SI Vault
Tim Crothers
October 30, 2000
Stymied by the salary cap, not even Michael Jordan can work the necessary miracles in D.C.
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October 30, 2000

12 Washington Wizards

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

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Projected Lineup



1999-2000 KEY STATS


Felipe Lopez


4.5 ppg

1.9 rpg

0.7 apg

42.5 FG%

16.7 3FG%


Juwan Howard


14.9 ppg

5.70 rpg

3.0 apg

0.82 spg

45.9 FG%


Jahidi White


7.1 ppg

6.9 rpg

1.04 bpg

50.7 FG%

53.6 FT%


Mitch Richmond


17.4 ppg

2.5 apg

1.49 spg

42.6 FG%

38.6 3FG%


Rod Strickland


12.6 ppg

7.5 apg

3.8 rpg

42.9 FG%

4.8 3FG%



1999-2000 KEY STATS


Richard Hamilton


9.0 ppg

1.8 rpg

1.5 apg

42.0 FG%

36.4 3FG%


Michael Smith


6.3 ppg

7.2 rpg

1.2 apg

56.3 FG%

72.3 FT%


Chris Whitney


7.8 ppg

3.8 apg

1.6 rpg

41.7 FG%

37.6 3FG%


Popeye Jones


2.6 ppg

2.6 rpg

0.5 apg

42.3 FG%

73.7 FT%


Cherokee Parks


3.0 ppg

3.3 rpg

0.80 bpg

49.7 FG%

64.9 FT%

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

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.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]