- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Michael Jordan the player is annoyed with Michael Jordan the team president.

He has not voiced that particular sentiment, either out of neglect or selectivity.

Yet this is his team. These are his players, Jahidi White excluded.

Jordan picked the coach and he picked the players.

He envisioned a happy ending to his impending retirement, his third, and now he is coming up on the hard realization that it is not going to happen.

The Wizards are in the midst of capitulating on the West Coast. With 12 games left, they are about out of playoff hope. This is reflected in the noise.

Jordan has taken to blistering his handpicked teammates in recent weeks, with negligible results.

The team is either out of it soon after the opening tip or ready to submit the moment the opposition shows a sense of resolve in the fourth quarter.

The team has a glass jaw. It can't take a hit.

Doug Collins, the coach, concedes that he still is unable to read his team, which is a startling admission after 70 games.

Jordan, while doubting the athletic character of some of his teammates, announced that he is out of basketball miracles at age 40 after the team's no-show in Phoenix.

As if to underline the point, two nights after the embarrassment in Phoenix, Jordan was held scoreless in the fourth quarter of the highly winnable game with Golden State. The Wizards squandered a 14-point lead in the third quarter against the Warriors, one of their few consistent qualities this season.

The Wizards are careless with leads and masters of the apparent runaway victory that turns into a nail-biting ordeal at the end. They exhibited that proclivity against the Shaq-less Lakers at home in November before winning the game on Jerry Stackhouse's buzzer-beating dunk, and they have stayed true to that predisposition in all too many showings this season.

The Wizards rarely win easy, hard as that is to accept in an 82-game march that lends itself to a number of schedule-induced victories for the home team. Nothing alters the competitive balance like a road team playing the second of a back-to-back set against a home team working on two days' rest.

The Wizards defeated the Celtics 114-69 in the second game of the season, which remains their most impressive performance. They have enjoyed a few other laughers, but nowhere the number expected from a team with Jordan and Stackhouse.

The team's frustration is understandable, considering the expectations. This was considered a playoff team going into the season. This observation was made because of the Stackhouse trade, the signing of both Larry Hughes and Bryon Russell and the development of Kwame Brown and Brendan Haywood.

If Jordan could stay healthy, the thinking went, the Wizards would make a fuss in the equal-opportunity Eastern Conference.

Jordan's health, possibly the biggest question mark enveloping the team last October, has been relatively strong. He has not missed a game this season after missing 22 last season. He also has done his part on the floor. Even at 40, Jordan remains the team's best player.

Despite Jordan's good health and the feel-good changes, the team has underachieved as dramatically as last season's team overachieved its way to a 37-45 mark following the 19-win nightmare in 2001.

Two positions have haunted the Wizards: point guard and center.

Hughes, as worthy as he is as a complementary player, is not a point guard. He has a tendency to massage the ball, to dribble into low-percentage situations and to be a second too slow in delivering the pass to an open teammate.

The team was playing its best basketball of the season after Collins installed Tyronn Lue as the starting point guard on the mini-West Coast swing in February. Then Lue was injured in the overtime victory at home over the Rockets, and the Wizards lost their sense of continuity.

The team's lack of a low-post presence, the shared guilt of Brown and Haywood, has been a constant source of bafflement and irritation. When Jordan and Charles Oakley have questioned the commitment of the team's young players, "young" is code for Brown and Haywood.

The anemic response of Brown and Haywood looks even more incriminating around the increased production of Christian Laettner. No one ever would confuse the potential grace of Brown and Haywood to Laettner's workmanlike approach.

Yet that is the way it is with this team, Jordan's team.

His complaints are valid, so long as he includes his executive self in it.

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