- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Michael Jordan is the one element with the Wizards who connects the discord in both the locker room and the front office.This is not too terribly difficult to see, although it is against the unspoken rules of engagement with Jordan to tug on his cape.In the interest of access, you are obligated to assume the kneel-down position with Ahmad Rashad and start spin doctoring.He is Jordan, after all, even if this is his mess and vision.We can always blame Kwame Brown, the favorite pastime of the franchise.How is the Peking duck in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood today?A tad undercooked? Right. It is Brown’s fault.The process requires an out-of-body experience.As obvious as it may be, Susan O’Malley does not hang out in the locker room, and Brown does not mingle with the higher-ups in the organization.The one common denominator in the rancor, either in the locker room or the front office, is Jordan.How about that? Interesting. Wait. Jordan clings to the notion of plausible deniability.Huh? What’s the problem? How did we get to this level of misunderstanding?The pose of innocence might play in Peoria, but Jordan is the one who initiated the forces of speculation in the last week of the regular season while making a conspicuous grab for more power.This was the first insult.Jordan’s intermediaries have made further insults as thinly veiled sources speaking in hushed tones.The method is insulting, along with the motivation.Listen closely, everyone. This is very simple.The first rule when seeking a raise or promotion or additional responsibilities is a persuasive portfolio, which Jordan lacks as an executive.Jordan, in fact, is bringing nothing to the negotiating table other than his name and a .381 winning percentage since landing in Washington on Jan. 19, 2000.Most of his moves have been perfunctory, implemented to clear space under the salary cap.Jordan was able to unload Juwan Howard’s contract on the stupidly wealthy Mark Cuban. That was a praiseworthy maneuver, though hardly in the stunning mode of Jerry West sending Vlade Divac to the Hornets for a high school player named Kobe Bryant.Jordan may turn out to be the next West or he may turn out to be the next Elgin Baylor. In either case, before you go off making demands, you might want to have a record that empowers the demands.In the beginning, Jordan and the franchise agreed to ignore each other’s flaws.Jordan was allowed to grow on the job as president of basketball operations in exchange for his name that brought a certain credibility to a franchise forever stuck in the cycle of incompetence.From a marketing standpoint, the arrangement turned out better than anyone imagined after Jordan came out of retirement. For two seasons, the Wizards, in their drab uniforms and all, left their position of irrelevance in the NBA and routinely appeared on national television. All their home games were sold out.The sizzle failed to hide the lack of substance. Jordan Lite resulted in back-to-back 37-45 seasons and no playoff berth in the NBA’s junior varsity circuit, the Eastern Conference.Jordan made the same calculations as many others before he returned to the floor. He knew he wasn’t the player he once was, but he also knew he didn’t have to be in a weak conference with a franchise that dipped to 19-63 two years ago. A playoff berth in either season would have resulted in an outpouring of hosannas in his honor. A playoff series victory would have been cause for a downtown parade.Jordan insisted on reprising a scaled-down version of his role in Chicago. He would carry the team, but he would need more help to carry it than in Chicago. That was the blueprint, no matter how many times Jordan said he was on the floor to instruct and lead by example.Jordan misjudged the erosion of his years, the personnel around him and the perimeter-oriented attack that served him so well in Chicago. His frustration was misguided.There was no Horace Grant or Dennis Rodman to clean up the inefficiency from the perimeter, but what made him think there would be?Aside from the over-the-hill Charles Oakley, Etan Thomas was the only player on the roster with the mentality of Grant and Rodman, and his tenuous status in the rotation, until injured, was dictated in part by a glut of power forwards.At the start of the season, coach Doug Collins had what amounted to four players at one position in Brown, Thomas, Oakley and Jared Jeffries. That was an impossible situation for both the players and coach, worsened in the absence of a clear No. 1 player at the position.It did not help that Jordan and Jerry Stackhouse routinely combined to take half the team’s shots. Go ahead, fellows. Try to establish a rhythm in that context.The ball sometimes was permanently glued in the hands of the player holding it on the perimeter. Collins made an accurate point following a 16-point loss in Indiana in late November.”We dribble well,” he said. “The ball bounces. We lead the league in dribbling in the fourth quarter.”That observation remained true to the end, whether it was Jordan, Stackhouse, Larry Hughes or Juan Dixon exhibiting a pathological need to massage the ball.Now we come to the overwrought meeting today of Jordan, Abe Pollin and Ted Leonsis, as if the direction of the franchise somehow hangs in the balance. Please. The franchise is arguably no better off than it was before Jordan came out of retirement.Like it or not, Jordan’s fingerprints are all over the easy targets on the roster, with the exception of Jahidi White, who has been with the team since being drafted out of Georgetown in 1998.This is Jordan’s baby, all of it, from the quality of the players to the hard feelings in the locker room and front office.You can spin it however you like. You can chalk it to bad karma, if you like.But remember this: If the Wizards were playing in the conference semifinals instead of holding SALT-like talks, no one would be discussing the rifts in the franchise, and a 21-year-old player two years removed from high school would not be a symbol of the failings.No, if the Wizards were still alive, the talk would revolve around Jordan.It would be his show, understandably enough, just as it his show now.

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