12 Washington Wizards Stymied by the salary cap, not even Michael Jordan can work the necessary miracles in D.C.

October 30, 2000

When rookie Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton accepted his first
head coaching job, at Oklahoma State in 1986, the Cowboys had
reached the postseason only once in 22 years. Three seasons later
they won the first of back-to-back NIT titles. When Hamilton left
Oklahoma State for Miami, in 1990, the Hurricanes hadn't played
postseason ball in 26 years, including 14 seasons when the
program was shut down. Under Hamilton, Miami reached the NCAA
tournament in each of the past three seasons. "I've always heard
that I'm not supposed to be able to get the job done," Hamilton
says, "and I've learned to love that challenge."

Hamilton's philosophy lies in one of his favorite Bible passages,
James 1:2.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let
patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and
complete, lacking nothing.

The Wizards are all about various trials, and they're a very long
way from perfect or complete. They have finished with a losing
record in 11 of the last 13 seasons and haven't won a playoff
game since 1988. Hamilton is Washington's fifth coach in the last
two seasons. Washington's big three--Juwan Howard, Mitch Richmond
and Rod Strickland--are each signed to a huge long-term deal that
leaves the Wizards so little salary-cap room that team president
Michael Jordan's most significant off-season transaction was the
re-signing of center Jahidi White. And having dealt its
first-round pick in the 2000 draft, Washington's only rookie is
6'8" forward Mike Smith, a second-rounder from Louisiana-Monroe,
who isn't even the best 6'8" forward named Mike Smith on the
Washington roster.

Who knew for all those years that the best defense against Jordan
is the salary cap? "We have good players, but we underachieved
last season," Jordan insists. "I don't want to make bad trades
just to make a change. I know this is a very important season for
this organization, and my name and credibility are at stake."

Jordan has boldly proclaimed that he expects the Wizards to
finish with at least a .500 record and to make the playoffs, and
he has promoted that goal by personally mentoring each of the big
three through regular phone conversations this summer. "We've
heard lots of negative things around here lately, and Michael has
changed our mind-set with his positive attitude," Richmond says.
"Of course, we also know how badly he wants to win, so if any of
us aren't getting it done, he isn't afraid to try other options."

After leading the NBA in assists two years ago, Strickland, the
34-year-old point guard, suffered through a miserable 1999-2000
season full of injuries, truancy and a public feud with coach
Garfield Heard. Strickland calls it one of the worst seasons of
his career and concedes that he considered retiring. "I stunk it
up last year, and I can't duck that," he says. "I need to show
more leadership if this team is ever going to snap out of it."

One of the Wizards' few bright spots is second-year shooting
guard Richard Hamilton, who started last year with 10 straight
double-figure scoring games. Thus it may be that Washington's
long-term future rests with a pair of Hamiltons. Can Leonard
translate his success from the NCAA to the NBA, in which the
likes of Jerry Tarkanian, John Calipari and Rick Pitino have
struggled? He's confident, though mindful that despite what it
says on his business cards, he's not an actual Wizard. "I can't
wave a magic wand and instantly make everything all right," he
says. "We need to roll up our sleeves and work hard to
reestablish pride in this franchise, and I think Michael can be
a great role model for doing that."

Jordan sees Washington's plight as similar to that of the Bulls
of the mid-1980s. Too bad he can't draft Michael Jordan to
resuscitate the franchise. As the Wizards lost six of their
final eight games last season, signs began cropping up at the
MCI Center imploring His Airness to come out of retirement. It's
fair to say that Washington won't make the playoffs again until
Wizards fans are clearly convinced that the organization's best
player is not the team president.


COLOR PHOTO: ANDY HAYT/NBA ENTERTAINMENT WAKE-UP CALL Richmond's eyes are wide open to the fact that Jordan won't tolerate losing. COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT MORA/NBA ENTERTAINMENT UNDER SIEGE After last season's dismal performance, Strickland has a legion of critics that even includes him.

In Fact

Last season marked the first time Wizards president Michael
Jordan was associated with a team that missed the NBA playoffs.
Washington finished 29-53; Jordan's worst record as a player was
30-52 in 1985-86, but those Bulls still made the playoffs.

Projected Lineup


SF Felipe Lopez[1] 4.5 ppg 1.9 rpg 0.7 apg 42.5 FG% 16.7 3FG%
PF Juwan Howard 14.9 ppg 5.70 rpg 3.0 apg 0.82 spg 45.9 FG%
C Jahidi White 7.1 ppg 6.9 rpg 1.04 bpg 50.7 FG% 53.6 FT%
SG Mitch Richmond 17.4 ppg 2.5 apg 1.49 spg 42.6 FG% 38.6 3FG%
PG Rod Strickland 12.6 ppg 7.5 apg 3.8 rpg 42.9 FG% 4.8 3FG%


G Richard Hamilton 9.0 ppg 1.8 rpg 1.5 apg 42.0 FG% 36.4 3FG%
F Michael Smith 6.3 ppg 7.2 rpg 1.2 apg 56.3 FG% 72.3 FT%
G Chris Whitney 7.8 ppg 3.8 apg 1.6 rpg 41.7 FG% 37.6 3FG%
F Popeye Jones[1] 2.6 ppg 2.6 rpg 0.5 apg 42.3 FG% 73.7 FT%
C Cherokee Parks[1] 3.0 ppg 3.3 rpg 0.80 bpg 49.7 FG% 64.9 FT%

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
* PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Wizards

"With the way it has performed the last few years, this team needs
to be blown up, but I would be surprised if anything changes....
I wonder if Michael Jordan will eventually want to go down and
take over on the bench. I don't think it's as crazy as it
sounds--but I don't think he'll get the itch to do it with this
group; there are too many problems.... Rod Strickland missed the
first few days of training camp this year, same as last year. He
could have been so much better than he is, but now his lifestyle
is catching up with him. He's 34, he doesn't practice, and then
you look at the hours he keeps, his diet--it all means he's going
to get hurt.... I wouldn't be surprised if Juwan Howard's
contract has disrupted the Wizards' chemistry. He's the
highest-paid guy in the locker room at $17 million a year, and at
the end of the day he gives you 14, 15 points and six
rebounds.... Jahidi White has tons of potential. He doesn't know
how to play, but he's willing to work, and if Leonard Hamilton
can teach him, then center is the one position that can be