Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said that he was glad to be coming home to the place of his birth to coach “the team I grew up watching as a little boy.”
But when he takes over the Wizards, which he is expected to do first thing Monday morning, he’ll walk into a situation that has been as turbulent in recent months as any in the NBA.
The Wizards are a team with problems.
In the years that Michael Jordan was involved with the Wizards — since January 2000, when he became part owner and president of basketball operations — the team mattered for the first time in a long while.
And when MJ returned to the court as a player the last two seasons, the Wizards became a cash cow, selling out 82 home games and becoming the best road draw in the league.
But when Jordan was dismissed last month from his front office job, it set off a firestorm of anti-Wizards angst in the nation’s capital. To complete the purge of anything Jordan, Doug Collins — MJ’s hand-picked coach — also was let go.
Before Michael Jordan was told the news in a brief meeting with owner Abe Pollin, longtime general manager and Pollin loyalist Wes Unseld announced that because of health reasons, he would step down as general manager following next Thursday’s draft.
Pollin said yesterday that no less authorities than Pat Riley and Jerry West recommended Eddie Jordan, and they had better be right because his work is cut out for him.
Eddie Jordan is considered by many in the NBA to be the man responsible for transforming New Jersey forward Kenyon Martin from a raging, out-of-control player into one of the best power forwards in the NBA. He worked his magic well enough to help the Nets get to the finals in each of the last two seasons.
Public regard for the Wizards dipped so much after Michael Jordan was fired that Pollin, in a move that was seen by some as desperation, promised to return to season ticket holders their down payment if they are not satisfied with the moves the team makes in the offseason.
Eddie Jordan is the first piece in that equation. He takes over a roster that could lose leading scorer Jerry Stackhouse, which could be a bane or a blessing. If Stackhouse opts out of the final two seasons of his contract, the Wizards could have almost $10million this summer to spend on free agents — or horde that money and have even more cap space next summer. That’s the blessing.
But Stackhouse, who became disenchanted with the offense under Collins last season, is still the team’s best player. With him the Wizards at least have a shot at making the playoffs next season. Without him, Eddie Jordan’s first season will be excruciatingly painful to watch.
Jordan also has to mend the fragile egos of players who, in a New York Times article, said that Michael Jordan’s presence on the roster was a bigger negative than an advantage.
Larry Hughes, brought in to be the team’s starting point guard, became a failed experiment, just as he had in previous stops in Golden State and Philadelphia. Making matters worse, Tyronn Lue, the player Collins said he should have started at point guard all season long, is a free agent and could wind up elsewhere.
The biggest issue, however, is the development of Kwame Brown. The top pick in the 2001 draft and the first high school player to be taken No.1 overall has averaged 6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds.
Eddie Jordan got his first look at Brown when he was a rookie at a summer league in Boston. The coach was astonished at what he saw at the time but wondered how Brown, now 21, would develop.
“You could see that he was very raw,” Jordan said. “You could see the athleticism, the explosiveness, the desire to play as hard as he can. You could tell that he was made to play basketball. He’s going to be the key. I hope he is confident about his abilities, about his future. I want him to establish a solid work effort, and I think he is going to be a real player in this league.”
Note — Stackhouse was honored with the NBA’s Community Assist Award for May and will be presented with the David Robinson plaque for his continued service in the fight against diabetes. Stackhouse has helped raise more than $4million in the fight against the disease. He is the only the second player to receive the award twice.