Voluble Wizards need a talking to

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

March 16, 2003|By MILTON KENT

For a team that should be talking about its precarious playoff position, the Washington Wizards sure are doing a lot of talking about each other.

If it isn't Michael Jordan calling out his teammates for not matching his passion, it's Jerry Stackhouse talking about his paucity of shots. And late last week, Kwame Brown added his own chords of dissent, saying that coach Doug Collins no longer had faith to use him, especially late in games.

The only person, seemingly, to remain silent through all this is Collins, the one guy who probably should be talking.

Oddly enough, there was validity in some portion of what each player had to say, though some portion of their remarks had some self-serving aspect as well.

Jordan, for instance, accused his younger teammates of not sharing his desire to make the playoffs, saying that men 15 or more years younger than he is are unwilling to dive on the floor or break out of a macho pose.

Jordan is correct as far as that goes; none of his teammates has played with the searing fire that he has displayed. But that's true of virtually every player he has suited up with during his 15-year career. Jordan's will and skill have placed him on the sport's Mount Olympus, and it would be unrealistic and unfair for him or anyone else to be like Mike in that respect.

Besides that, Jordan hand-selected this team, save for center Jahidi White, in his previous role as president of basketball operations, a job he still holds, if not technically. Shouldn't he have known, or at least had a guess, the character flaws of his teammates/employees as they relate to the basketball court?

Stackhouse, meanwhile, griped that to be an effective part of the offense, he needed to have the ball more frequently and had to take more than the seven shots he attempted in last Sunday's loss to the New York Knicks.

And he's right. Stackhouse is Washington's best offensive weapon, and he has to take at least 15 shots a game and get to the free-throw line at least seven times for the Wizards to have a chance against most good teams.

Take Tuesday's critical game against the Orlando Magic, the game after his New York outburst. Stackhouse was 8-for-16 from the field, hit all 15 free throws and drew the fourth-quarter defensive attention of Tracy McGrady, one of the NBA's best man-to-man defenders.

But Stackhouse could better help his cause by playing a little better defense himself. Allan Houston of the Knicks is a solid scorer and even dropped 53 on the Los Angeles Lakers, but with a season on the brink last Sunday, Stackhouse could ill afford to pick up two early fouls guarding Houston, then hope to outscore him to make it up.

And then there's Brown, the first high school player to be chosen first in the NBA draft, who complained that he isn't being allowed to play through his mistakes and that Collins has lost faith in him, keeping him out of the fourth quarter of key games that Brown believes he could have helped win.

Again, there is truth. Brown has fallen out of favor with Collins and, by extension, Jordan. His minutes are limited and he seems to be watching the bench to see when he'll get yanked, which can't be good for the 21-year-old's sense of being.

But like Stackhouse, Brown has himself to blame a lot for his situation. His work habits are privately said to be horrible, and he shows little inclination to improve, following one promising performance with another where he looks lost and, worse yet, doesn't hustle. One can hardly fault Collins and Jordan for wanting to cast aside his inconsistency for a known veteran such as Christian Laettner or Charles Oakley, both of whom have passed Brown in the rotation.

The Wizards don't want to give up on Brown yet, fearing that his untapped potential may become realized elsewhere. But they may not be so willing to wait for him to grow up, either, particularly if he can't keep his mouth closed.

Quiz

The Chicago Bulls' Jay Williams leads NBA rookies in assists with 4.9 a game. Who is second? Hint: He wasn't drafted.

The disappearing assist

Speaking of assists, add Orlando coach Doc Rivers to the list of people wondering where the assist has gone, as it is likely that the crown may go to a player who averages fewer than 10 a game. That's a curious notion to Rivers, who finished fourth while averaging 10.0 in the 1986-87 season.

For one thing, Rivers notes, players are better now than they used to be and are more easily able to create their own shots, thus reducing the need for someone to make a pass to set up a basket, the definition of an assist.

"And they've changed the way they look at assists," said Rivers, who played with Atlanta, San Antonio, the Los Angeles Clippers and Knicks. "I used to figure you give a guy the ball at half court and if he dribbled five times [and scored], that was an assist."

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