- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

Wes Unseld, the Washington Wizards general manager for the past seven seasons, said yesterday he will relinquish his position with the organization.

Unseld, who will have surgery on both of his knees later this summer, intends to return to the team in some capacity. When asked whether he would continue as the organization’s general manager he replied:

“No, I won’t.”

Unseld, however, is not retiring.

“I’ll still be with the team, but I’m not ever going to do all of the leg work and the heavy scouting. My role is going to change,” Unseld said from his home yesterday.

Unseld’s decision comes at a time when the Wizards’ front office is already in disarray following last week’s meeting between team owner Abe Pollin and Michael Jordan. Jordan, the Wizards’ president of basketball operations from January 2000 until his return to the court in October 2001, was told by the owner he would not get back the job.

Unseld announced May 2 he was taking a “leave of absence.” Even though it was believed Jordan would take over basketball operations in Washington Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the team, Unseld did not say he was relinquishing the title of general manager at the time.

Unseld says he will continue in his role as the team’s top talent evaluator through the June 26 NBA Draft. After that, Unseld will take what could be a protracted leave of absence and have both knees replaced.

Longtime Cleveland general manger Wayne Embry’s name has surfaced as a possible candidate for the job. Also, longtime Atlanta Hawks director of basketball operations Billy Knight could be available.

Unseld, who in the past has played a major role in procuring front office officials, is not, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, involved in what is essentially a search to replace him. That job falls to Pollin and team president Susan O’Malley.

In the meantime, the Wizards have made a commitment to staffers hired by Jordan — such as coach Doug Collins and assistant general manger Rod Higgins — that they will be retained at least until the draft.

The Wizards may be forced to make a quicker decision on Collins, though.

Collins has two seasons remaining on his contract. If the Wizards decide to fire him they will still owe him at least $10million.

According to one source, the Wizards’ front office would prefer to get their president of basketball operations in place and then leave it up to him to decide who will be retained by the team.

However, the longer they delay a decision on Collins, the smaller the pool of coaching candidates gets. For instance, the Wizards are said to be interested in recently fired New Orleans coach Paul Silas. Silas is viewed as perhaps the best available coaching candidate, and the chances are remote he still will be available to the Wizards in late June.

Silas’ name has been mentioned in connection with the vacant general manager’s job in Portland, which opened after the resignation of Bob Whitsitt last week.

Like Jordan, who still lived in Chicago during his yearlong stint as president of basketball operations, Whitsitt was ridiculed in Portland because he lived in Seattle.

Whomever the Wizards find to replace Unseld, there are some major decisions to be made regarding the roster. Leading scorer Jerry Stackhouse (21.5) can opt out of the remaining two years of his contract this season and has not made up his mind whether he will return to the team after all the recent turmoil.

If Stackhouse decides to leave Washington, the Wizards could be anywhere from $10 to $12million below the salary cap. This additional space would give the Wizards considerable flexibility in terms of pursuing free agents.

Also, none of the remaining players on the roster is believed to be untradeable.

Which is why “getting this stuff done as soon as possible is very important,” Unseld said.

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