Steve Wyche on Sports Online
Tuesday, Nov. 2, 1999
Steve Wyche, The Post's beat writer for the Wizards and the NBA, was on Sports Online discussing Tuesday night's season opener and taking questions about the offseason rebuilding process the Wizards went through and what to expect from the rest of the league.
Why is Lorenzo Williams on the Wizards Roster? The guy hasn't played in a game since he's been here! Is he really worth waiting for, or does someone in the Wizards organization owe this guy a huge favor?!
Steve Wyche: Thanks for writing. Lorenzo Williams is on the roster mainly because Washington owes him just more than $7 million over the nextg four years -- guaranteed. If someone was interested they probably would like to trade him but because he's proven so fragile, there haven't been any suitors.
I was wondering what type of offense the Wizards will be using most often this year. It seems as though there was more motion in the offense in the last game against Boston.
Steve Wyche: Washington will be doing a lot more motion offense this sason. The system is predicated on a series of interior screens to free up at least two players for shots. Remember, last season, Washington used a perimeter-based offense where players stood around and jacked up three-pointers.
Do you agree with Sports Illustrated's assessment that the Western division now has the better teams and the most talent?
Steve Wyche: I do agree that the balance of power has moved to the West. San Antonio has the best player in Tim Duncan. Portland is loaded with the acquisition of Scottie Pippen, Steve Smith, Detlef Schrempf. The Lakers should be better, as should Sacramento and, believe it or not, the L.A. Clippers. Few teams in the East got better through free agency or trades and most of the longtime powers have done nothing but get old.
Be honest...was trading Chris Webber one of the dumbest moves that the Wizards-Bullets have made since hiring Wes Unseld as General Manager? Don't you think it's time for some new blood in the front office? Wes has more than had his chance and has consistently failed. I want your honest opinion. Will the Wizards even go .500 this year?
Steve Wyche: With Webber starting to peak, he clearly has the potential to become a great player. Washington moved him based more on his off-court situations than his on-court skills. you could argue that was dumb but other teams have done the same thing in moving guys like J.R. Rider. As for new blood in the front office, this season will tell how good or bad Wes Unseld is. So far, it looks like he's made moves to redeem himself but it's early. Drafting Richard Hamilton looks solid -- remember this was Unseld's first, first-round draft pick since he was hired as GM. Getting Ike Austin looks like a good move and picking up Michael Smith and Aaron Williams, again look like positives. Unseld also made an unheraalded trade when he acquired former Maryland guard Laron PRofit for a onditional seconmd-round draft pick. The coaches love PRrfit, who seems to have and NBA-style game.
Virginia Beach, Va.:
What changes in the team, other than personnel have you noticed this year? Are any of those changes due to the new coach?
Steve Wyche: The biggest change is that Heard had gained the respect of players for being stern, yet understanding. Players say they believe in him because he and every member of his staff are former players, so they understand what players go through. If Heard can get these guys to believe, they have to talent to do well.
Rock Hil, S.C.:
Are the Wizards that much improved over last year with the additions of Aaron Williams, Mike Smith and Ike Austin?
Steve Wyche: On paper, Washington is significantly improved over last season's team. They got a legit center in Ike Austin and landed three nasty and athletic power forwards in Williams, Smith and camp-invitee Gerard King -- a sleeper. The Wizards were weak at both positions last season and the depth and size they have acquired will only complement Mitch Richmond, Rod Strickland and Juwan Howard
Will Ike Austin start tonight? Rookie guard, Hamilton has proven that is capable of getting critical minutes thus far? Do you think he has what it takes to hold his own on defense in the NBA? Will Mr. Howard finally stand up and be the beast that the fans are expecting from him this year? Is this team capable of sustaining itself as one of the elite teams this year?
Steve Wyche: Austin's status will be a game-time decision. I think they will start Jahidi White but if Austin says he feels well enough to go, go could copen the game. Hamilton will see plenty of playing time. He showed in preseason that he is an NBA player and a solid scorer. Defensively he has a ways to go. He is very thin and can be posted up by guys like Allan Houston and J.R. Rider. But he's a player. I think Juwan is going to have a big year. With a center in the middle and a scheme that doesn't require players to stand on the perimeter and launch jump shots, Howard's strengths as a post-up player should flourish. As far as the team sustaining itself, that remains to be seen. They are deeper than any team they've had in awhile but with Washington, it's all about chemistry and attitude. The talent is unquestioned.
Due to aging veterans and lack of talent, the NBA appears to have parity. As a league, the NBA has always promoted its star players. Were the new rule changes a “subtle” endorsement for the up and coming stars in the league, i.e. Alan Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Vince Carter, etc.?
Steve Wyche: Great point. The new rule changed were made in great part to highlight players like Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. They are slashers who can finish with authority and the league wants, and needs that.
Falls Church, Va.:
I keep hearing about that Jahadi White has improved his game a lot. What is you opinion on his game and what did he do during the summer to make himself better? Thanks
Steve Wyche: You've heard right. Jahidi White has lost about 35-40 pounds and he has learned some of the intricacies about playing in the low post, namely positioning himself close enough to the basket where he can get off easy shots.
Does Scottie Pippen help or hurt Portland? It seemed that the Trailblazers imploded in the playoffs and it just appears that there are way too many super egos for this to work. They make a great team on paper, certainly, but this isn't a rotisserie league...
Steve Wyche: Godo question. Initially Pippen will help. But we have to see how the ball is distributed as well as players' minutes. If Pippen doesn't feel like he is being used enough, he can be a major pain.
Do you figure Laron Profit will see playing time this season, barring injuries to the starters? And where does Richard Hamilton fit into the scheme of things?
Steve Wyche: Laron Profit will see playing time. It will be sporadic but the coaches love his athleticism and defense. He will be used behind Rod Strickland and Chris Whitney but if other teams have a big guard on the floor, Profit will see playing time. He also seems to have acquired a decent perimeter shot. As for Hamilton, he will play between 18-20 minutes a game behind and with Mitch Richmond. With some teams using more of a three-guard system, like the New York Knicks, Washington will play Rod Strickland, Richmond and Hamilton together with Richmond at the small forward spot.
Steve, how do you think the Wizards will compensate for the loss of Ben Wallace? His rebounding, defense and intensity will be sorely missed for a team lacking in all those categories.
Steve Wyche: Losing Ben was a big blow but by having both Aaron Williams and Michael Smith, they have a combination of all of Ben's talents plus six more fouls. Smith is a tough-guy, take-no-prisoners player. He is not flashy but he gets the job done. Williams is very explosive and get off the floor like Ben. He also has Wallace's Charles Atlas-like physique. A bonus is the emergence of camp-invitee Gerard King, a 6-10, banger with sstrong offensive skills. King spent last season in San Antonio and it's clear he learned a thing or two from David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
How much should we expect to see Ike Austin knowing that he has played sparingly in the preseason? In your judgment, how effective do you think he will be this year?
Steve Wyche: I think early on, Ike will play only about 20 minutes a game. When I say early on, maybe the first 5-6 games. Washington can afford that because none of the teams they play in that span have a dominant center. As far as how effective Ike will be remains to be seen. But I used to work in Miami covering the Heat when Ike was there and when he is committed and focused, he is an offensive force. He has a ton of low-post moves and is a very good passer. He is not the most aggressive rebounder in the world and needs to get better.
As a season ticket holder, I got to see a lot of games last season in person. Was it me, or did these guys just dog it a lot of times? A lot of times, they just seemed to play with no energy or enthusiasm and any time they got behind, they just seemed to roll over. Will this change?
Steve Wyche: You were right on several points there. After awhile, especially after Juwan Howard got hurt at the end of the season, it was clear the Wizards just played out the string and picked up their paychecks. A lot of that came after Bernie Bickerstaff was fired. Players knew Jim Brovelli was on thin ice and didn't really run through the wall for him. That will change. Gar Heard is about as no-nonsense a man as you will find. He is not a drill sargent but he will not hesitate to get on a star player or sit him down if he is dogging it. Heard was a tenacious player and knows what it takes to succeed.
I know the New York Knicks were the eighth seed last season, but are the Knicks and Miami Heat the top two teams in the East this year? And do either of these teams stack up against the elite teams in the West?
Steve Wyche: The Knicks and Miami are two of the top teams in the East as are Charlotte and Indiana. From there, it's up for grabs. Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Washington, New Jersey...all have a chance to get to the playoffs. On paper it does not look like these teams can hand with San Antonio or Portland or some of the West's better teams, Phoenix..but paper can not measure a team's heart of determination and that's what it comes down to. Remember, no one thought the Spurs would end up where they did last season.
Do you feel Juwan Howard can be an effective small forward? He doesn't seem to have the quickness to play defense.
Steve Wyche: Great question. Howard should flourish at small forward. Though he has played power forward, he ofter was forced to guard the other team's best offensive player, which, in most cases, was a small forward. He did well against guys like Grant Hill and Latrell Sprewell. And because of his size, he should be able to post those guys up on offense and have an advantage on the glass.
What are your opinions on Gar Heard as a coach? Has he proven himself enough to be put in the position of making a bad team average?
Steve Wyche: I think Gar Heard, thus far, has shown the makings of a very good coach. One thing coaches around the league will tell you is coaching is 75 percent player management. No one person has that much more knowledge than another when it comes to X's and O's. Heard's no-nonsense approach has worked with players so far. When he benched Rod Strickland for missing practice, other players took notice. In that regard, he has shown the makings of being a winner. He also has an excellent staff with Butch Beard, Tree Rollins and Mike Bratz, who, like Heard, all played in the NBA.
Mr. Wyche: Do the Wizards finally have their act together? - That is, have they settled on a plan for improving the franchise, and can they stick with it? Thanks
Steve Wyche: It's hard to say if they have their act together this early but they seem to be on the right track. As far as the future, they drafted what could be a gem in Richard Hamilton and trading for Laron Profit seems to be a nice move. They way this team is built, it is built to win over the next two or three years. So their is not a long-term plan, if you will.
The next Jordan Iverson? Vince Carter? Do any of them have the talent AND charisma?
Steve Wyche: My vote is Vince Carter. He not only has the skills but he has the work ethic. This kid went back to North Carolina this summer to work toward getting his degree. After classes he would work with one of Toronto's staff members for hours. Sometimes those sessions wouldn't start until 9 or 10 o'clock. This kid is a star ironic how he went to UNC too, huh?
Steve, I'm a long time Wizards fan but throughout the last umpteen years they have failed win one playoff game. Is this year going to be any different?
Steve Wyche: My tarot cards are lost and my crystal ball is foggy but I think they have the potential. Not working in their favor is the fact that Charlotte and Toronto did not make postseason last year and appear to be locks this year. Milwaukee is better and if Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilguaskas gets healthy, there may not be much room. That's where we'll see how much fight the Wizards have in them.
Spending practically every waking moment with a team, beat reporters undoubtedly must become buddies with the players. How do you strike a balance between covering a team and becoming friendly with the players? Do you, for example, socialize outside the "office?"
Steve Wyche: Very, very, very good question. Though you become friends with them, both players and reporters know there is a fine line that can't be crossed. There are times when you have to be critical of a player and if you've become too close it may skew you're judgment and that is a diservice to the reading public -- who we work for. We are their eyes and ears and we have to give the most balanced and honest reports that we can.
What was the deal with Rod Strickland missing practice? Couldn't find a flight back to N.Y.? What?
Steve Wyche: All we know is that he missed practice because of personal reasons.
How much playing time should fans expect to see from R. Hamilton? What are the chances the Wizards will make the playoffs this season?
Steve Wyche: Hamilton should play about 20 minutes per game off the bench. He looked good in preseason... Wiz could make the playoffs if they keep their chemistry and health in tact. There are a lot of capable teams, though.
The Wizards are old and slow and seem to be designed for the old rules, not the new regs, which favor quickness. Comment?
Steve Wyche: Good point, although Mitch Richmond and Rod Strickland will benefit on offense from those rules too. If teams can't impede them, they can get to the basket, where Strickland, especially, is creative with the ball. Washington will be handicapped defensively but so will every other team. That was the purpose of the rule changes.
Silver Spring, Md.:
In re: Chris Webber. This year will prove that the Wizards, for all their mistakes -and they are legion- did the right thing in dumping this guy.
According to the historical record, this year, he'll become as much a pain in the backside as he did in his second year at Golden State and in his second and third years in Washington. One great first year, then unfulfilled expectations until he's shown the door. That's what you get with Chris Webber.
Steve Wyche: We shall see. They seem to have a good thing going in Sacramento but...
Steve, could you take a couple of second to talk about some of the NBA's new rules and what it means to the Wizards' style of play?
Steve Wyche: The NBA instituted four new rules this season, one dealing with the shot clock and another dealing with the interpretations of illegal defenses. The two changes that will alter the style of play are the limited contact rule and the five-second rule.
Defensive players are not allowed to make any type of contact with the offensive player above the free-throw line. Once the offensive player moves below the foul line a defender is allowed to use his forearm to establish position. However referees have been calling a lot more fouls when any contact is made.
As far as the five-second rule, when a player takes the ball below the foul line, he has five seconds to either shoot, pass or pick up his dribble. If he does not, it is ruled a turnovers.
The Wizards will be hurt, defensively, by the new rules because they are not as athletic as other teams. However, they do have players in Richard Hamilton, Rod Strickland and Juwan Howard and Mitch Richmond, who can take players off the dribble and use the rules to their favor on offense.
Steve, do you think Coach Gar Heard is the man that will bring back the good old days for the Washington Wizard franchise? Also, what is it that he brings to the table that stands out besides that he played in the NBA and has been assistant for so many years? Do he really know the x and o's the game? Do you think from the preseason games that he is capable of coaching at a high level during the contest? Finally, from what I heard so far of him -- he goes strictly by the book. Do you think that philosophy will enable this team to perform any better than previous teams or is it the talent that management has assemble?
Steve Wyche: Having Coached under Larry Brown and John McLeon, Heard has learned a lot about coaching, from x's and o's to how to structure a practice to what type of players he needs to fit his style. He also learned from them that you must treat players fairly and with a stern hand when it is needed. If he is able to get these players to buy into what he is trying to do, Washington should be a much improved basketball team.
Closing question for Steve: is there a sense around the team that this is the season the team has to make the playoffs or there will be wholesale changes -- new GM, another roster overhaul? Perhaps new ownership?
Steve Wyche: As far as new ownership, that is not expected anytime soon. Once it does happen Abe Pollin already has sold minority interest to AOL exec and Caps owner Ted Leonsis there likely will be wholesale front-office changes. As far as an optimistic sense, yes there is. Players have worked hard, Heard and GM Wes Unseld have assembled the most depth this team has had in years, and players seem to like what Heard has done so far. But keep in mind, at this time of the year, every team thinks they can make the playoffs. Only time will tell.
Thanks to Steve Wyche for taking the time to be with us.
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