- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gilbert Arenas is going to Las Vegas for the NBA All-Star Game, along perhaps with Washington Wizards teammates Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. Those players, however, have yet another goal in mind for that game: getting Eddie Jordan there as coach of the Eastern Conference team.

“That’s a motivation,” said Jamison, who scored 35 and 34 points in back-to-back wins over the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics this weekend. Those victories pushed the Wizards’ record to a conference-best 26-17 heading into tonight’s home game against the Pistons (25-17). If the Wizards still hold the best record through Sunday’s games, Jordan will coach the East team in Las Vegas.

“He was a major piece of the puzzle in getting New Jersey to two championships, and now it’s time for him to step into the limelight,” said Jamison, himself a former All-Star. “He’s a major reason for this organization getting turned around. We want to be a championship caliber team, but for us it would be awesome — an extra-added bonus — if we could get him in the All-Star Game.”

Said Jordan jokingly last week: “It would be an honor — but I wouldn’t mind getting in some vacation time.”

The question already is resolved in the West, thanks to the scintillating play of the Phoenix Suns (36-9). Coach Mike D’Antoni, whose team has won 33 of its last 36 games, already has the job sewn up.

D’Antoni gets the nod because the Dallas Mavericks (36-9) are the only team capable of catching the Suns by Sunday, and Mavericks coach Avery Johnson led the West team at last season’s All-Star Game. League rules bar coaches from the game in back-to-back seasons.

That rule also might help Jordan. The Pistons have the second-best record in the East and the best chance of overtaking the Wizards. But Detroit’s‘ Flip Saunders coached the team last season.

That leaves the Chicago Bulls’ Scott Skiles and Cleveland Cavaliers’ Mike Brown as Jordan’s main competition for the gig. The Bulls are 26-19 and the Cavaliers 25-19.

For Jordan, the longest-tenured coach in the conference, the status as East front-runner marks a significant improvement over last season.

The Wizards finished the 2004-05 season 45-37 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1982. But they hovered around .500 for most of last season, squeaked into the playoffs with a 42-40 record and were eliminated by Cleveland in the first round.

Speculation about Jordan’s job security abounded most of last season and into the offseason. But Arenas, who can opt out of his contract next summer, told The Washington Times he might not want to stay in Washington if Jordan weren’t his coach. The Wizards finally extended Jordan’s contract a few days later, on July 15.

“The biggest thing about Eddie is, he trusted me,” said Arenas, a three-time All-Star who in Las Vegas will make his first start. “I was just a 21-year-old kid, and he was coming from a situation where he had been with Jason Kidd and made two trips to the Finals. He put the ball in my hands and said, ‘Do what you do.’ Now he could be coaching in the All-Star Game. We’ve already talked about it.”

If he does get the nod, Jordan will become the first Washington coach to coach the East since Dick Motta in 1979. Only two other coaches in franchise history, Gene Shue (1969) and K.C. Jones (1975), have done so.

Jordan says he would be honored to coach the All-Star team but is focused more on what immediately lies ahead — the Pistons, for instance. A win tonight would even the season series at 2-2, which could be important as a playoff tiebreaker at the end of the regular season.

“The Pistons are going to be an interesting test for us,” Jordan said. “They are a championship-level team, and they are where we want to be.”

Butler — who played for great coaches such Jim Calhoun at Connecticut, Pat Riley in Miami and Phil Jackson in Los Angeles — said Jordan rides him, giving him the tough love that has helped him develop.

“It’s good to know that he’s in my corner,” Butler said. “He yells at me, but that lets me know that I’m on his mind. I’m developing into a real good player because of him.”

Note — Arenas missed practice yesterday to have a tooth repaired that was knocked out Sunday in the victory over the Celtics. Jamison also did not practice because of a sore knee. Both are expected to play tonight against the Pistons.

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