- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Michael Jordan is out, Wes Unseld will take a protracted leave of absence after the NBA Draft in June, and the status of coach Doug Collins is uncertain.Other than that, the future of the Washington Wizards is additionally muddled by the free-agent possibilities before guard Jerry Stackhouse.Does the franchise embark on an ambitious rebuilding plan around young players or opt to enter into its customary veteran for hire summer sweepstakes?That question can’t be answered until the air is cleared, a personnel guru is in place and Collins’ status is resolved.Jordan’s tenure with the Wizards was terminated yesterday morning by owner Abe Pollin and minority owner Ted Leonsis.Unseld, the team’s general manager, announced last week he would take a leave of absence beginning soon after the June 26 draft. Assistant general manger Rod Higgins would have been a logical choice to take his place, but Higgins, hired by Jordan, either will voluntarily leave with Jordan or be fired.There also is a possibility that Unseld will reconsider the timing of his leave and he may not take it right after the draft. If Unseld’s leave is extended, experienced available former executives include Bob Whitsitt, who resigned yesterday as the Portland Trail Blazers’ general manager. Collins was handpicked by Jordan and still has two years remaining on his contract valued at more than $8 million. Collins said he plans to return.”I have every intention to continue my duties as the Wizards’ coach and guide them to the playoffs,” Collins said.The Wizards will have to make a quick decision on the future of Collins and others as well. The entire coaching staff, including trainers and strength and conditioning coaches, was hired by Jordan.All this adds up to a front office rebuilding project at a time when the Wizards need to be preparing for the draft, free agency and exploring trade opportunities.If the Wizards are indeed left with a skeleton staff, which appears likely, basketball decisions are almost certain to suffer.Stackhouse, the team’s best player, could opt out of the final two years of his contract, leaving close to $15 million on the table when free agency officially opens July 1. Decisions also must be made on free agents Tyronn Lue and Bobby Simmons. Bryon Russell, like Stackhouse, can opt out of his contract this summer. Jordan and Charles Oakley, who likely won’t be asked to return, are the team’s other free agents.”I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t look good at all,” Oakley said. “There was some crying going on while Michael was there. Why, I don’t know, because none of those guys except Tyronn Lue has ever won jack.”One player, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he no longer wants to be a member of the team.”I don’t want to be here,” the player said. “I always heard they were the Los Angeles Clippers of the East before I got here. Shoot, I think I’d rather be playing for the Clippers right about now. I heard horror stories about Washington before I got here.”That same player joked yesterday about how former Wizard Chris Webber, presently leading the powerful Sacramento Kings in the playoffs, told him that “playing in Washington was like playing in the ghetto.”“You know something, he might be right,” the player said.Along with being critical of Jordan’s performance as an executive — a role Jordan hadn’t performed in close to two years — Pollin, according to sources, was said to have had a problem with the direction in which Jordan was leading the team.However, in the first season Jordan returned to the court as a player, the Wizards, who had finished a franchise worst 19-63 in 2000-01, improved their win total by 18 games.Collins pointed to a rash of injuries, especially along the Wizards’ front line, as a reason for the Wizards not making much improvement.”We had huge injuries,” Collins said. “We lost Jared Jeffries for 62 games, we lost Jahidi White for 66. With those guys, we would have been better.”In the not-so-distant future, these could be viewed as the good old days.

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