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    Michael Wilbon on the NBA, Wizards and Redskins

    Michael Wilbon

    Columnist Michael Wilbon was on Sports Online on Thursday, May 6, to field questions about the disappointing season of the Wizards, offer insight into the NBA playoffs, as well as his take on the ownership saga of the Redskins. Readers submitted nearly 700 questions. The transcript of his answers to the questions he was able to get to follows.

    Washington, DC: The NBA -and NBC, for that matter- are looking for a team to keep the league an attraction. They thought it was the omnipresent Lakers. What team do you think will emerge from the playoffs as an attraction?

    Michael Wilbon: The networks and the league should have figured out awhile ago that you can't designate a "super franchise." Nobody knew that it would be the Bulls when Jordan was drafted. And no amount of force will make the Lakers the No. 1 attraction if they can't get their act together. The league right now reminds me of the late 1970s when the Bullets and Sonics were the big winners, but weren't really marquee teams. It was a transition stage that took time.
    I look for Utah to win the title this year, but that doesn't mean Utah will have the appeal of the old Bulls or Celtics or Lakers. Karl Malone and John Stockton are closer to retirement than their primes, which means the Star Search will be on again next year. If the Lakers had traded Kobe Bryant instead of Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell, they might be a lot closer to a title than they appear to be now.

    San Francisco, California: You've made it clear in your past columns that you're not all that impressed with Allen Iverson's game. Do you continue to hold such sentiments and how do you rate Iverson among current NBA players?

    Michael Wilbon: I made it clear in a recent column that I have become more impressed with Iverson's game, simply because he's playing better. He's got fewer turnovers, his shot selection has improved dramatically. Larry Brown has made a big difference in Iverson's game. But is Iverson THERE yet? Because his team has made the playoffs once? I would put Iverson on my all-NBA team this year, along with Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, Grant Hill and Alonzo Mourning. Rookie of the year would be Vince Carter and Coach of the Year would be Jerry Sloan. (Apologies to Jason Kidd, who is so close to Iverson it's almost impossible to separate the two.)
    The young players I'm impressed with tend to be guys who stayed in school longer and came to the pros with some polish. Vince Carter, remember, stayed three years at North Carolina. Look at Duncan's game, Keith Van Horne's game...They were both four-year guys. Suppose Jerry Stackhouse had played one more year at Carolina?
    I'm not sure Stephon Marbury and Kobe Bryant, even with all that talent, will understand the concept of "TEAM" any time soon.

    Washington, DC: I was a huge Chris Webber fan when he was here. What do you think is with this kid? Between all his stuff off the court, and not seeing eye to eye with two organizations, do you think it was best for the Wizards franchise to dump him?

    Michael Wilbon: I'm a big Webber fan, too. But it wasn't going to work here, unless there was a radically different staff running things. Webber, another guy who should have stayed at least one more year in college, is talented as the day is long and also as immature. How long do you wait for a No. 1 pick to grow up? That kind of question is what NBA GMs are having to wrestle with. Same with Penny Hardaway.
    It's incredible that Webber is the only No. 1 pick ever to go five full seasons without winning a single playoff game. That's staggering.

    Los Angeles, Ca: Under what conditions would John Thompson coach in the NBA? Would he demand to be General Manager as well as coach? What other factors would be involved?

    Michael Wilbon: I don't think you'll see John Thompson coach in the NBA, but trying to guess along with John is impossible. I can more easily see him in a personnel role, whether GM or director of operations, etc. But he's enjoying his new gig as radio talk show host so much, maybe he won't get back into basketball at all. With all he's accomplished, I could understand why he wouldn't.

    Washington D.C.: If Abe Pollin put you in charge of the Wizards, what moves would you do, coaching and player personnel wise, specifically to help the team?

    Michael Wilbon: The first thing I'd do is call Phil Jackson and ask the following question: "Phil, what will it take for you to come here. How much money, how much control. What do we have to do?" As long as the Wizards keep patching things together, living day-by-day, season-by-season, we'll see what we've been seeing. A lack of vision is what made them stonewall a $24 million/6-year deal with Juwan Howard. Pollin said he was going to change the NBA salary structure. He changed it all right, by paying Howard $105 million two years later.

    Woodbridge, Va.: Don't you think that the playoffs will be more exciting this year, now that Michael Jordan has left the building?

    Michael Wilbon: No!

    Washington, D.C.: Who's got the better three point shot, you or Tony Kornheiser?

    Michael Wilbon: He's an old man who has to stay outside, away from the contact. Probably him. No rise left in those legs!

    Houston, Texas: I found your column on the Littleton shootings to be very thought provoking. Given that cliques will always exist as long as there are high schools, and given that successful athletes -of any age-are always going to be held in high esteem -worshiped- by many, and thus resented by others, what is your advice to students and school officials on how to help student athletes better understand the potential problems that go along with their "exalted" position in our schools?

    Michael Wilbon: Great question. The only way any groups of people understand each other is to be less segregated. The one thing that came through loud and clear with the students who played sports is that the general student body has no idea how many hours they put in to be good at their sport, how much stress and anxiety go along with it.
    And general students believe, understandably, that athletes don't believe anybody who lacks physical coordination and skills is as acceptable.
    I was a high school jock – baseball and tennis – and I know I put huge value on how good a jock guys were. That made somebody more acceptable, now that I look back on it.
    Dialogue is the only thing that changes anything. Kids have to interact more, and I know that happens more now than when I was in high school 25 years ago. What happened at Columbine may not reflect that, but I see more tolerance now than when I played high school sports.
    (Read the column about the Columbine tragedy from April 30.)

    Fairfax, VA: What is the status of Michael Jordan's deal to buy into the Hornets? How long until he becomes the majority owner? Do you think he would retain Paul Silas or look towards Phil Jackson?

    Michael Wilbon: It may take awhile before MJ actually closes a deal with George Shinn to buy the Hornets, if it happens at all. Shinn, who has well-chronicled personal problems, wants to rehabilitate his public image before getting out. Of course, Jordan's presence would help in that regard. But Jordan isn't going to buy 50 percent of the team so that Shinn can retain day-to-day control while recouping his image.
    What does Shinn take Jordan for? Shinn, with all his problems, can't get an arena built in Charlotte; Jordan can.
    Even if Jordan was to buy the team before next season, I think you'll see Paul Silas in Charlotte, unless another team makes him a sweeter offer than Shinn can (or is willing to) in the meantime.

    Chicago, IL: My main question for you concerns Mitch Richmond. Do you think he'll be back next year? More importantly, should the Wizards try to bring him back?

    Michael Wilbon: Richmond's decision – and I talked to him about it last week – will depend largely on who the Wizards hire as head coach and who they draft in the first round with their lottery pick. The real question should be, "Does Mitch Richmond want to stay?" Why should he, given this franchise has missed the playoffs 11 of the last 12 seasons?

    Washington, DC: How will the fans in Washington accept Chamique Holdsclaw and do you think the Mystics will be more competitive this year?

    Michael Wilbon: Chamique Holdsclaw will be a huge, huge star immediately and the Mystics will win at least half of their 32 games. She's smart, stylish, outgoing, a wonderful role model for children starved for role models. And she's the best all-around basketball player since Cheryl Miller was coming out of Southern Cal. I'll attend more Mystics games this year than Wizards games, and I'll bet you the Mystics draw in the neighborhood of 18,000 people per game.

    Fairfax, VA: What do you think of the rumors surrounding the sales of the Wizards, Mystics and Caps? What is going on?

    Michael Wilbon: I'm just hearing this stuff myself. I believe Abe Pollin is nearing the point where he has to considering selling, from a business standpoint. Pollin has denied he is ready to sell now, but I think this is a case of where there's smoke... We have about 30 minutes left with Michael Wilbon. With all the questions about what it will take to make the Wizards and Mystics winners, a lot of fans want to know what is going on with the Redskins.

    San Jose, CA: No one seems to have asked about this yet, so I'll bite. What's your take on the Redskins owner situation? Will Milstein sue everyone? Is there a place for Cooke in Snyder's organization?

    Michael Wilbon: Is there a place for Cooke with Snyder? No.
    Milstein, by hiring Boies, appears poised to sue somebody, if not everybody. But sometimes, you can wield the big stick without actually swinging it. If he hasn't gotten his $30 million back with interest, I suspect he will. The NFL, which has won a couple of court cases recently, still has a wretched overall record in these suits. I think they'd want to appease Milstein and get on with it.

    Okinawa , Japan: Maybe you can tell us if you think Charlie Casserly Norv Turner have any future with the Redskins?

    Michael Wilbon: What is this, a gag? You're in Okinawa and you're thinking about the Redskins. What about the Yomiuri Giants (is that the correct spelling?) Here's the forecast on the futures of Casserly and Turner: They'd damn well better win. The playoffs are the bare minimum and even that might not save them. But I do think Casserly did a good job in the recent college draft, even though I personally might have kept Ricky Williams. But if Champ Bailey turns out to be Deion Sanders, as some suggest, how could one argue with that? Plus, he's got three No. 1s to use or trade for big time players again. The Redskins have plenty of holes to plug.

    Gaithersburg, MD: One step forward, two steps back. I think the drafting of Champ Bailey was an excellent move on the part of the Redskins, but with the latest news surrounding Brad Johnson's knee, do you think this will be a prelude to what will take place in the upcoming season?

    Michael Wilbon: I'm on record, loud and obnoxiously, as saying I hate the deal for Brad Johnson. I'd have kept the No. 11 pick and taken a quarterback instead of dealing it to Minnesota. Actually, I'd have drafted Williams and a quarterback and really loaded up on young studs at the most important positions.
    I'm certain Brad Johnson is an upgrade at quarterback. But if he couldn't stay healthy behind Minnesota's line of all-pros, how can we expect him to stay healthy behind the Redskins porous line?

    Brooklandville, MD: What is your opinion of Norv Turner as a head coach? Specifically, do you believe that he, over the past five years, has been a victim of poor circumstances, or should he be held responsibile for those circumstances?

    Michael Wilbon: I think Norv knows as much about offensive football as anybody working in the game today. I think he can teach it as well as anybody; just look at a guy like Trent Green nobody else wanted until he worked under Norv.
    But being a head coach involves so much more. Buddy Ryan might be the greatest defensive assistant who ever lived. But as head coach, he lacked something. The Hall of Fame players I talk to say the Redskins don't fear the consequences of losing enough. They say that guys like Shula (when he was young) made it so miserable to lose (same for Chuck Noll and Jimmy JOhnson in Dallas), that guys would do anything not to lose. I can tell you for a fact, the Redskins last year didn't fear the consequences enough. Everybody, unfortunately, ain't a pro's pro like Darrell Green.

    Christiansburg, VA: What do the Redskins do with those 3 first round picks next year? Could a trade happen for a wide receiver or offensive tackle?

    Michael Wilbon: There's little chance the Redskins will use all three of those picks next season. They have so many holes, it could help if those three picks become five or six picks. But it's too early to assess now exactly what they'll need next season. And suppose some college kid emerges as the next Joe Montana or JIm Brown between now and then?

    Hong Kong, China: What free agents are out there who could fill needs for the Redskins?

    Michael Wilbon: Hong Kong? When I get to Asia, the last thing in the world on my mind is free agents! THe best free agents have already been signed, while the NFL owners took their stupid sweet time, obnoxiously holding up the sale of the team. Nobody wanted to come here back in the early part of the signing period, so we're looking at a team that will have to play the hand its holding now, for the most part.

    Arlington, VA: Which version of Dana Stubblefield can the Redskins expect this year? The Defensive Player of the Year or the disappointing, out-of-shape, ineffective one?

    Michael Wilbon: I don't know Stubblefield well enough to know how he'll take being ripped to shreds by the fans and media (in that order) last season. But I do know players and scouts who said even before the Redskins acquired him, that he was a product of the 49ers system, and playing next to Bryant Young.

    Ft. Lauderdale, Florida:
    If you were to pick a coach to replace Norv, who would pick and why?

    Michael Wilbon: Maybe Art Shell, who is the last coach to do anything with the pitiful Raiders and is hugely respected by players across the league.

    Reston, VA: Early in the Milstein-Snyder bid, Art Monk drew mention as possibly part of the new Redskins management team. Any word resurfacing of such involvment by Monk now that it appears the Snyder bid is assured of success?

    Michael Wilbon: No. I'm not sure that's high on Monk's agenda at the moment.

    Battle Creek,MI: Now that it seems that Synder will get the team,where does that leave Mr. Cooke and will he try to purchase another team?

    Michael Wilbon: It leaves John Cooke flush with cash and hopefully setting sail for some wonderfully lush island. We should be so lucky!

    Richmond, VA: You've written about the possibility of a name change. If the Redskins find it neccessary to change their name, what would you suggest?

    Michael Wilbon: It would take me weeks to come up with name possibilities, but it seems with all these new leagues and teams the best nicknames are taken.

    Dallas Tx: With Brad Johnson being a injury prone quarterback and the Redskins having one of the worst pass blocking offensive lines in the league, do you think Brad will have any chance?

    Michael Wilbon: If Chris Chandler can make it through a season healthy, I guess Johnson can. And it helps the Redskins to have acquired Rodney Peete, who knows how to play backup and do it well. But the injury-factor is why I wouldn't have traded for Johnson in the first place.

    Falls Church, VA: Aren't the Redskins essentially starting over, player-wise?

    Michael Wilbon: Yeah. Don't they need to?

    Marrieta GA: Do you think the Redskins have really made any improvements over last year's team? Do you think this new owner has the attitude to help make the team a winner?

    Michael Wilbon: Are the Redskins improved? Maybe a little bit. Champ Bailey could make a big difference, but that's expecting a lot from a rookie, when he has to play arguably the second most difficult position on the field. I'm not worried about an owner's attitude. I just like owners who are just a tiny bit impatient and demanding. It's a fine line. George Steinbrenner at times walks it, Jack Kent Cooke and Eddie DeBartolo were great at it, Peter Angelos has no clue. We'll see about Dan Snyder.

    Hackensack,NJ: How much will not signing a big name offensive linemam hurt the Redskins offense this year?

    Michael Wilbon: I don't care about how big his name is, just his backside. The Redskins quarterback needs to be upright for the team to get any better.

    Chelmsford, MA.:
    I was hoping that you could elaborate on why the Redskins let Leslie Shephard go and whether you agree that Albert Connell has progressed to the point that management's decision is justified. adequate. Will or do the skin's have salary cap problems?

    Michael Wilbon: I never got the impression Shephard wanted to stay. Given the limbo the NFL owners have left the Redskins in, who could blame him? Connell, like all the other receivers, have a long way to go.

    Corpus Christi,Texas: What is your personal opinion on the new soon to be owner Daniel Snyder?

    Michael Wilbon: I haven't spent enough time with Snyder to form any insightful opinions.

    Sugarloaf, California: Are Redskin fans naive in being optimistic because of the arrival of Brad Johnson?

    Michael Wilbon: Yes. The fact that he hasn't stayed healthy for an entire seasons means the optimism could be misplaced.

    Laurel, Maryland: What type of impact, if any, do you think Maryland's Steve Franciss and Duke's Elton Brand will have on their NBA teams or the league.

    Michael Wilbon: Steve Francis could have some impact if he goes to a team that has scorers. Like, say, Chicago, where he could find Kukoc and Harper and Barry in an open-floor game. A lot of the lottery teams already have point guards who won't be leaving: Jersey, Vancouver, the Wizards, Seattle. On the other hand, Golden State and the Clippers, Dallas, Boston and Toronto could all use him.
    Elton Brand has no business leaving DUke right now. None. He has zero game facing the basket.

    Atlanta Georgia: Do you feel Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs deserves to be MVP of the NBA this season?

    Michael Wilbon: Yes, narrowly. I'd take Duncan over Zo Mourning, Karl Malone, Iverson, and (strangely enough) Jason Kidd.

    Alexandria, VA: Have you spoken to Coach K on his feelings of players leaving early for the NBA draft now that Duke has joined the likes of G'town, etc., and are there any universities-colleges left that can say all there players have gone the whole four years?

    Michael Wilbon: Not big-time schools. I'm sure my alma mater, Northwestern, can say it hasn't lost any kids early. Why would it? But Coach K is already in the process of adjusting his recruiting methods. Instead of taking a 5-star kid obsessed with the NBA at 18, maybe you take a 4-star kid who'll make himself a player by his junior season.

    West Orange, NJ: What do you think of the WNBA and its prospects? Do you think the best women's basketball league prevailed?

    Michael Wilbon: The players were comparable in the two leagues. But the entity with the biggest resources prevailed for sure. The WNBA is here to stay; the NBA wouldn't have gotten involved otherwise. I'll go to three times as many WNBA games as major league baseball games this summer.

    San Francisco, California: As one of the pallbearers of sports history, will you always refer to this year's eventual NBA champion with an asterisk or a reference to the shortened season and loss of Jordan?

    Michael Wilbon: Probably. Unless Utah runs through the playoffs and wins the whole thing. Utah is a worthy successor, but few others are. We're about out of time. We'd like to thank Michael for coming to answer questions about the NBA, Wizards and Redskins. We'll try and get Michael back sometime during the NBA playoffs.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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