- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

An announcement trumpeting the contract extension of Eddie Jordan will be made by the Wizards this weekend, a team source said yesterday.

Jordan will return to the city tomorrow from Las Vegas, where he has been evaluating the performance of the team’s neophytes in the summer league.

The three-year extension came with the vocal support of two-time All-Star Gilbert Arenas.

“I know he’s excited,” Arenas said earlier this week. “He’s taken a team that had been in a playoff drought for many years and got them to the playoffs two years in a row.”

It was no small accomplishment for a franchise that was presumed to be on life-support after Michael Jordan was told his services no longer were needed in the spring of 2003.

A distinctive gloom descended on Abe Pollin’s edifice on Fun Street after Jordan was unable to fix the lingering malaise of the Chris Webber/Juwan Howard seasons.

If the NBA’s best player ever could not change the culture of losing in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood, the thinking went then, who possibly could restore the luster of a franchise whose best days coincided with the disco-fever era?

That question was answered in a seemingly tentative fashion in June 2003.

There was nothing in the hiring of the hometown Jordan that suggested the bad old days were at an end. There was nothing in the hiring of Ernie Grunfeld 11 days after Jordan that suggested the franchise was now well on its way to relevance.

Yet those two moves by Pollin — the unassuming coach followed by the publicity-shy president of basketball operations — revitalized the reputation of an old-school owner whose team-building acumen long had been questioned in the modern-day NBA.

Jordan’s contract extension meets the franchise’s long-held desire for stability.

Jordan is not going anywhere, the team promises to be only stronger next season, and Grunfeld is perhaps only a piece or two away from turning the Wizards into a top-tier playoff team.

Those pieces are not easy to acquire, of course. Yet one of the pieces already could be on the roster if either Andray Blatche, Peter John Ramos or recent draft pick Oleksiy Pecherov eventually develop into a worthy NBA player.

The clock is ticking on Ramos, whose two seasons in the NBA have been marked mostly by shoulder-bumping teammates in the pre-game introductions and a lengthy stint in Roanoke, Va., last season.

The 6-foot-11 Blatche has impressive perimeter skills but the chest of a chicken that needs to be addressed with a serious amount of time in the weight room.

The Wizards have not been active participants in the free-agent market, although they have been linked to both Jamaal Magloire and DeShawn Stevenson, the latter possibly a hedge against Jared Jeffries receiving a mega-dollar offer from another suitor.

That prospect seems improbable now, as Jeffries apparently is coming to terms with signing the one-year qualifying offer of the Wizards.

Jeffries has found, as the Wizards suspected, that the market is uncertain for a 6-11 player who looks like an All-Star for 93 feet before morphing into a spastic recreation-league player who clangs shot after shot off the rim.

That hair-pulling tendency could be neutralized by the healthy return of Jarvis Hayes, a streak shooter in the manner of Juan Dixon.

It is now up to Jordan to lead the Wizards to the 50-win mark.

That is the mandate, implicit though it may be.

Grunfeld has made it clear that the two consecutive playoff berths merely constitute a step.

As he sees it, the pain of losing in the playoffs is part of a team’s growth process.

The Wizards, because of their youth, remain a team with considerable upside.

Jordan and the Wizards are now saddled with greater expectations — from inside and outside the organization — and those expectations at some point will not be sated by the mere act of making the playoffs.

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