- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

Owner Abe Pollin can tolerate the Washington Wizards’ losing record under first-year coach Eddie Jordan because he, like president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld, understands the team has been ravaged by injuries.

Although the Wizards (13-31) are tied for fewest victories in the NBA, Pollin gave Grunfeld and Jordan votes of confidence in a wide-ranging conversation with reporters yesterday. He also said he is satisfied with the Wizards’ progress, although the team had 21 wins at this point last year.

“I feel very, very good about having Ernie and Eddie. I think we have two great guys to build the future on,” Pollin said.

But what Pollin will not tolerate is another misstep similar to reserve forward Christian Laettner’s recent five-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy.

“I’m disappointed in anybody who represents me that does something that is illegal or immoral,” Pollin said at the team’s practice. “I’m very much disappointed. Anybody in this organization represents me and what I stand for, and I don’t stand for that stuff. That’s why a lot of the players that you know who used to be around here aren’t around here anymore.”

Pollin said he was glad to see that stars Jerry Stackhouse (knee surgery) and Gilbert Arenas (abdomen) practiced yesterday, but neither is expected to rejoin the team until after the All-Star Game next month.

Pollin rewarded Stackhouse with an $18million contract extension before the season and lured free agent Arenas with a $64million-plus deal. Yesterday was the first time the two practiced together since the preseason.

Stackhouse, who led the team in scoring last season at 21.5, has not played this season. Arenas, named the league’s most improved player last season with Golden State, has appeared in 20 games.

Pollin repeated what everyone else has been saying: The Wizards (13-31) can’t be evaluated properly because of injuries.

“We’re still missing 40 points from our two best players who aren’t playing,” Pollin said. “You take any team and take its two best players off, and it’s going to be difficult to win.”

Still, a 13-win team at this stage of the season is not what Pollin had in mind. In fact, Pollin looks around the Atlantic Division, in which only New Jersey has a winning record, sees all the coaching changes and understands his team is losing an opportunity to make the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

“The expectation was that the team would be very competitive, and I think they would be if our guys weren’t hurt,” Pollin said. “I’m hoping that right after the All-Star break, when these guys come back, we’ll be very competitive. And I think we will be.”

Among general managers, it is believed the Wizards will not be one of the more active teams as the Feb.19 trading deadline approaches — mostly because they are in position to have millions to spend on the free agent market in the summer of 2005. But Pollin said if Grunfeld comes across a great deal, he will have full authority to make it.

“I’m going to rely on Ernie,” Pollin said. “He’s talking to every general manager every day, and he [would come] to me with something that he thinks is really good. … But so far I haven’t heard anything yet.”

Pollin also acknowledged that he and his business partner, Ted Leonsis, have discussed Leonsis’ scrape last weekend with Washington Capitals season ticket-holder Jason Hammer.

“He apologized to me,” Pollin said. “He said, ‘Abe, I made a major mistake. I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again.’ He said that he’s been feeling frustrated.

“But you have to learn to take it,” said Pollin, no doubt speaking from experience. “Once you can’t take it, then you might as well get out of this business because you’re going to have a lot of downers. If you can’t handle it, you’re in trouble. He understands it. He’s very passionate. He’s a good guy. He just lost it for a minute.”

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