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Steve Wyche on Rebuilding the Wizards

Wizards Logo Steve Wyche, The Post's beat writer for the Wizards and the NBA, was on Sports Online on Tuesday, May 11. Wyche answered questions about the offseason rebuilding process the Wizards will likely go through and where the team is heading.

Dale City, Va.: Do the Wizards have any plans to try and sign local standouts David Robinson and Grant Hill once their contracts run out? If Steve Francis is available when the Wizards select in the upcoming draft, will they take him?

Steve Wyche: For Washington to get David Robinson or Grant Hill, they will have to find a way to create a lot of salary cap space, which may go into their thinking this year if you see them unload a lot of players then sign guys with just a year or two left on their contracts. As for Steve Francis, odds are he likely will be taken by Chicago or Toronto, who draft before the Wizards.

Reston, Va.: Does the Wizards success depend on putting in place a center who can compete with the Patrick Ewings, Alonzo Mournings, Tim Duncans, and the like?

Steve Wyche: Getting a big man will help Washington get better, especially if he is a rebounder and shot blocker. If he can score 10 points a game, that would help. Washington would have to give him some help, though, to become a successful team.

Glen Burnie, Md.: Hi Steve, I followed your reports online all season. If you are Wes Unseld, what steps do you take to upgrade the Wizards into a contender? I saw Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser on television Saturday night and they painted a sad picture.

Steve Wyche: That's a tough question. If you keep the nucleus of Mitch Richmond, Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland intact, you have to get some nice pieces here in a hurry, especially a center. They don't have many players other teams want so making a trade with anyone other than those three likely won't get you much. A lot of people around the NBA think Wahsington should try and move at least 2 of the 3, acquire some younger players and build. A good coach would be crucial in both instances

Greensboro, N.C.: Do you believe the Wizards made the wrong choice in trading Webber?

Steve Wyche: Maybe not so much in trading Webber but maybe not getting a player who could offer some of the skills he brought them, like inside scoring. Otis Thorpe played very well down low, but he didn't command the attention that Webber did. That allowed teams to easily defend their shooters.

Arlington, Va.: What are the chances the Wizards could pull off a sign-and-trade deal with Mitch Richmond that could bring several players to address their weaknesses?

Steve Wyche: The chances of a getting at least two decent players back for Mitch are good. There are some contending teams that could part with some younger players in exchange for Mitch, who could put them over the top. Remember, Detroit's Joe Dumars is retiring and Miami has no real shooting guard. Those teams are close and may be able to put together a decent package of players that could help both teams

Alexandria, Va.: What role can Jahidi White play for the Wizards? Furthermore, what position can he play effectively for the Wizards

Steve Wyche: Great question. Jahidi White, in my opinion, can play center and power forward. If he learns all of the intricacies of low-post play, I think he could develop into a Rick Mahorn, Charles Oakley type player. A guy who can set bone-jarring picks and grab rebounds. I think Jahidhi would have a long career in the NBA in that role because there aren't too many enforcers left in the league.

Stuart, Fla.: Where do the Wizards see Juwan Howard playing next season, small or power forward? Can they live with Juwan at small forward with Ben Wallace or Otis Thorpe at the 4, or are they looking for both a small forward and center, putting Juwan back at the 4?

Steve Wyche: Juwan could play either forward spot but a lot depends on whom they acquire in the offseason. If they get a big body, he likely will stay at the small forward spot. But he is a solid power forward too. He was not moved to small forward because he was not playing well at power forward. He was moved there because Cal Cheaney and Randell Jackson were inconsistent at small forward. That said, I think Juwan may be better suited at small forward because he is not an overly aggressive rebounder and he doesn't get to the foul line enough.

Arlington, Va.: What has Mike Jarvis done to deserve to be mentioned for a professional coaching position? Do you think that it requires a different sort or temperament to be a pro coach than a college one?

Steve Wyche: Mike Jarvis took George Washington's program to national prominence and he resurrected St. John's program. There are a lot of guys who never did that – Larry Bird for instance. Addressing the second part of your question, I think it does take a different temperament to be a pro coach rather than a college coach. In college you can intimidate players, threaten to take away their scholarships and the like. In the pro's, contracts are guaranteed so players can pretty much do what they want, regardless of what the coach says. That's why you see coaches, not players, getting fired.

Chicago, Il.: Is there a free agent this offseason that can help put the Wizards over the top?

Steve Wyche: Maybe not over the top but there are some good ones that would help. Dallas forward Gary Trent is a nice rebounder and inside scorer, which would address a big need. Orlando guard Penny Hardaway might opt out of his contract and Minnesota forward Joe Smith will be available too. Washington would have to come up with some money to sign them but that are a few of the big names that could be available

Alexandria, Va.: If Chris Webber was still a Wizard, do you think the Wizards would have had the same disappointing season that they had?

Steve Wyche: That's hard to say. But if he played the way he played with Sacramento, I think the Wizards likely would have won a few more of those games they lost because of lack of rebounding in the fourth quarter. But Washington has so many injuries and the coaching change really upset the apple cart, so to speak, that it is hard to say if Webber would have made a drastic difference.

Washington, D.C.: Who appears to be the front runner for the coaching position thus far.

Steve Wyche: That's a tough call. I think they really like Buck Williams and Doc Rivers is a guy a lot of teams like. Same with Mike Jarvis. But there are some coaches out there, like Piston assistant Gar Heard, that Washington wants to talk to in a few weeks. I don't know if there is a front runner, which is why they are talking to so many candidates.

Vienna, Va.: What do the Wizards plan to do with their existing free-agents?

Steve Wyche: It's hard to say what Washington will do with its free agents. Some teams might offer them something very attractive in exchange for Mitch Richmond in a sign-and-trade. As for Otis Thorpe and Cal Cheaney, the Wizards wouldn't mind keeping both, but not at a high price. Thorpe and Cheaney may want a change of scenery. Rookie forward Randell Jackson may be re-signed. He is a nice talent who needs to learn a lot about the game but he caught the attention of a few teams. Guard Jeff McInnis probably won't be back. Center John Coker might. They like his offense but he needs to work on his footwork and strength.

Paris, France: Do the Wizards have to get a new owner to ever have a chance to win?

Steve Wyche: Bonjour. I don't know about that. The owner doesn't shoot, dribble, coach... Remember, it was just three years ago that Michael Jordan anointed Washington as the team of the future. Some of the players failed to live up to their end of things. There are no guarantees that a new owner will make this team better. There are no guarantees a new owner will make it worse, either.

Louiville, Ky.: Are the Wizards looking for front court help or backcourt help in the NBA draft? Can you name possibilities in your response -Schzerbiak, Pepe Lopez, Odom, Maggette, McCullough, Eschemeyer, Padgett.

Steve Wyche: Washington wants to address its frontcourt, particularly on the glass. If Duke's Elton Brand is there, it will be hard for them to bypass him. They like his work-ethic and upside. The problem is, the Wizards likely will draft sixth and Brand might be gone. The unknowns in whether Odom comes out of Rhode Island. He could be the first guy taken and could change some teams' plans, thus the pecking order. The Wiz might gamble on Magette, but that may depend on whether they break down the team and opt to start over. Sczerbiak is a possibility as well

Reston, Va.: For the Wizards, is there an instant fix or is their fixing 2 or 3 years down the road?

Steve Wyche: If Michael Jordan comes out of retirement and joins Strickland and Richmond, Washington will have an instant fix. We know that's not going to happen. One thing that has come to light is there is no instant fix in this league. Some thought Scottie Pippen would guarantee Houston a title. We don't know if that will happen yet, but it doesn't look that way. Fixes take time and fixing the Wizards will take some time.

Scotland, Md.: How come John Thompson's name has not come up for the new Wizard's coach?

Steve Wyche: John Thompson's name has simmered but he has not made any overtures that he would be overly interested in coaching the Wizards and vice-versa. But stay tuned. We have about 30 minutes left in our discussion about the NBA and the Wizards with Steve Wyche.

Fairfax, Va.: Who do YOU think is the best choice for head coach?

Steve Wyche: My choice? Pat Riley, but that won't happen. The best guys already have jobs. I think Larry Brown would be good for this team. Phil Jackson too. I also like Paul Silas. It's tough to make a call on the candidates they have spoken too but Dave Cowens has a successful track record. Buck Williams and Doc Rivers are viewed as up and comers.

Troutville, Va.: Of the all players that have committed to the draft, who do you think will be of most help to the Wizards?

Steve Wyche: As of now I like Elton Brand. He brings a competitive energy and a fairly solid low-post game every night. He has tremendous upside. He would have to learn to play power forward, though. At 6-8, he is way too short to play center.

Alexandria, Va.: Should Abe Pollin sell the Wizards? Should fans want a new owner that might make this franchise a winning organization?

Steve Wyche: Fans should want an owner that wants to make this a winning organization, especially since they have to pay top dollar. But that doesn't mean Abe Pollin needs to sell the team. He is paying players good money and has built a great arena. Putting together the right personnel, from top to bottom is a key step to putting together a winner.

Elkridge, Md.: Is it time to give up on Calbert Cheaney? He has never lived up to expectations. What kind of money do you think Calbert will be asking for?

Steve Wyche: I don't know if it's time to give up on Calbert but I don't think you pay him big money. And unless he gets his game untracked, you don't play him big minutes either. As for the money he may ask for, who knows? He could ask for the moon but don't count on him getting it. GM's around the league say his stock has dropped substantially.

Alexandria, Va.: What are the Wizards going to do with Ben Wallace?

Steve Wyche: If they are smart they will try to lock Ben Wallace up for four or five years. Wallace is a great fit for any team and if he puts together another season like this one, he is going to be hard to keep when he becomes a free agent after this season. Would could be interesting is if Washington gets a center, maybe Wallace could move to power forward, his natural position. I think he would flourish against guys his size.

Rockville, Md.: Who do you like in the NBA Finals this year?

Steve Wyche: Good question. From the West I still like Utah. The experience and familiarity with one another is so key in the NBA playoffs. I like Miami in the East, although it may not get out of the first round. There really is no team in the East that I think will win it all, though. I like the Jazz.

Andrews AFB: If the Lakers fail to win the NBA championship, will we see a huge overhaul – including the dismissal of Kurt Rambis?

Steve Wyche: You won't see a huge overhaul. There is way too much there. Rambis likely is gone unless they win a title. Enter Phil Jackson. Wouldn't Shaq, Kobe and Glen Rice look pretty smooth running the triangle offense?

Queens, New York: Can we expect another Wrestlemania during the Knicks-Heat match?

Steve Wyche: Yes. I covered the Heat the past two years and at some point it has blown up. Too much bad blood and too little composure for something not to get started.

Davenport, Iowa: How much blame should Rod Strickland shoulder for the dismal season? After all he is the point guard and the point guard is the guy that should go out and get you wins.

Steve Wyche: Rod Strickland should shoulder very little blame. Other than him being hurt and slow at the start, he was the Wizards' best player this season. He was second in the league in assists and did everything he could against defenses that routinely beat the heck out of him because he lacked front-court muscle. Rod is my team MVP.

Omaha, Neb.: Is there any truth to the rumor that Michael Jordan may be interested in buying the Wizards?

Steve Wyche: I don't know how much truth there is to that. He would have to come up with substantially more than the $80 million he was offering to own part of the Hornets. But he is in the market and he has some wealthy business allies, so I would never say never.

Washington, D.C.: Do you believe college athletes in revenue generating sports should be paid?

Steve Wyche: I think college athletes across the board should be paid. I think it's unfair to pay just revenue grossing athletes because, in most instance, those athletes in non-money sports aren't on full scholarship. Any additional bit helps. As for athletes in the big sports, they should get something. Universities and the NCAA not only make money at the stadiums and ticket offices but on sales of merchandise with many of these players' names on them.

Lorton, Va.: It seems like the Wizards aren't really interested in hiring Phil Jackson. Why on earth not?

Steve Wyche: Moolah! It would cost a whole lot, which is what the Lakers or whomever else is going to pay him.

SilverSpring, Md.: Can Richmond be a star again, after having season low in just about everything?

Steve Wyche: Definitely. He had a tough season in part because he was not in great condition but also because he had no real inside help to pull defenders off of him. He had lost some of his ability to break defenders down off the dribble, but a new coach may post him up and allow him to use his size advantage over most shooting guards down low. Mitch may not be what he used to but he can be a star again.

Winchester, Va.: For the past two years, the Wizards appeared to have no real on court leadership. Based on your observations following the team, who do you think is the real leader on the team?

Steve Wyche: Great question. I don't think they have a leader. Juwan Howard tries sometimes and I like his spirit. Some people are down on Juwan but he can never be faulted for not putting out. Richmond and Strickland are not the most vocal guys and no other player really has the clout to get other players to listen.

Rockville, Md.: Why was Chris Whitney the "forgotten man" for much of the season?

Steve Wyche: The emergence of Jeff McInnis hurt Whitney. Whit is a great shooter, nice floor leader and nice defender. McInnis four-inch height advantage over Whitney made him more effective against some players. Dividing that time hurt both players somewhat but Whit is a class guy who is thankful to play even one minute a season in the NBA.

Gaithersburg, Md.: Do you see Toronto as a team of the future? They have Vince Carter and Tracey McGrady and two high first round draft picks coming up.

Steve Wyche: Great point. I really like where that team is going. McGrady and Carter and big timers and Doug Christie is solid. The Raptors really want to draft Steve Francis out of Maryland, which would give them even more flash and star power.

Burke, Va.: Is Wes Unseld's job in jeopardy? What have you heard regarding the GM position?

Steve Wyche: From everything I hear, Wes Unseld's job is not in jeopardy. He is highly regarded within the organization and they trust him. But this is a defining year for Wes. He has to find a new coach, decide how to deal with free agency, particularly in Mitch Richmond's case, and he has a first-round draft pick. If he fails in those areas, which can't be determined for years, I'm sure he will be re-evaluated.

Baltimore, Md.: What do you think it will take to save this ailing team?
A new owner? New GM?

Steve Wyche: What could save this team are a few new players, a coach who can maximize the talent and a management that will not accept failure or mediocrity at any level – from advertising and ticket sales to the on-court product. Players know when an organization is totally committed and they tend to perform to a higher standard when everyone they encounter has the universal goal to be better than everyone else. If that attitude could be fostered, thing will turn for the better with the Wizards. We're about out of time. Thanks to Steve Wyche for being on Sports Online and to all who submitted questions.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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