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6 Washington Wizards Can Jordan pull off his greatest act of wizardry by carrying this mediocre crew to the postseason?

Not even in his prime, when he was as explosive as the ejector
seat in James Bond's Aston Martin, was Michael Jordan able to win
all by himself. Now that he's 38, he's going to need more help
than ever.

That's why Jordan isn't going to win a championship with the
Wizards: Not only is he ancient by NBA standards, but also none
of his teammates are nearly as reliable as Scottie Pippen, Horace
Grant or even Dennis Rodman. Yet, given the quantum upgrades in
attitude, leadership and talent that his comeback has brought to
Washington, he should find enough supporting talent to allow him
to qualify for his 14th straight postseason.

Those most likely to aid him are newfound proteges Richard (Rip)
Hamilton and Courtney Alexander. Both are shooting guards--the
position Jordan played in his previous NBA lives--and Jordan, now
a small forward, is optimistic that something good will rub off.
"They might be the principal guys on offense, you never know,"
Jordan says. "I'm not so star-crazed that I have to take away
from the young guys. At times I'm hoping I can sit back and be an
insurance policy for us."

Jordan has gone to great lengths to encourage that line of
thinking. After his teammates stood around watching him score 24
points in a preseason loss to Detroit, he refused to shoot during
the Wizards' next practice to force them to learn how to get by
without relying on him.

Coach Doug Collins is planning to deploy Jordan, Hamilton and
Alexander together at times, giving the Wizards an imposing
triangle of size and scoring from the perimeter. Even more
promising is the hope that playing with Jordan will quickly teach
Hamilton and Alexander to compete like him--to supplement their
scoring with the unselfish acts that lead to victory.

Both Alexander and Hamilton feel their young careers were rescued
by Jordan. Alexander, a four-year star at Virginia and Fresno
State who was the best scorer coming out of the 2000 draft, spent
the first half of his rookie year on the Mavericks' bench behind
Michael Finley. He was included--at Jordan's behest--in the
eight-player trade that sent Juwan Howard to Dallas. "When I
first found out [Jordan] wanted me here, I had a funny feeling
inside," Alexander says. "I have admired the man so much for so
long, and to know he had that unbelievable confidence in me made
me feel so good."

Alexander averaged 22.4 points last April to earn the league's
Rookie of the Month award. As much as he and Hamilton have
competed for the starting two spot, they should also complement
each other because the versatile Hamilton is blessed with the
skills of a point guard. After having been introduced to NBA life
by two losing seasons in the Wizards' spiteful locker room,
Hamilton is wide-eyed. "I try to absorb as much information from
Michael as possible," he says. "His secret is that he attacks
every drill, that he doesn't want to lose at anything. Now you
see everybody pushing everybody on our team."

It's crucial that Hamilton and Alexander live up to Jordan's
expectations as quickly as possible. That trio will have to carry
the Wizards because most of the big men are just learning how to
play. Center Jahidi White has three years under his belt but
remains unskilled. Rookies Etan Thomas (sidelined by a broken toe
last year), Brendan Haywood, who's out at least two more weeks
with torn ligaments in his left thumb, and 19-year-old Kwame
Brown, the first high schooler taken with the first pick in the
draft, have never played in an NBA game.

Brown is going to be allowed to develop slowly this year. Jordan
hopes that power forward Christian Laettner, who has played for
five teams in his nine-year career, will set down roots and
establish a sense of leadership for the front line. "He's had a
bad rap," Jordan says of the 32-year-old Laettner. "Christian
knows how to play."

Collins says that Jordan, while he was Washington's president of
basketball operations, stocked the Wizards with enough talent to
go 10 deep. That depth will help the Wizards run whenever
possible, hoping to exploit their strengths of speed, ball
handling and scoring. But the strategy is also born of weakness:
Washington must attack before opponents can settle into their
half-court defenses. Under the new rules Jordan can be
double-teamed away from the ball. "When Michael sits down, that's
when we have to execute better," says Collins, raising the
biggest concern of all. If Jordan's body can't withstand the
82-game season, then you can retire the Wizards' postseason hopes
for this year.


COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS AIR CONDITIONING Jordan has had to get his game together while also teaching his teammates not to rely on him too much.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO PATIENCE Having made Brown the first high schooler to be drafted No. 1, the Wizards must now wait for him to learn the ropes.

enemy lines
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Wizards

"Center is the Wizards' biggest weakness. Jahidi White is a
mountain disguised as a basketball player. He takes up space,
players bounce off him, but he can't handle the ball....I like
Kwame Brown. He's a natural four with a perimeter game, he can
put the ball on the floor, he's quick and explosive with a sense
of poise, and he has none of the pressure of being the No. 1
pick because the focus is entirely on Michael Jordan. Still,
it's going to take three years before he really gets it. The
only high school player I can remember playing well as a rookie
was Moses Malone....Courtney Alexander thinks he's really good.
He has to be brought down a peg, but it's easier to do that with
a talented guy like Alexander than it is to bring along a guy
like Brendan Haywood, who has a reputation for having a poor
work ethic....Jordan got beat a few times in the preseason
because he was trying to help out on defense so much. You look
at the old rosters, and he was surrounded by a better team when
he came to Chicago as a rookie. But he gives the Wizards a go-to
scorer who knows how to win in the last two minutes, and he's
going to get calls. Those are qualities you don't usually find
in developing teams. The other bubble teams--Boston, Detroit,
Atlanta--have better players overall, but they don't have anyone
who has shown anything like the leadership of Jordan. If he can
get this team into the playoffs, it would be like winning a
championship with his former team. I think he's going to do it."

projected lineup
2000-01 record: 19-63 (seventh in Atlantic)
Coach: Doug Collins (first season with Wizards)

PVR* 2000-2001 KEY STATS

SF Michael Jordan[1][2]
8 28.7 ppg 5.8 rpg 3.5 apg 1.72 spg 46.5 FG%
PF Christian Laettner
117 9.3 ppg 4.7 rpg 1.6 apg 0.91 spg 50.3 FG%
C Brendan Haywood (R)[1]
226 12.3 ppg 7.3 rpg 3.64 bpg 59.2 FG% 51.6 FT%
SG Richard Hamilton
86 18.1 ppg 2.9 apg 3.1 rpg 0.96 spg 43.8 FG%
PG Tyronn Lue[1]
180 3.4 ppg 1.2 apg 0.50 spg 42.7 FG% 32.4 3FG%

PVR* 2000-2001 KEY STATS

F Kwame Brown (r)[1]
96 20.1 ppg 13.3 rpg 3.0 apg 5.8 bpg 2.00 spg
G Courtney Alexander
106 9.5 ppg 2.2 rpg 1.0 apg 0.69 spg 41.7 FG%
C Jahidi White
208 8.6 ppg 7.7 rpg 1.63 bpg 49.8 FG% 56.7 FT%
G Chris Whitney
219 9.5 ppg 4.2 apg 0.93 spg 38.7 FG% 37.5 3FG%
C-F Etan Thomas (R)
231 13.6 ppg 9.3 rpg 3.69 bpg 60.2 FG% 67.8 FT%

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
[2]1997-98 statistics
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)
(r) Rookie (statistics for final high school season)

"Alexander thinks he's really good. He has to be brought down a