- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Chris Whitney always had a special place in his heart for the Washington Wizards, and with good reason. After all, it was the Wizards who rescued him from the CBA scrap heap and eventually signed him to a multiyear deal that helped him become a 10-year NBA veteran.

But Whitney, whom the Wizards signed to a one-year deal at just more than $1million before training camp, saw some things during the 2001-02 season that turned him off about Washington — so much so that he didn’t want to come back unless some changes were made in team management.

“I wouldn’t have been back,” Whitney said. “I had several options and, actually, this was my second.”

The Wizards released Whitney at the start of last season, which he split between Denver and Orlando. The Magic showed interested in re-signing him, and the Los Angeles Lakers were interested. But when he saw the changes that were made in the Wizards organization — specifically bringing in coach Eddie Jordan and respected president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld — he changed his mind about returning.

Although Whitney would not spell out his reasons, a league source said he did not want to play again for former coach Doug Collins. Whitney said yesterday that “I had no problems playing with Mike [Jordan].”

Meanwhile, Eddie Jordan is happy to have him back for a number of reasons.

Granted, the team is packed in the backcourt, with the yeoman share of minutes being destined for Jerry Stackhouse, Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes. But after that, there is a huge drop-off in talent. If Whitney were not in the equation, Jordan would be looking at second-year guard Juan Dixon and rookie Steve Blake.

“He’s a good player,” Jordan said of Whitney, who turns 32 today. “Is he as quick and as athletic as he was five years ago? Probably not, but he hasn’t lost much. And intelligence on the floor means a lot all the time.”

Whitney is considered one of the NBA’s most affable players and was runner-up for the league’s Sportsmanship Award in 2000-01.

“He’s a great personality,” Jordan said. “He makes you laugh. He’s easy to talk to. He’s good to have around.”

In addition to being an excellent ball-handler, Whitney is the most accomplished long-range shooter in franchise history with 481 3-pointers. He also holds the team’s highest free throw percentage (.878) among players with 700 or more attempts.

“Anytime you can add a guy who can add something to your team, it’s a good thing,” Jordan said. “Chris can do that.”

Once the Wizards signed him, Whitney wasted no time getting back to the Washington area to participate in summer practices with his teammates, who were gathering daily to whip themselves into shape for training camp.

At the time, Whitney said he wasn’t sure returning to Washington was the best move for him. Now that he has started to get familiar with Jordan and Grunfeld and the way things are going with the Wizards nowadays, he is.

“I’m very happy,” he said. “Eddie Jordan has been good; all the assistants are fine; Ernie is a good guy. I’m just happy with the whole turnaround here.”

Note — Blake suffered a chipped bone in his hand and wore a dressing yesterday. The injury is not serious and will not keep him out of practices.

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