Veteran forward Charles Oakley said yesterday that the Washington Wizards have shortchanged their fans this season and cited their lack of commitment to winning as the reason the team trails the Milwaukee Bucks by one game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"The same thing has been going on all year," Oakley said. "We're struggling and we shouldn't be struggling. We've got a lot of talent. Michael and [Jerry Stackhouse], a lot of veterans. Guys just aren't getting it. I don't know why. This late in the season, we're trying to make a run for the playoffs. Then if you [back into] the playoffs you're still going to lose because you don't know [what it takes]. When you get in the playoffs under .500 that means the league is weak.

"I think the team should be a lot better and the fans have been short [changed], cheated out of a lot this year. They've been really loyal, selling out. We should be in the playoffs, a fourth or fifth seed. We shouldn't be struggling to get in the playoffs. The fans have been behind us all year and we owe them that."

Oakley also said the league's talent base is watered down by the abundance of young players who would rather focus on getting the latest throwback jersey instead of working on improving their games. When asked to assess Wizards forward Kwame Brown, last season's No. 1 overall pick, Oakley was blunt.

"When you're the number one draft pick and not starting you need to look in the mirror at yourself and say, 'What's wrong?' " said Oakley, who has tried to mentor Brown this season. "We're not in the playoffs so if I'm the number one pick and not starting, I got to take that responsibility on my shoulders. It ain't nobody else. I'd be kicking [butt] because I'm supposed to be in the lineup if I'm a young guy and the number one pick.

"Ain't no excuses."

Oakley also disputed Coach Doug Collins's assessment of the veteran's swollen right knee. Based on an examination by the team's medical staff yesterday morning, Collins said that Oakley may be out for the rest of the regular season, but Oakley -- who underwent an MRI exam yesterday afternoon -- said that projection was premature.

"For Charles to say he can't go, he's got to be missing a leg," Collins said.

However, Oakley said if results of the MRI, which are due this morning, deem him fit, he would only sit out if Collins opts to keep him on the bench, where he spent the past six games in dress suits.

"I'm still healthy even though they say I'm injured," said Oakley, who then went back and forth about the severity of his injury. "I don't know what's wrong. I'm going to get it checked out. This morning I got it X-rayed and they said it was okay, a bruise. I'm wearing a suit, walking around every day. A bump and bruise. . . . We have to wait and see."

Guard Larry Hughes also underwent an MRI yesterday on his sprained right ankle, but he could be available to play tonight against the Sacramento Kings at MCI Center.

Collins said yesterday morning's exam of Oakley's knee showed enough of a potential problem, possibly with cartilage, to prompt the MRI for the 40-year-old. Oakley said he's had some pain but that it was nothing new.

"It's been swollen a couple times all year," Oakley said.

Oakley began having problems with his knee after he got kicked in a game at the Detroit Pistons on March 14. He was available to play the next two games against the Miami Heat and the Pistons and then he practiced the day before Washington's game at the Phoenix Suns on March 21. His knee swelled the morning of the game and he was advised by the Suns' doctor not to play, Oakley said. The knee remained swollen the rest of the trip.

Oakley said even if his knee is damaged, the Wizards (34-39) wasted his potential effectiveness this season, causing him to question why he signed a one-year deal to join the team.

"I've been available for 73 games and I played in about [42]," Oakley said. "I'm going to try to keep myself healthy for myself and go from there."

Collins said he knows Oakley has been bothered by his lack of action.

"I'm sure Oak wanted to play 25 to 26 minutes a night," Collins said.

Oakley is averaging career lows in points (1.8), rebounds (2.5), minutes (12.2) and games played. He said this season has been more frustrating than last season, which he spent with the youthful and terrible Chicago Bulls. Asked what direction he was leaning toward in terms of possibly re-signing with Washington next season, he said: "I'm going to be leaning in my truck, traveling."

Collins said, "Charles has talked about wanting to play some more but I don't think it will be here."