Mixed emotions for the Wizards
Players weigh in on facing former coach, now guiding 76ers

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

ATLANTA -- Caron Butler didn't have to wait until Tuesday to have a reunion with former coach Eddie Jordan. Butler said he and his family vacationed with Jordan and his family at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas last summer, proving that their friendship didn't end once Jordan stopped being his coach in November.

"Me and coach Jordan are great friends. I had a great time with him and his family," Butler said as the Wizards geared up for an exhibition game against Jordan and the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday at Wachovia Center.

Butler had his best seasons during more than three years under Jordan, who helped him make two all-star teams and gave him the nickname "Tuff Juice." Jordan, who was fired following a 1-10 start by the Wizards last season, joined the 76ers in June. Butler said it would be weird looking over at the opposing bench and seeing Jordan on the other side.

"I love him. I had a great career with him. But that's what happens in this business. You don't want it to happen, but when the water runs dry, you got to turn to something different," said Butler, who scored 14 points in a 113-95 exhibition loss to the Hawks Monday.

Nine of the 14 Wizards with guaranteed contracts played for Jordan but not all of them share Butler's affinity. Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood are the only Wizards who were with Jordan for his entire time in Washington and both were sidelined with injuries at the time of his firing.

Arenas, Haywood and Andray Blatche have each criticized Jordan, for different reasons, since Saunders took over in April. Arenas said that Jordan never allowed him to be a team leader. Asked last week if he was looking forward to facing Jordan on Tuesday, Arenas shrugged.

"Not really. Who really cares about preseason?" Arenas said. "I know his offense almost better than he do. I'm not really worried about them."

Arenas won't even play against the 76ers after coming down with the flu. He missed Monday's game and didn't join the team in Philadelphia, flying back to Washington.

Haywood and Jordan had their share of battles during their time together, and it got so bad that Haywood once contemplated demanding a trade. Jordan twice visited Haywood during summers in North Carolina to smooth over the relationship. In a radio interview this summer, Haywood said Jordan erred in not playing him during the Wizards' playoff loss against the Cavaliers in 2007. "You're hurting the team," Haywood said in August. "You're hurting D.C. It's not about you; it's about the team."

But Haywood said the two were on good terms at the time of his firing. "I thought we had a good relationship when he left. I don't have a problem with Eddie. But this is a preseason game. Right now, we're focusing on getting better. We'll see coach Jordan, but it's not a big thing. I think it'll be something bigger in the regular season."

Forward Andray Blatche, who didn't respond well to Jordan's tough demands, grinned when asked about facing Jordan for the first time. "Man, man. Oh man, I can't wait to go up there Tuesday. That's going to be a fun game. There are going to be a lot of emotions in that game. I'm just going to go out there and compete."

Blatche said that he and Jordan couldn't find common ground. "We never had that connection at all. It was probably because he was more of a veteran's coach. He wasn't a young players' coach."

DeShawn Stevenson said he would always remember Jordan for giving him a starting job when he arrived in Washington on a one-year deal. "It's going to be good seeing him on the court, but I know a lot of other people are looking at it in a different way," he said. "Most guys have mixed feelings, but Eddie, he really looked out for me. I just felt that Eddie was put in a bad situation. He didn't have a lot of people. People was hurt. He did the best he could."

Butler said that Jordan and the Wizards had a great opportunity for a deep playoff run when they had the best record in the Eastern Conference for the first half of the 2006-07 season. The Wizards' season collapsed when Butler broke his hand and Arenas injured his left knee. That season, the team finished 41-41 and got swept out of the first round.

"That would've been our most successful year with him as the coach, but unfortunately, it didn't work out like that, and that's just the luck of the draw," Butler said. "I know he's going to have a lot of success in Philly; and seeing what I'm seeing in practice and the disposition of the players, I know we're going to have a better year here. I wish him the best and obviously I know he wishes the same for me. We're just anxious to get started in our new journeys."

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