- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ernie Grunfeld stuck to a typically spare script yesterday, when he left the question of both Eddie Jordan and Jared Jeffries to the reading of tea leaves, palms and smoke signals.

Grunfeld was complimentary of Jordan but noted the 52-win season of Nate McMillan in 2005, the last year of the coach’s contract with the Sonics.

“We’ll have internal discussions about that [contract extension],” Grunfeld said. “Eddie has done a nice job for us. We feel good about the job he has done. It’s something we’ll discuss as we go along.”

Jordan has one year left on a four-year contract, which is an unsettling position if you’re a coach in the NBA with a potentially mutinous player in the locker room.

Jordan has a history with the mutinous on Fun Street, starting with Jerry Stackhouse and Kwame Brown. The former was forever determined to shut it down, while the latter just quit on the team in the playoffs.

Brendan Haywood is the favorite to become the third malcontent, and that is giving his unfavorable body language at times this past season the benefit of the doubt.

Haywood appeared to shut it down in spirit at times, although Jordan never confirmed that. Jordan never even acknowledged the icy nature of the relationship. It is not his style to chastise players in public.

Haywood has been granted unlimited patience in his four seasons with the Wizards, and he has endeavored to exceed it, to paraphrase the words of the late Edward Bennett Williams.

Alas, that has been his principal achievement, not counting his self-defense mechanism to count minutes.

If Haywood remains the team’s center of the future, it is mostly by default.

Competent 7-footers are going the way of the dodo.

Haywood is one of the compelling circumstances before Jordan, if not Grunfeld, who is obligated to make a personnel move or two following the team’s first-round playoff exit.

The team is perhaps only one solid post defender from the 50-win mark. The offense already is ample enough to win 50.

Grunfeld acknowledged the need of the team’s post players to be more consistent but conceded the securing of the proper upgrades is no easy assignment.

After Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming, Grunfeld said, there is a precipitous drop in quality post players who perform in the traditional, back-to-the-basket manner.

“I’m comfortable with what we have because we have shown we can compete at the highest levels,” Grunfeld said. “I think we’re getting closer to where we want to be. Our core is still young. I think our players still have room for growth.”

Grunfeld is not liable to address Jeffries until he learns the depth of a sucker’s desperation. And it takes only one sucker to inflate the value of Jeffries and cause the Wizards to blink.

Since the demise of the Wizards, a reflex call has been put out for an enforcer, whatever that resolves in basketball, which is not hockey.

The Spurs have no such figure, and they are merely attempting to claim their fourth NBA championship in eight seasons.

David Robinson aided Duncan in two of the championships, and no one ever has employed the loaded word enforcer around those two classy professionals.

There are plenty of ways to win in the NBA, as countless teams have shown.

Steve Nash and the Suns have managed to maintain an enviable level of success in the absence Amare Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas. The Suns are not apt to reach the NBA Finals, but playing in June is not the benchmark for a franchise with only one playoff series triumph in the last 24 seasons.

If the postseason is about teams progressing from their failures, as Grunfeld said, the next challenge before the Wizards is to win 50 games and secure homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Grunfeld believes the core group of the Wizards can make that jump with tinkering.


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