- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

At first, Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan planned to start Christian Laettner at center for one game, then return the team’s oldest player to the bench.

After he saw how well the Wizards’ offense functioned Wednesday in a 100-90 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, however, Laettner is now the starter and Brendan Haywood is the reserve.

“I like what happened last night — I really did,” Jordan said yesterday. “I think we’ll pretty much keep practicing with it and see if we like it. We think we’re going to stick with it.”

Though the star in Washington’s first home victory over Dallas since March 1997 was point guard Gilbert Arenas (25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), Laettner had 13 points, 13 rebounds, five blocked shots and three assists in 37 minutes during his first start of the season.

“Gilbert was the catalyst, and Christian was more of a glue,” Jordan said.

The switch to Laettner, who will share power forward and center duties with Kwame Brown tonight against Toronto, does not sit well with Haywood, who started 69 of 82 games last season.

“Is there anything you can really do wrong in 15 minutes in three games?” said Haywood, who is averaging 2.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13 minutes a game. “It seemed to me like I played well, but I was only in there for little stints. So I’m not sure what it is. These are questions you can ask the coach.

“I respect his decision,” Haywood continued. “There are two things you can do right now. You can pack the season in and quit, mope and be a jerk about it, or you can go out there and work hard. I’m going to work hard, and I know I’m going to be back out there. Right now I’m not. I don’t like it. I’ve got a lot of work to do, and hopefully I can get some more minutes down the stretch. But I don’t think anybody can show what they can do in getting just 10 or 15 minutes a game.”

For Jordan, the key for his big men is to create good spacing on the court, pass competently out of the high post and never bog down ball movement. Everyone is expected to rebound and play defense.

Last season, when Jordan was the top assistant in New Jersey, Dikembe Mutombo, whom the Nets had acquired from Philadelphia after being swept by the Lakers in the 2002 NBA Finals, was unable to do any of these things. As a result, Mutombo, who earned more than $17million last season, wound up backing up Jason Collins, even after he returned from a wrist injury that forced him to miss 40 games.

Arenas said there was substantially more room to operate on the floor against the Mavericks than there had been in the first four games.

“Laettner opens up the floor a little bit more because he’s not down there trying to post up and in the middle of everything,” Arenas said. “He just pops open somehow, and I think that just helps out the offense a little bit more.”

Laettner, who started 66 games last season at power forward, still doesn’t have a handle on the offense, primarily because he missed some of the team’s September scrimmages to be with his wife who had pneumonia.

Last season Laettner took Brown’s starting spot. This season he is comfortable playing alongside him.

“If I’m playing with someone who is just a pure center, someone who is just going to be in the paint all day long, then that makes me be on the perimeter all day long because that’s his space, and you can’t get on top of each other,” Laettner said.

“But if you are playing with someone who can step out and hit the 17- or 18-footer, make the high-low pass and maybe hit the jumper, then that gives me a chance to sneak down under the basket and get some layups and some offensive rebounds.

“That’s one of the reasons why I like playing with Kwame. In our offense, whoever is at the five spot is a cutter, a passer, a screener,” Laettner continued. “I’ve been playing for a long time, so I know how to sneak behind people to set screens and get little layups. That’s why this offense is good for me. It’s good for our whole team. We just have to stick with it, trust it and continue to grow and improve and we should be a better team in February than we are now.”

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