Archive for Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Wizards’ Jordan to play reduced role

Aging phenom doesn’t know how he’ll react to logging just 25 minutes per game

October 30, 2002

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— At least Michael Jordan was being honest.

Asked if he can really control his competitive urge and keep his playing minutes down this season, the Washington Wizards guard replied: "Probably not."

Jordan isn't sure how he'll feel as he begins a season as a nonstarter for the first time in his career. He'll find out today, when the Wizards open on the road against the Toronto Raptors.

"I can't honestly say how I'm going to react," Jordan said Tuesday. "It depends on how the guys in front of me react."

Coach Doug Collins said he's sticking with his plan to play Jordan about 25 minutes per game, a figure that will go up after the All-Star break if Jordan hasn't had a physical setback. In tight games, Collins will backload Jordan so that he's on the court for the game-defining moments in the fourth quarter.

"I can't fall into that trap of getting the minutes up, and all of a sudden his knee swelling," Collins said. "We've got to build with him. We can't have him being broken down."

Jordan acknowledged that every time he and Collins discussed limiting his minutes last season, it never worked because he didn't want to leave the court. He reiterated, however, that it will be easier for him to take a seat this season because the rest of the team is better.

"The better the productivity, the easier for me to step away," Jordan said. "But if the productivity is not there, then obviously I feel like I can provide something by being there."

As for his knees, Jordan said he's had no problems during the preseason, although that is impossible to verify because the Wizards rarely allow reporters to watch practice. Jordan never let on to the severity of his pain last season until he had to start missing games.

The Wizards begin the season with an optimism not seen in years, perhaps decades.

The franchise hasn't been to the playoffs since 1997, hasn't won a playoff game since 1988 and hasn't won a playoff series since 1982. Great players, including Jordan, have come to town only to be sucked down by the psychological baggage that comes with so much losing.

But this year's prospects look good, especially in the weaker Eastern Conference. The starting lineup includes Larry Hughes and Jerry Stackhouse at guard and Bryon Russell at small forward. Charles Oakley will be Jordan's enforcer. If youngsters Etan Thomas and Kwame Brown continue to develop, the malaise could finally be lifted.

"There's going to be change," said Russell, a perennial playoff participant in his nine years with Utah. "There's a lot expected from the Wizards. One of the reasons Michael brought me in is because I have that kind of experience."

The Wizards have a tough early schedule, which bothers Collins because he feels the chemistry hasn't fully developed, a fact very evident when the team struggled against first-string opposition in its final three exhibition games.

"I'm trying to stay ahead of all the criticism. That's the driving force for me," said Jordan, who turns 40 in February. "It's not that I can't do it; it's a matter of doing it at this age and being productive and being where you can contribute to a young team that's trying to gain its identity. And I believe I can."

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