Michael Jordan said he was going to have his imprints all over the Washington Wizards' franchise and yesterday, he set his plan into action.
In his first full day on the job as president of basketball operations, Jordan gave pointers to players at practice--as a bystander, not participant--then met with General Manager Wes Unseld and Coach Gar Heard late into the afternoon to discuss team personnel.
As Jordan left Unseld's office at MCI Center for his chauffeur-driven SUV parked underneath the rafters, he declined to comment to the assembled media that had waited for hours.
"It was busy, it was intense," Unseld said of the meeting. "There's a lot he's trying to garner and there's a lot I'm trying to give him.
"We talked about what I see as far as personnel is concerned and what he saw as far as personnel, and where we are as far as the rules and regulations that we have to operate under."
After watching the Wizards lose to the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night, Jordan spoke with a handful of players until past midnight. He also spoke with Heard. He was digging for information on every element of the team, one player said.
Jordan then got a close look at the Wizards during the early part of a spirited two-hour practice. He did not work out with the team, but he made his presence felt. Jordan might practice with the team next week, Heard said.
"He did some coaching," said guard Mitch Richmond, who didn't practice because he is on the injured list with a broken right rib.
Heard said that he did not feel undermined by Jordan.
"He gave the guys some advice which was good," Heard said. "Maybe if they listen to somebody else, they'll pay more attention. I thought it was pretty good. He gave the team pretty much the same advice we've been preaching all year. Hopefully they'll respond to that."
After practice, Jordan and Unseld met behind closed doors for several hours. It is believed they explored several trade scenarios, although Unseld had been doing so for weeks. Unseld, who declined to comment on any potential deals, said the Wizards are not necessarily prevented from making deals because of the hefty contacts of some if their players, most notably forward Juwan Howard's seven-year, $105 million pact.
However, salary cap restrictions could make some trades--particularly any deal involving guards Rod Strickland and Richmond--difficult to make.
"We're not handcuffed because of contracts, we're handcuffed because of rules," Unseld said. "Looking at other teams, there are problems that everybody operates under now with this new collective bargaining agreement. It's just not easy."
Jordan said, "Everybody is disposable," at the news conference Wednesday to announce his hiring. Yet some players did not see that as a threat.
Strickland said earlier in the season he would not mind playing elsewhere, but said Wednesday that Jordan's arrival had changed his thinking.
"I don't think anyone thought they weren't disposable before he got here," Strickland said. "That's not a big issue. He's going to come in here and make the decisions he thinks need to be made to make the team and organization better."
The Wizards (12-28) will try to avoid their third six-game losing streak this season when they face the Indiana Pacers at MCI Center tonight. Jordan is not expected to be in attendance but he is scheduled to be back with the team Sunday, after the Wizards return from Atlanta.
"We have to get the right chemistry to get this going in the right direction," Heard said. "You don't need five great players to win in this league, but two or three good players and maybe a great player. We have a lot of role players, and we have to find somebody to step up and take that leadership role.
"It has to be someone on the team. . . . It can't be done by somebody from the front office. It has to be someone on the floor."
The Wizards' front office, meanwhile, wasted no time in capitalizing on Jordan's popularity, placing small posters advertising 2000-2001 season-ticket packages featuring Jordan's picture in front of the box office at MCI Center. A Wizards spokesman said the phones rang steadily throughout the day about ticket availability, although most calls were inquiries, not necessarily confirmed sales. Susan O'Malley, CEO and president of business operations, declined to say how many season-ticket packages had been sold yesterday.
Wizards Note: Rookie guard Richard Hamilton, who missed Wednesday's game with the Mavericks to attend his grandmother's funeral in Pennsylvania, is expected to start against the Pacers.
Staff writer Athelia Knight contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Michael Jordan gave the Wizards advice "we've been preaching all year," said Coach Gar Heard, second from left.