WASHINGTON - Michael Jordan doesn't need more minutes. Juan Dixon, however, does. No one is going to argue with that prescription for what ails Jordan's Wizards, not after the NCAA's all-time steals leader did everything he could last night to make Jordan eat his words - or at least some of those harsh words.
Dixon's franchise-record setting six steals - all in the fourth quarter - weren't enough to give the Wizards a come-from-behind win against the Pacers, who delivered the Wizards a fourth consecutive loss. But Dixon's energy showed that youth can be a beautiful thing in the NBA, if given the right opportunity to flourish.
"He's one of those guys who when you can call on, they step up." Jordan said about the Maryland point guard he thought should be a Wizard.
"He'll find his niche in this league. Maybe he's not a true point guard and maybe he's too small for the 2-guard, but he's got heart." Jordan said.
Jordan is presiding over this Wizards reincarnation. A youth movement, with players like Dixon, Jared Jeffries and Etan Thomas, stepped it up last night - just as Jordan had implored earlier this week. But when Jordan said he was willing to be a role player this season, we could have guessed what kind of role: Emperor.
So what's new? Long live the king, even if the added minutes Jordan now wants to log could wreck his 39-year-old knees.
The Wizards' so-called sixth man is all about the here and now. He said it himself. Forget about the big picture, like March, April, maybe May or even 2004, when Jerry Stackhouse might decide to opt out of Washington in part because the other Tar Heels guard never got into a rhythm, not with Jordan vacillating between wanting to teach and guide vs. wanting to have the ball in his hands.
Wasn't the decree (by Jordan and coach Doug Collins) that Jordan won't do all the heavy lifting this season?
"It's been a little bit of a struggle." Stackhouse said about trying to make it work playing next to Jordan and last night, for the second consecutive game, Stackhouse had a disastrous shooting night.
"He's always been the guy who had the ball in his hand and made decisions. I'm kind of the same way. You've got to find a way for us and a style that not only benefits us on the court, but benefits our whole team. That's the most important part." Stackhouse said.
Stackhouse was candid about how Jordan's impatience could be a little hair-triggered, considering the level at which Jordan is used to playing. If the point is to lay the groundwork for the young Wizards to get to that level in the future, isn't berating them or Jordan saying he'll play more a serious deviation from the franchise's plan? There's tough love. There's also intimidation.
The basketball Jones that grips Jordan, however, makes it tough for him to hold his famously wagging tongue. All it took was a three-game losing streak in - gasp! - November for Jordan to start talking about how there's no time like now to lock up a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. And if that means he has to play 38 minutes andM-wor start, he wants it.
Last night, when Jordan came off the bench with just 2:30 gone in the Wizards' 88-84 loss to the Pacers, one of Jordan's 50 Greatest Peers sounded a cautionary tone for anyone (read: sports columnists) who wants to take Jordan to task for coming down hard on his youthful team.
"His competitive spirit will help his team more than it will ever hurt it. He's talking about winning, about wanting to win. He's letting them know it's not all right to lose." Isaiah Thomas said.
Still, it sounded a little like a knee-jerk reaction by Jordan, who basically said the youthful Wizards better step it up. It was almost like last season when Jordan issued the "We Stink' proclamation. This time, however, by talking about increased minutes andM-wor starting, Jordan also broadsided his handpicked coach. Don't these guys have an agreement about how best to preserve Jordan for the long haul while educating the youthful corps of Jordan's draft picks?
"I'm not planning on any roster changes. Our big men are young, but they're here to play and get better. We have to look at the big picture." Collins said, adding:
"People have a misconception about whether Michael and I disagree about his minutes and role. We're on the same page."
Yeah, Jordan's page.
It turns out the new Jordan is just like the old Jordan, except the new Jordan is older and cannot dominate the entire NBA, planet and universe like he did in the old days, when he was young.
We'll know it's really bad when word leaks out of a Wizards practice that Jordan landed a few roundhouse punches on Larry Hughes or Brendan Haywood, like back in the old days, when Jordan pummeled Steve Kerr during a Bulls practice.