Washington Wizards guard Michael Jordan said it's way too early in the season to determine whether using him as a substitute is the right strategy. And he isn't alone in his assessment. In fact, he, along with Coach Doug Collins and several teammates, said three games -- two of which were losses -- are hardly a yardstick for measuring how good the Wizards will be.
"It's hard to say if it's working out or not working out," Jordan said of his reserve role after Washington's 87-79 loss to the New Jersey Nets on Saturday. "At the end of games we're competing. Myself, I'm starting to find a little groove and I think Doug is going to find me some longer stretches, but it's too early to determine if it's successful or not."
Collins said he isn't going to give Jordan, 39, a heavy load just because the Wizards are 1-2. He feels that it is too early in a long season to risk burning out Jordan, who had surgery on his right knee last season.
"I'm not going to manage out of panic," Collins said. "When you do that you do the wrong thing. Michael would like to play 48 minutes, but we can't do that."
Jordan played a season-high 27 minutes against New Jersey, including 15 in the second half, and nine in the fourth quarter, when he scored 14 of his 21 points. As in Washington's 45-point win over the Boston Celtics on Thursday, Jordan came into the game around the six-minute mark of the first and third quarters. He has had consecutive 21-point games after scoring eight in the season opener against Toronto. Collins waited until four minutes were left in the first and third quarters to get Jordan on the floor against the Raptors.
Collins doesn't feel playing Jordan more at this stage is the key to making things work. Collins said the Wizards' fortunes depend more on meshing the eight new players with those who were already here and his ability to find the right combinations. That, Collins said, will take time. Jordan agreed.
"Until everybody fits into a certain role and we live up to those responsibilities and make a complete game out of it, it could be up and down the first six or seven games, maybe longer," Jordan said. "We've shown good signs of being a good team but we've certainly shown signs of it going the other way. Sooner or later we're going to get the right mix. It's going to fall in place.
"Give us a good month. . . . Then if it's not working we have to look at other situations. After three games I don't think we want to push the panic button."
Collins has been tinkering with the lineup since the opener, when he started Christian Laettner at center instead of Brendan Haywood, roles that have been reversed the past two games. Laettner has been effective playing mainly in the high post. He has been hitting shots from 15 feet and finding cutting players. He has also worked well in tandem with Kwame Brown, who has been used at power forward and center.
Tyronn Lue has played heavy minutes at point guard, in part because starter Larry Hughes has been slowed by a bruised left knee and foul woes. Jordan and Jerry Stackhouse are learning to play together and things appear to be gelling with the all-star swingmen.
These are the things Collins has to sort out, especially since the Wizards have a mix of talented veterans and young players. The balancing act isn't easy, Collins admits.
"This is a work in progress," Collins said. "I'm trying to get young guys in there. I start a second-year player at center in Brendan. Kwame, for all intents and purposes, it's his first time playing. Larry Hughes is new with us. Stack is new with us. Bryon Russell is new; Jared [Jeffries]. We've got a lot of new faces."
Stackhouse, Washington's leading scorer (21.6 average), said even though he realizes chemistry is not formed overnight, the Wizards have too much talent to not be playing more cohesively.
"We can say that until May," Stackhouse said of trying to incorporate new players. "It's just a matter of having to buckle down and play a little bit harder and put ourselves in a position to win."