Washington Wizards Coach Gar Heard classifies himself as a no-nonsense person who will bench ineffective or undisciplined players, make rookies carry other players' bags and order the team bus driver to leave behind tardy players.

However, Heard said he will not belittle players, will emphasize positives and will improve the team's self-esteem, which in turn will translate to victories and a possible playoff berth.

"I'm from the old school," Heard said yesterday during a luncheon with Washington Post reporters, editors, team owner Abe Pollin and team president Susan O'Malley. "I think rookies have to pay their dues. I don't care if they're the number one pick or the 59th pick. They have to carry the bags and [do] whatever the trainer wants them to do.

"As far as a screamer? No, that's not me. I don't think you get anything accomplished by yelling at guys. They respect you if you approach them as a man and explain to them how you want to do it. If they don't do it, you punish them. The best way to punish a player is playing time. You can't get anything accomplished sitting on the bench. They're making so much money now that you can [fine] them, but it doesn't bother them. It's a tax write-off anyway. As a player, nothing is more important than playing time."

Heard's approach is a major reason that Pollin is optimistic the Wizards will return to the playoffs after failing to do since 1996-97 and doing so just once since 1987-88.

"From what I did this summer, acquiring players and making deals, the most important and the best thing I did was hiring [Heard]," Pollin said. "He's the right guy to take our team to where we want to go."

Pollin is not demanding a championship this season, just enough improvement to make the playoffs, where, he said, "anything can happen."

Heard, who labored for 12 seasons as an NBA assistant coach and worked as the Dallas Mavericks' interim coach for 53 games in 1993, said he is up to the challenge of turning around a team that finished 18-32 in the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

His outlook is unaffected by the Wizards' inability to sign a starting power forward after allowing last season's starter, Otis Thorpe, to leave via free agency, and trading Ben Wallace and Terry Davis to the Orlando Magic for center Ike Austin.

Washington targeted, but failed to sign, free agents Mark Bryant, Samaki Walker and Grant Long. The team is interested in forward Chucky Brown but, according to Heard and Pollin, the Wizards are in no hurry to offer their $2 million exception to any of the remaining free agents.

"We are going to step back and we're going to wait," Pollin said. "We're not really that concerned."

For now, Washington will enter the season with Aaron Williams, a free agent signee who has spent most of his NBA career as a reserve, as the starting power forward. Starting small forward Juwan Howard will spell Williams, as will injury-prone forward Lorenzo Williams, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee three days ago, Heard said. Williams is not expected to return in time for the start of training camp, Oct. 5.

According to a team source, Washington also is exploring signing 6-foot-4 Reggie Jordan or 6-6 Chris Carr, both of whom can play either guard position.

Once the team's roster is set, Heard will implement an offensive system that will focus on motion and getting shots in transition. The team will play an aggressive defense in which players will begin guarding opponents before they get to half court, Heard said.

"We have to create situations where we can get the ball up the court," Heard said. ". . . I don't like to come downcourt, set up, hold the ball for 15, 18 seconds. We want to get the best shot possible and quick as possible. We have to be an up-tempo team because we're not a physical team."

A successful start will be critical for the Wizards, Heard said.

"The games you win early count just as much as the games you win late," Heard said. "If you can win games early, you get more confident with each other and you get more confidence, believe it or not, with the officials. You start getting different calls. We start winning early, and it will carry over."

A quick start also could bring back fans locally and nationally.

Entering the season, none of the Wizards' games is scheduled to be televised nationally on NBC or Turner Sports, the NBA's broadcast partners. The networks have the option of adding more appealing matchups as the season progresses.

"I think they will be coming back to us," Pollin said.

Only 6,200 of the 8,000 fans who bought full season tickets last season renewed for this season.

"We had a bad renewal season," said O'Malley, who projected that the team will have a season-ticket base of 7,500 when the season starts Nov. 2.

Heard said he has persuaded the entire team to report to the Wizards' training facility at MCI Center by next week. Roughly half the players, including guard Mitch Richmond, Austin, Jahidi White and Calvin Booth, and first-round draft pick Richard Hamilton, already have have been working out together at MCI Center.