- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan have orchestrated the feel-good maneuverings of a basketball franchise previously immersed in irrelevance.

This is their handiwork, their vision and their team. Plaudits go to them, too.

Theirs are not the first names that come tumbling out of the mouths of superlative-issuing NBA insiders. But Grunfeld and Jordan have every expectation to be on the short list of candidates up for postseason honors: Grunfeld as Executive of the Year and Jordan as Coach of the Year.

They have restored a sense of professionalism and even-temperedness to a franchise that was determined to be incorrigible following the tag-team soap opera of Michael Jordan and Doug Collins two seasons ago.

It is a remarkable turnaround, given the mood of the franchise and the city after the Chicago-based legend was told his personnel evaluations by cell phone on a golf course no longer were needed on Fun Street.

Consider the following: The last time the franchise won a playoff game was May 4, 1988.

No other NBA team descends to this depth of playoff barrenness, not even the Warriors and Clippers.

So now, in this improbable season, the Wizards have 20 games left and a playoff berth to secure. The stretch will determine the genuineness of the Wizards.

Homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs would be no small development for a team so young and so utterly lacking in postseason experience.

This season is not about the Wizards contending with the Heat and Pistons for the Eastern Conference championship. This is about the Wizards getting a strong dose of playoff experience for the seasons ahead.

This is about a team that has all the youthful pieces in place. This is about a team that could have accumulated 50 victories if only it had managed to stay relatively healthy.

That the Wizards have managed to push through the injuries is a testament to their depth and the even manner of Jordan. He is the anti-Collins, the perfect tonic of a fragile team that has hit several speed bumps in recent weeks.

His eyes never roll into the back of his head after a tough loss. He never resorts to a soul-baring soliloquy. He is content to dump the inanities of the game on the media after each game and leave it at that. He is content to let the actions of the team be the principal story line.

Jordan has no agenda other than the next game. He is not looking to land before a television camera if things go bad. He is in position to be the coach of this team for a long time.

The biggest offseason challenge before Grunfeld is to re-sign Kwame Brown and Larry Hughes.

Brown may never develop into the All-Star that his body and athleticism suggest, but he has shown the capacity to be a serviceable post player the next 10-12 seasons.

In a season of surprises, Hughes is perhaps the biggest one of them all. He plays both ends of the floor like no other member of the team. He would have been an All-Star if he had not fractured his right thumb in mid-January.

Hughes shows how perceptions can change with a bit of reinvention.

It was two seasons ago, amid the Collins-Jordan meltdown, that Hughes was burdened with the reputation of being a malingerer who was not with the program.

It even was suggested, by this space, that a trade would be beneficial to all parties. It was, fortunately, a trade that never came to be. It was just another reminder of how difficult it is to evaluate talent and personalities in the NBA.

Grunfeld, of course, has a portfolio of success there. It was his front-office acumen that led to the Knicks going to the NBA Finals on two occasions. Perhaps more impressively, Grunfeld re-tooled a flawed Bucks team that extended the 76ers to seven games in the conference finals in 2001.

Both Grunfeld and Jordan are entitled to take a bow after 62 games, although each would claim it to be premature.

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