Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 24, 2008 3:30 PM
Post national NBA writer Michael Lee was online Monday, Nov. 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET to discuss the Washington Wizards' dismissal of coach Eddie Jordan, who will replace him, where he could end up, how it could affect the team and more.
The transcript follows.
Michael Lee: Hey, everybody. We all know why I'm here to talk. Eddie Jordan was fired after having one of the best runs a pro basketball coach has ever had in Washington. Four playoff appearances despite a plethora of injuries over that time. A hometown kid made good. But in this business, NBA coaches always have to update the resume, because unless your name is Jerry Sloan or Gregg Popovich, the hammer is coming eventually.
I'm actually out of town today, but I'm going to try and answer your questions to the best of my understanding. I'm sure you all want to know what went down. I hope I can help you out. So, let's go. . .
Washington, D.C.: When was the decision made and how was Jordan notified?
Michael Lee: Jordan was notified this morning after delivering Thanksgiving turkeys to the needy with his wife, Charrisse. I found out around 9:30 or so, so it was pretty early this morning.
Roy Rogers : Why do The Post reporters never criticize Eddie Jordan -- even after he is fired?
Ivan Carter could not give one reason why Eddie Jordan was fired except the classic refrain that you have to fire the coach because you cannot fire the players.
What about his repeated use of Songaila at center, benching Andray Blatche after his best, most energetic game of the season against Houston, going small against a Miami team that constantly is outrebounded, putting the underachieving starters in againts Milwaukee, etc. If I can give you a whole list, why can't Post reporters mention at least one.
Michael Lee: Well, Roy. The reason is simple -- the past few seasons have made it very difficult to place the blame squarely on Eddie Jordan when he has had to work some serious magic despite injuries to his star players, particularly Gilbert Arenas. Great players make every coach look smart, and it works in the opposite direction as well. You take the best player off every team for an extended period and I guarantee the team will struggle.
No one is saying that Eddie is without fault. The Wizards have failed to improve defensively under his watch, some of the younger players haven't been able to raise their games, but that isn't why this team is 1-10. This team is 1-10 because Arenas and Brendan Haywood are hurt, and most of the other guys haven't been able to bring it like they did last season. Someone has to take the fall - and you can't fire the owner or the players. That leaves Eddie.
Chicago: Do you think Mr. Jordan can resurface as the coach of the Bulls next year? I have no faith in Vinny Del Negro at all.
Michael Lee: I don't know about the Bulls, but Jordan will certainly resurface somewhere. He did nothing while in Washington to ensure that won't get another shot. He had a very successful run, and several players - Larry Hughes, Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson, among others - can all say that they never had better years under any other coaches. He was a player's coach, he let them be men, and you can never forget that the Nets went to the NBA Finals twice when he was the top assistant. The Nets haven't made it out of the second round since. Go figure.
Washington, D.C.: Tapscott has no pro coaching experience. When do the Wizards expect a new coach to be named?
Michael Lee: Tapscott is expected to finish out the season, giving Ernie Grunfeld plenty of time to hire his own guy. You can never forget that Grunfeld was hired AFTER Eddie Jordan. A General Manager generally likes to hire his guy.
Cabin John Middle School: I was at the Knicks game Saturday and can tell you that this team quit on Eddie Jordan. They played no defense and were outhustled by a 7-man team playing back-to-back nights. Half the bench did not seem to care.
We can debate all we want about whose fault it is (Eddie, Ernie, or the players') but the sad truth is Eddie Jordan had to go.
Did you get a sense that the players were not responding to Eddie in the same way they had in years past?
Michael Lee: When a team is 1-10, it's pretty easy to make that assumption. But I don't know if I agree with you that the team quit on Eddie Jordan. To me, quitting is defined by repeated blowout defeats - the kind that led to P.J. Carlesimo getting fired in Oklahoma City.
I think the problem the Wizards faced was that when you keep trying hard and lose and lose and lose, you eventually get deflated. Some guys accept losing as the norm. Some guys don't care anymore and some guys let the losing eat them up so much that they simply explode.
I think the front office had to prove that it was doing something, so it made a move. I'm not sure if Eddie had to go. But if you are struggling to trade the players on your roster, and your best player is hurt, what's left? The coach.
Anonymous: so what does this mean, are the Wiz now rebuilding?
Michael Lee: No, this means the Wizards are going in a different direction with another coach. Rebuilding begins when you start making blockbuster trades to give you cap space in the summer of 2010 or something like that. Until Ernie decides to trade on of his big three (Gilbert, Caron or Antawn, in case you forgot), you can't call replacing the coach the 'R' word.
Washington, D.C.: Despite the 1-10 start, let's be serious for a second, I'd be willing to bet at least a dozen coaches would want this job. The Wizards are not a bad team. They have a good core of players. Their biggest weakness is defense. You bring a defensive coach in here, ala Jeff Van Gundy and this is a 50 win team.
Michael Lee: This could be an ideal job if you knew you had a healthy Gilbert Arenas. I don't know if any coach wants to touch this team if you have $111 million committed to a player who may or may not be an all-star again. If Arenas is unable to reach his "Hibachi" status and becomes Penny Hardaway 2.0, that kind of deal could set you back for a really long time.
If you have a healthy Arenas, this could be a great job. Not many coaches can check off three all-stars on his roster - with two of them in their primes. Arenas's health, I think, will determine the caliber of coach they hire.
New York: You keep mentioning that Jordan was fired after "delivering Thanksgiving turkeys to the needy" for a team event. Are you suggesting that this could have been handled better? (Or are the turkeys a metaphor for the Wizards?)
Michael Lee: No, I'm not saying it should've been handled better. When is a good time to fire somebody? I don't know if anybody has an answer for that. Do you fax it? Send a text? Over dinner? Do you do it like some elaborate wedding proposal? You fire somebody when you fire them.
(If you want turkeys to be a metaphor, run with it, New York).
Cape St. Clair, Md.: Ernie Grunfeld and Abe Polin gambled that Arenas would bounce back faster than he has. So instead of trading for someone like Hinrich to play the point, the Wizards are stuck with journeymen at that position. Add that offensively deficient Stevenson only makes sense with a high flier like Arenas at the point, the Wizards are weak at shooting guard. Due to no fault of their own, the center position is weak as well. How does Eddie Jordan become the fall guy? It was Grunfeld and Polin who risked resigning a point guard with two knee surgeries.
Michael Lee: Cape St. Clair, I have to say that I agree with you on that one. But it really is hard to defend 1-10, no matter the situation. As bad as the team is constructed right now, it's hard to say that it's the worst team in the East. It certainly has the worst record, but the talent doesn't match up with 1-10. That is an 8-win pace - at best.
Arlington, Va.: What happened to Abe Pollin's well-known loyalty?
Michael Lee: I'll say it again. One and Ten.
Silver Spring, Md.: Seems like most of the players really like Eddie as a coach, especially Arenas. Given this fact and the fact that most people see Jordan's firing as being very unfair, how can any other coach get these players to play for him?
Michael Lee: Can you get me wins? Commitment in this league really goes as far as the number of victories you can get me. When you lose, it's hard on everybody. So, if any coach can deliver wins, his players will move on just nicely. If Ernie, say, hires some tyrant and they still lose, these guys will be crying that Eddie left. But they understand this is a business and something had to be done to shake things up.
Washington, D.C.: What single -decision- (not injury or something outside of the team's control) do you think Eddie wishes he had back today?
Michael Lee: He probably wishes that he had started Gilbert Arenas against Charlotte in that game in April 2007. He probably wishes that he had fined the guy $50,000 for being late and moved on.
As for a basketball decision, Eddie wishes he had chosen a different lineup in the fourth quarter against Milwaukee earlier this season. If the Wizards win that game, the entire tone of the season is different. They definitely have at least two or more wins because they'd have the confidence that they can finish games. Right now, these guys go into the fourth quarter expecting to blow it.
Arlington, Va.: ML,
Which coaches out there do you see the Wizards looking to for a long term solution? Is Avery Johnson on the Wizards' radar?
Michael Lee: I think you'll hear the regular names dropped -- ESPN analysts Avery Johnson, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy (although I'm not so sure given his history with Ernie), out-of-work coaches Flip Saunders and Terry Stotts, and assistants like Boston's Tom Thibodeau, Dallas' Mario Elie and Utah's Tyrone Corbin. But I think it would be interesting if the Wizards take a look at Mike Budenholzer, the top assistant in San Antonio. He's been at Gregg Popovich's side for more than a decade. He's also got four rings - more than the rest of this group combined.
Marshall, Va.: I don't see how this team can compete without a competent point guard, which we don't have with Gilbert and Antonio hurt. Is this situation going to improve anytime soon? The new coach isn't going to be able to get results until this happens, in my view.
Michael Lee: I'm not sure if the Wizards are expecting Ed Tapscott to turn this thing around and go 10-1 over the next 11 games. But I was talking to a scout recently and I asked him his thoughts about the Wizards. He said, "They don't have a point guard or a center. What do you expect? Those are the two most important positions on the court." In other words, they should be bad.
College Park, Md.: I've seen it stated recently that the mood in the locker room had broken down. I was in that locker room a few times last season to gather sound as an intern and it always seemed positively candid. Can you describe the recent tone and how you think it will change with Eddie's firing?
Michael Lee: The players were deflated and defeated. The losing, unfortunately, also began to show on Eddie Jordan. He never seemed uptight, but he just seemed somber during every postgame interview session. It was almost like he was expecting them to lose. He couldn't find the words to get his players up for their inevitable loss. The fateful tone of his past few postgame interviews surely had to wear on the players. They probably needed some new injury, someone who probably doesn't have much to lose and can offer hope, if nothing else.
Arlington, Va.: I liked Jordan but it seems to me that there are two huge strikes against him are (1) the Wizards did not improve significantly at playing defense; and (2) Blatche has not improved significantly. It seems to me a good coach should get his players to improve their deficiencies over time, and a good coach must develop the young guys.
Michael Lee: I stated earlier that those were his shortcomings as a coach, but I don't think we are having this discussion if Gilbert is healthy from April 2007 until now. They don't get swept out of the playoffs that year with a healthy Arenas and Caron Butler.
Eddie had an incredible season last year, leading the team to the playoffs - the fifth seed! - despite having Arenas for about a dozen games. That should have afforded him some more time with this team. But one and ten is rough. Really rough.
College Park, Md.: Tough question, because I know you cover these guys... could/should a trade have been made in lieu of firing the coach?
Michael Lee: I think it was difficult to make a trade with so many players underachieving and all of the losses making the Wizards lose leverage with desperation. This move is to change the tone of the locker room, to get the players the wake up, stop dwelling on the losses and focus on winning. If Eddie can go, they all know that they are on alert too. At least, that's the hope from a management perspective.
Baltimore: I'm sorry to see Eddie Jordan go. I'm sure he'll land on his feet somewhere before long.
What sort of relationship does Tapscott have with the players? Is he someone seen at all as head coach material, or is he a true interim type?
Michael Lee: I didn't see much interaction between Tapscott and the players, perhaps Ivan can answer that better than me. But I'm not sure if that really matters, because most players get along great with assistants. It usually changes once they become the head coach and they are in charge of minutes. Bottom line, players just want someone who can lead them to victory.
Los Angeles: Now, we know you're not the coach -- but can you tell us what this team needs to get back on track towards building toward a team that can get deep in the playoffs? Anyone that has earned more PT? Less? Help!
Michael Lee: Deep in the playoffs? You talking about in the distant future, right? I think what the Wizards have to do is do the best they can to avoid a really embarrassing season. Show some pride. Play with that same anger that pushed them last season. It's a lot to ask, but going deep in the playoffs would require some changes with the roster, some talent upgrades - possibly from the draft, although I don't see a Derrick Rose or LeBron James in college basketball this season. At least not yet.
DC: Bottom line: Was this the right thing to do?
Michael Lee: Not now. No. I still think Eddie deserved to have the opportunity to coach the team Ernie Grunfeld thought he had built - with a healthy Arenas. But injured players usually get coaches fired. It happened to Doc Rivers in Orlando with Grant Hill and it even happened to Eddie in his first NBA head coaching job with Sacramento. He could never get a certain all-star guard with knee problems on the floor, so the Kings sunk. People in D.C. might remember him. . .Does Mitch Richmond ring a bell?
Washington, D.C.: Any high points for you when covering Eddie? Maybe a quote he gave you, a story he told, or a piece you did?
Michael Lee: I only covered Eddie directly for one season, my first at the Washington Post. I had a lot of memories, from his infamous quote that NBA teams need to be like squirrels and "harvest your nuts" for when the bad streaks come, because they do come. I always appreciated his sense of humor and frankness at times. My favorite memory was when I had dinner with him and his staff during the preseason before the 2004-05 season. Eddie was asking me questions about my background and my family - sizing me up, I guess. He asked me if I was married, and at the time I was engaged.
"What does she do?" he asked me.
"She's getting her PhD from Harvard," I said (which my wife was doing at the time). "So I did all right for myself."
"You can't consider yourself a slouch now," Jordan said. "You work for the Washington Post, the most powerful paper in the country. You guys brought down the President. You aren't doing too shabby yourself."
I had a good laugh with that one.
Michael Lee: Wow. That was pretty fun, guys. You can check out more info in Tuesday's paper. I have to get back to work. We'll talk later. Peace.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.