-- Washington Wizards Coach Doug Collins, his team mired in a six-game losing streak, made the decision early this week to switch to a more veteran-laden lineup. The move has resulted in two straight victories -- and bruised egos of some of the team's younger players.
Second-year power forward Kwame Brown, who was benched in favor of veteran Christian Laettner, said today that he understands Collins's desire to win now. But last season's first overall draft pick said he was unsure of himself and his role after playing 23 minutes combined over the past two games -- four minutes fewer than his per-game season average.
"I don't know how to take it," Brown said. "Like it's my fault we were losing. [Collins] said he's trying to get my confidence back, but putting me from first to third string isn't what I would call a confidence helper. Whenever he puts me in, I just have to go in and play.
"It's a tough situation knowing under that pressure if you do something wrong you're coming out. I know how it is. Once something's working and if I'm not involved in what's working, I probably won't see the floor. You never know."
Rookie small forward Jared Jeffries, one of the first players off the bench earlier this season, also has seen his minutes dwindle, mainly because Michael Jordan, as of three games ago, is starting at his position and veteran Bryon Russell is the main backup.
Jeffries said he also understands the decision to go with more experienced players.
"This is a different kind of a mind-set you've got to get into," said Jeffries, who has played three minutes over the past two games. "You've got to teach yourself mentally how to concentrate for long periods of time on the bench because you never know when [Collins] might put you in there. If you don't play well when he puts you in there, you might not get a chance to play for a while.
"I've got to try to prove myself in practice and get better every day, so he's got pressure to put me out there."
For more than a week, Collins said he knew any changes would cause some hurt feelings, but he added that the Wizards can't be like the Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies or Cleveland Cavaliers, where losing is tolerated under the guise of a growth process.
"What we're trying to do is win games," Collins said. "At the same time we've got to get our younger players better. Throughout the league teams playing a lot of young players struggle. We can't do that. It's a balancing act and right now we're playing some of the older players."
Some of the Wizards' younger players have seized their opportunities since the lineup changes went into effect. Backup center Etan Thomas logged 23 minutes in the victory over Milwaukee on Tuesday, playing especially well in the second half. Starting center Brendan Haywood played a career-high 40 minutes, including the entire second half, at Detroit on Wednesday.
Haywood's and Laettner's performances against the Pistons were so solid -- Laettner played the entire second half as well -- that not even veteran forward Charles Oakley was summoned for relief. It's all about sticking with hot players, regardless of tenure, Collins said.
"You can put younger players in a game and if they play well I'll keep them on the floor," Collins said. "You can't just throw young players out there because they're high draft picks and say, 'Play.' That has to be earned."
With all that, Collins said he and the team's management haven't lost sight of the big picture: winning while nurturing.
"It's a juggling act, no question about it, but we're in it for the long haul and we're in it to make the playoffs," Collins said.