- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Washington Wizards approach the final four-game stretch of a dismal season with their odds of avoiding a dubious place in the franchise record books dwindling.

At 18-60, the Wizards stand close to equaling the record for fewest wins in franchise history set in 1962 by the Chicago Packers, who finished 18-62 in their inaugural season. (The club changed its name to Zephyrs the next season and in 1963 moved to Baltimore and became the Bullets).

The Wizards also are in jeopardy of posting the franchise's worst record since Abe Pollin bought the team in 1964 and since the NBA expanded to an 82-game schedule.

That distinction belongs to the 2000-01 Wizards, who finished 19-63.

Pollin last month told The Washington Times, “This has been as frustrating as any season I can remember.” But as frustrating as this injury-riddled season has been, the 2000-01 campaign was worse, according to former Wizards swingman Laron Profit.

“Wow, man, the 2000-01 season? A lot of losing,” Profit said. “It was a lot of change. You had a new coach coming in, a college coach trying to adjust to coaching in the league. You had an older group of guys like Rod [Strickland] and Mitch [Richmond] on the down slide of their careers. You had a group of young guys like myself, Rip [Hamilton], Felipe [Lopez], who were trying to establish themselves in the league.

“So you had a really interesting mix with a young coach fresh from college and a new owner in Michael Jordan trying to establish an imprint. It was a lot of transition, a lot of change, not a lot of continuity. It was a difficult year for us.”

The Wizards opened that season with a starting lineup of forwards Juwan Howard and Lopez, center Jahidi White and guards Strickland and Richmond. They finished with a different team thanks to injuries, trades and buyouts.

“It was injuries, if I recall. Then we made some trades, brought in new players and chemistry was a challenge for us,” said Howard, whom the Wizards traded to the Dallas Mavericks that February. “In this league, we all know teams and fans - their patience is very short.”

Those Wizards had plenty of off-court distractions. Strickland was arrested three times that season for drunken driving and suspended one game for missing a team flight. The Wizards bought out the final year of his contract in March and also bought out Richmond.

That left an odd collection of young, unproven players and coach Leonard Hamilton, who struggled in his jump from the college ranks and at times had trouble remembering his players' names.

Profit played the 2004-05 season in Washington, was traded to the Lakers and later played overseas. He underwent surgery last year to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon and has spent much of this season rehabbing at Verizon Center.

That proximity - and his close relationship with Juan Dixon, a fellow standout at Maryland - allowed Profit a close look at the Wizards' struggles this season.

In some areas, things are different - injuries caused this Wizards team's downfall. But Profit said the young members of this team are in a similar position to the one in which he and Richard Hamilton found themselves eight seasons ago.

“I try to talk to a lot of the young guys about seizing and taking advantage of this,” Profit said. “It looks like it's a bad situation, but it's good in the sense that you're getting the opportunity to play. … Richard Hamilton took full advantage of that. The last 30, 25 games, he went on a tear. He really showed and gave a glimpse to Doug Collins that this guy is somebody we need to keep. He used it as a springboard.”

Howard, now a member of the Charlotte Bobcats, considers continually working to improve as the easiest way to cope with losing.

“I'm similar to how Antawn Jamison is dealing with it,” Howard said. “I competed with pride every night. I might not have played as well at times and had the great game like the fans or the media might have thought I should've played. But I tell you one thing: No one ever questioned my heart, my toughness and my professionalism with a fight to win.”

Profit can vouch for that.

“Juwan Howard had a $100 million contract. He got booed at home. He came to work every single day to practice to work hard,” Profit said. “He didn't take one practice off. He lifted his weights. He conditioned himself. And that's the same thing I see Antawn do. Every time I come in here, Antawn's lifting. He's preparing himself. Here's a guy that's made a gazillion dollars, and every day you see him preparing himself for the next game, the next practice. I hope the young guys [take] that from this. Because that's the one thing that impressed me from the 2001 season.”

Jamison said he doesn't worry about the records of the old Packers or the 2000-01 Wizards. His motivation for a strong finish lies in getting wins that help lay a foundation for next season.

“It wouldn't make a difference if we won 19 or 20 games to me,” Jamison said. “It's something we never expected to happen, and it has happened. That's motivation in itself right there. For us, just put it behind you and just try to do everything possible to learn from this as quickly as possible.”

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