- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

Eddie Jordan is basking in the confirmation of an impending contract extension after leading the Wizards to the playoffs the last two seasons.

It never was clear Jordan would receive what he deserved until Ernie Grunfeld announced the news earlier this week.

“I am very fortunate that Mr. [Abe] Pollin and Ernie felt that way,” Jordan said yesterday by telephone, hours before the NBA Draft. “It was not something I was necessarily seeking. I was prepared to fulfill the last year of my contract and go from there.”

Jordan knows a coach in the last year of his contract is vulnerable to the whims of dissatisfied players, although the Wizards locker room is stuffed with high-character types.

They have no genuine malcontents, just a conscientious objector or two whose temperamental manner is sometimes hard to gauge.

The contract extension certainly sends a convincing message to the potential fence-sitters who inevitably believe their shortcomings are the fault of Jordan and the coaching staff.

The contract extension also eliminates the perception, accurate or not, that Jordan never was Grunfeld’s guy. Jordan was hired 11 days before Grunfeld in the summer of 2003 and always has labored under the suspicion Grunfeld was looking for the first sign of trouble to fire him in order to bring aboard a handpicked successor.

“I never looked at it that way,” Grunfeld said. “Maybe that perception was out there. But I’ve been very happy with Eddie and with the direction of the team. We’ve been in the playoffs the last two seasons, and I think we’re learning from those experiences, as all teams do.”

Grunfeld’s support of Jordan is now unquestioned.

“I know Ernie wanted to get this done as much as anyone, and I think that really means something,” Jordan said. “Ernie and I have always understood that there are going to be disagreements between the coaching staff and front office, and sometimes there are going to be different approaches on matters. I think it is important that both sides have open minds and really listen to one another, and Ernie and I have that. And I mean that. We listen to one another, really listen.”

Coincidentally or not, word of Jordan’s contract extension followed the two-day offensive of Gilbert Arenas, who made it clear he possibly would skip town in two seasons if Jordan were not around.

Arenas has become a two-time All-Star under Jordan and understandably feels a debt of gratitude to him. It was Jordan who inherited an immature player who was ejected from a game in street clothes and sought to deliver a knuckle sandwich to Samuel Dalembert after another game in his first season with the Wizards.

The discombobulating Arenas is slowly receding from view, while the tough-minded one is emerging. That is in part the work of Jordan, who never has been shy to drop the example of Jason Kidd on Arenas.

“It certainly feels good when a player comes out in support of you,” Jordan said.

And it was a player who could be the face of the franchise the next 10 years.

The resolution of Jordan’s status is another sign that the franchise’s bad, old days of yesteryear are no more.

The franchise’s coaching carousel has rolled un-merrily along since Wes Unseld was a fixture on the bench from 1988 to 1994. Jordan already has coached more games with the franchise than anyone since then.

Jordan is convinced the Wizards will be stronger next season, if only because the team will not be confronted with integrating two essential players in the fold, as was the case last season with Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels.

Jordan also is aware work is necessary regarding his ever-fragile relationship with Brendan Haywood, who spent the second half of last season in a deep funk, tempered only by the occasional performance that he might be coming out of it.

If anyone goes now, it will be Haywood, not Jordan.

And that is how it should be.

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