- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

Every year Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin publicly says his team is going to the NBA playoffs. And this time the franchise, which last made the postseason in 1997 and hasn’t won a postseason series in 23 years, appears certain to do that.

But yesterday following a team practice at MCI Center, Pollin revealed a higher goal.

“We are going to be getting better and better every year, and we are going to win a championship,” Pollin said.

The question is when? After all, Pollin, who has owned the franchise since 1964, is 81.

“We are not talking about a championship this year, but we are talking about eventually winning a championship,” Pollin said. “I think if we can keep these guys together, keep them healthy, we are going to get better and better. Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen.”

Pollin, the dean of NBA owners, said the team’s success is directly related to the hiring of coach Eddie Jordan and president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld during the summer of 2003 after Pollin refused to rehire Michael Jordan and fired Doug Collins.

Yesterday Pollin conceded there was some luck involved in landing the two, especially since Pollin hired Jordan first. Usually the general manager has a huge say in naming a coach. Previously, Pollin had considered hiring Detroit coach Larry Brown or Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy and giving either control of personnel and coaching.

“The stars were aligned for me to get the best two guys, and I got them,” Pollin said. “From the standpoint of management, I think between Eddie and Ernie we have a management team that is unbeatable. I don’t think anybody in the league has a better [pair] than I do. They are smart, young, good, hardworking people.”

Of course, every season has its ups and downs. Despite their encouraging 26-18 record, the Wizards will be seeking to end a three-game losing streak tomorrow night when they visit the Toronto Raptors.

Tuesday’s loss to Detroit dropped the Wizards’ record to 4-5 in games without star guard Larry Hughes (broken thumb). And while the Wizards’ 102.1-point average is second in the league, Jordan has not been satisfied lately with the team’s defense or toughness.

“We know that we don’t have rough-and-tumble, hit first, overly aggressive, physical people,” Jordan said. “We know we have to rely on our quickness, athleticism and activity. We try to get physical play from Michael [Ruffin] and Etan [Thomas]. There are times when Michael can be as physical as he wants. But when he has to defend against someone who is 6-11, he’s at a disadvantage.”

The Wizards clearly miss Hughes, who at the time of his injury was averaging 21.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, a team-high 5.3 rebounds and a league-high 2.82 steals. Hughes and injured forward Kwame Brown (ankle) should be back shortly after the All-Star break — possibly when the Wizards resume play at MCI Center on Feb.23 against Memphis.

Meanwhile, Pollin doesn’t believe there will be a lockout after the collective bargaining agreement between players and management expires in July.

“I think there is enough good will on both sides that there will be enough compromise on both sides,” Pollin said. [The NBA] had a lockout once, and I think the players union realized that we are serious as owners but that we also want to be fair to the players.”

Owners locked out the players in 1998, resulting in a 50-game season.

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