guarantee that it ever will result in anything meaningful for the franchise. Krause could be rebuilding the next 10 years, assuming he is able to keep his job that long.

Who knows? Who cares? The business is about winning and losing. That is why won-lost records are maintained on each of the 29 teams in the NBA. The decision to lose with young players in the hope that it will lead to wins in the future comes with a wink-wink. You could ask Tim Floyd if he were still employed with the Bulls. He used to be part of Krause's vision.

The Clippers are another team that wallows in the youth-must-be-served philosophy, mostly because of Donald Sterling's tight-fisted financial manner. A lot of good it has done. Even as it became fashionable to believe in the Clippers as a "team of the future" the last two years, the modest reward of a playoff berth remains unmet. The Clippers won 31 games two seasons ago, 39 games last season and are on pace to win about 32 games this season. So much for the "team of the future" label.

Some teams express the rebuilding vision because it beats stating the obvious, which is, "We're just planning to lose a lot of games for a long time and then we'll see what happens."

That seems to be the plan in Denver, where coach Jeff Bzdelik, the one-time assistant with the Bullets, has managed to make the Nuggets somewhat competitive with what amounts to a CBA outfit.

When Jordan opted to come out of retirement a second time, he donned his professorial cap and said he wanted to teach the youngsters, specifically Brown, what is required to succeed in the NBA. The teacher-pupil relationship between Jordan and Brown has been strained at times. Brown is a nice young man who developed a case of stress-induced acne last season. The cutthroat nature of the NBA can do that to the naive, particularly if the master of the head game is in your ear.

These lessons take time, of course, and the player Brown is going to be in five years is still highly debatable. No great purpose would be served if he were playing 42 minutes a game on the basis of potential instead of the 20-or-so minutes he usually receives. An essential part of his development is connected to his mental makeup. He has the body of a man but the uncertainty, immaturity and impatience of being a 20-year-old athlete who skipped the college layover experience.

Haywood, as a 7-footer who does not always play up to his height and is rarely an offensive threat in the low post, is in the starting lineup, though relegated to about the same number of minutes as Brown. His up-and-down activity level is on a game-to-game basis, some nights better than others.

At one point last season, coach Doug Collins suggested Haywood could turn out to be a Dikembe Mutombo-like player, based on how Haywood was playing at the time. The Mutombo comparison has not been made this season.

Thomas is what he is, a rugged player with energy, but certainly no star in the making. If Thomas winds up with a long NBA career, it will be as a Charles Oakley-type performer.

Tyronn Lue is filling the role that fits him, while Jared Jeffries is out for the season with a torn ACL and Juan Dixon is on the injured list with a sprained left elbow. In other words, no one in the team's post-Jordan future is being short-changed.

As it is, this was supposed to be the team's season, led by Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse, Larry Hughes and Bryon Russell. Remember the good feelings back in October? No, it has not gone down that way after 32 games.

But you don't quit in mid-season, which is what the deployment of the youth movement essentially would be. You play it out. You go for it. If 41-41 is the best-case scenario, you fight as professionals to get there. You don't pull a Krause and say, "Oh, we'll go for 25 wins and get ready for next season."

Next season? Who wants to hear that in these parts, with Jordan planning to retire and Stackhouse ready to opt out of his contract?

Those in a rush to call Jordan a phony can wait until the offseason, when the Bob Johnson-Jordan link will be decided one way or the other.

If Jordan leaves the unfinished business of Washington for Charlotte, as some NBA observers persist in speculating, then Jordan will be full of it.

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