- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2007

Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, who spent part of the summer improving his golf game, has transferred his approach on the links to his dealings with disgruntled center Brendan Haywood.

“It’s like when you’re playing golf,” said Jordan, who traveled to Haywood’s home in North Carolina for a meeting with the player earlier this month. “It’s the shot right in front of you. It’s not the shot right before … when I met with him it was about that meeting. It wasn’t about training camp and expectations. It was about that day.”

Haywood spent much of the end of last season sharing playing time with Etan Thomas after Jordan questioned his game intensity. The decreased role led to rumors that Haywood would demand a trade if Jordan remained the coach.

Training camp starts Tuesday, and both men are still in the District. During a 35-minute session with reporters at Verizon Center yesterday, Jordan said he expects Haywood and Thomas will continue to compete for the starting center job. But he hinted that he would like to see Haywood take on a bigger leadership role in his seventh season.

“Brendan is very intelligent,” Jordan said. “People on our team like Brendan. He’s very funny and we want him to use that soap box that he uses to make people laugh, to lead. I hate to put a leadership tag on anyone who’s not a leader, an obvious leader. But we’re going to try it … try it and see what happens.”

If Haywood is to get back into the Jordan’s best graces, he likely will have to show improvement on defense, the No. 1 priority of the Wizards’ preseason work. The Wizards ranked 28th in scoring defense last year and just 22nd in defensive rebounding.

“It starts at the rim,” Jordan said. “It starts at the rim and it has to be everyone. And we have to be good as a team. It’s funny, we watched a lot of tape this summer and our defense was active, we were in good position and I didn’t think we were horrible in terms of what we tried to do. We just didn’t get the rebounds we should have … we need to rebound better.”

Offseason movement may also mean facing a host of new scorers. Jordan checked off a list of players the team might need to defend more frequently because of their move to the Eastern Conference, including Kevin Garnett of the Celtics and Rashard Lewis of the Magic.

“I think we have the personnel and the flexibility to mach up with people and I think that’s what it’s about,” Jordan said. “You look at all the moves and say, ‘How are we going to defend that guy at that position?’ And I think we can do that.”

Whether the emphasis on defense in camp will make a difference is impossible to know — the team knew defense was a weakness entering last season, too — but Jordan at least enters this camp with a roster of familiar, largely healthy bodies. Forward Caron Butler’s hand has healed fully, and Jordan does not expect All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas to be hindered by the MCL tear that ended his season early.

“Hopefully, that will be our biggest ally this season, that we don’t have to relearn things or break somebody in, except for the rookies,” Jordan said. “Our guys believe that chemistry is important, especially with what we do offensively.”

Jordan’s Wizards have excelled at running the “Princeton” offense at the NBA level, and have brought in its inventor, Pete Carril, as a consultant during camp.

“He’s going to be a treat for our coaches and players,” Jordan said. “It’s incredible just to hear from him. He might pull out something from his wallet that he’s had for 50 years.”

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