- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2003

The biggest question, of course, is how many games the Washington Wizards will win this season. But as players begin reporting to training camp at the College of Charleston (S.C.), more pressing questions must be answered first.

Is Kwame Brown ready to begin the process of becoming a franchise player, or is he destined to be a flop? Is point guard Gilbert Arenas as good as advertised and on the cusp of superstardom? Is Jerry Stackhouse, an All-Star in Detroit, ready to rejoin the game’s elite players?

Newcomer Eddie Jordan, the team’s seventh coach since 1999, has the daunting task of resolving these questions and others. Considered one of the better teaching coaches while an assistant in New Jersey the last four seasons, Jordan takes over a team with nine players 24 and younger — all of whom could be on the roster when the Wizards open the season in Chicago Oct.29.

Jordan, who coached a horrible Sacramento team to a 33-64 record in the final 15 games of the 1996-97 season and all of 1997-98, is aware of the Wizards’ many gray areas.

“What’s our growth rate?” Jordan said, sounding unsure himself. “Is it going to be really fast? Is it going to be difficult or is it going to be a normal process? We’ll have to see.”

The Wizards’ last two seasons differed from the typical only in that Michael Jordan transformed the team into a cash cow that led the NBA in attendance. The on-court results were in line with the franchise’s recent history of failure. Washington was 37-45 both seasons, failed to reach the playoffs last spring for the 14th time in 15 years and extended to 21 the number of seasons since it last won a playoff series.

“It’s a process, and it always was a process,” said president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld, who replaced Michael Jordan in the front office. “You have to take one step at a time. You can’t go from not reaching the playoffs for seven or eight years and not winning a playoff series for 21 years to winning a championship. There are steps to be taken. That’s going to take a lot of dedication and a lot of hard work, and we’re committed to getting there.”

Training camp, which has been shifted from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, will be different in that players with three or fewer years of NBA experience are required to report by tomorrow and begin two-a-day practices Tuesday. Older players are required to report by Thursday and practice Friday. Camp will close with one session on Oct.6, and the Wizards return home to play their lone preseason game at MCI Center on Oct.7 against New York. The Wizards expect to have 20 players in camp.

Although the veterans’ time at camp has been reduced because of a deal between the players’ union and the league, the Wizards don’t seem concerned that they won’t have enough time to bond as a team in Charleston. To a degree, that process has begun.

Unlike recent years, when many key players didn’t end their summer vacations until the first day of training camp, as many as 12 players under contract have been regulars for at least the last month at MCI Center workouts.

“It’s unusual,” said Stackhouse, one of six players not required to report until Thursday. “Guys have been in here every day working out together. I get the feeling that everybody is looking forward to playing. We’re excited about our new coach, the new players. I think there’s a lot of optimism going into the season.”

Stackhouse is right. But the questions outweigh the optimism.

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