- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

Christian Laettner will return to the Washington Wizards tonight against the Boston Celtics after serving his five-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy.

But since his suspension and subsequent fine last Tuesday, the Wizards have some undergone changes, and there is no guarantee Laettner will be reinserted into the rotation.

“I don’t know,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said when asked how he might incorporate Laettner into the team’s new small-ball style. “I don’t know yet.”

Laettner, docked $312,500 in salary, appears to understand as much. Although he has started at power forward or center in 15 games this season, he knows his mistake inevitably will alter his role — at least temporarily — with the Wizards (12-28).

“If they decide not to play me like they already have a few times this year, that’s just part of the game, something you’ve got to deal with,” Laettner said. “If Eddie gives me a shot and throws me out there, I’ll try and play basketball the right way and try to help the team.”

Before his suspension, Laettner was averaging 6.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in slightly more than 23 minutes a game.

But in moving to a smaller lineup — often featuring four guards and one center — Washington has a chance to extend its winning streak to a season-high three games against the Celtics (21-23) tonight.

Laettner remains contrite regarding the suspension. Although it is still unknown what Laettner’s violation was — the league is legally forbidden to disclose it — the agreement between the league and the players union states such a measure is taken only after a player tests positive for a banned substance (marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, LSD, opiates or PCP) for a third time.

“I still love the game. It was tough being away,” Laettner said. “Sometimes you say to yourself that you need a vacation. But as soon as I got back out there I realized how much I love the game. I definitely don’t want to see anything like this happen again. So I’m committed and devoted to making sure it doesn’t. I’m going to play basketball for as long as I can — until my knees give out.”

Laettner scoffed at the suggestion that perhaps he is losing his passion for basketball.

“I’ve always loved the game, always had a passion for it,” Laettner said. “I miss it when I’m away from it. Sometimes your knees hurt. Sometimes you’re tired. Sometimes you think you need a break. But in actuality it makes you realize that you don’t. It’s the thing I’ve been doing more in my life than anything. Like I said, I’m just going to try to play it until my knees go out.”

While Laettner gets re-acclimated, he isn’t alone in trying to sort out the comings and goings of this team.

“It’s different again,” leading scorer Larry Hughes said. “We’re playing different guys again. So you never really know who is going to be in the lineup, what size the lineup is going to be or what plays we’re going to run because of the guys we’re using. Every night it’s a challenge and an obstacle knowing what you’re going to get out of the team.”

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