When Michael Jordan plays his final game tonight in Philadelphia, it will complete a storied playing career and begin a potentially tumultuous offseason for the Washington Wizards.
Jordan wants to re-assume his duties as president of basketball operations after he files his retirement papers with the NBA this week. That in turn could determine whether Coach Doug Collins, forward Kwame Brown and swingman Jerry Stackhouse, among others, remain.
"Let's hope we get that squared away ASAP," Collins said. "We need to get everything in place in terms of the hierarchy and how it's going to be so we can start moving in the right direction."
Jordan, 40, who served as president of basketball operations from January 2000 to October 2001, when he came out of retirement to play, will meet with team chairman Abe Pollin late this week or early next week. They will negotiate their possible reunion as the top power brokers in the organization. Neither of their demands appear unreasonable, a source said yesterday.
Jordan is believed to want the final say on basketball issues, which he had before, and he may also want to add some front-office personnel, the source said. Jordan also plans to reacquire the equity he had as a member of Lincoln Holdings, which owns 44 percent of the team.
Pollin apparently would like to have Jordan in Washington more than he was during his first stint as president. Jordan did much of his business from Chicago, where his family lives. He also said he wants Jordan to build him a winner.
"As soon as Michael's ready, we'll talk. I'll be ready," Pollin said. "It's going to be what he wants and what I want and it's going to be a combination of what his desires are and what mine are. Until that happens there's nothing more I can say other than we're going to try and sit down and see how it goes."
Should they come to terms, Jordan, General Manager Wes Unseld and the rest of the basketball operations staff would begin assessing talent for the draft lottery, exploring trades and figuring out which free agents they will pursue.
If Jordan and Pollin can't come to terms, the role of shaping the roster would likely fall to Unseld, who ran basketball operations before Jordan's arrival and has been the team's top basketball executive during Jordan's time as a player.
If Jordan leaves, he probably won't leave alone. Collins, his staff and some of the members of the basketball personnel office whom Jordan hired -- assistant general manager Rod Higgins, director of player personnel Fred Whitfield among them -- could be either fired or leave voluntarily.
"I'll be here as long as Michael wants me here," Collins said.
The expansion Charlotte franchise, which begins play in 2004, is expected to offer Jordan a stake in the team and a high-ranking front office post but Jordan, a North Carolina native, insists Washington is his first choice. The Chicago Bulls passed on Jordan's services Monday, hiring Jordan's former Bulls teammate and radio broadcaster John Paxson as the team's vice president of basketball operations.
"I have options," Jordan said.
If Jordan is back, Collins, who was hired by Jordan months before Jordan returned to play, is expected to return to fulfill the third year of his four-year contract. On Monday, after Washington's loss in its home finale, Collins said some of his players "disrespected" him throughout the season and credited Jordan for defending him.
The public airing of locker-room tensions did not sit well with several players, who privately said they felt Collins singled them out to enhance his stature. The tensions may mean some players won't be here next season if Jordan is put back in charge.
"Our pieces don't fit," Collins said. "When you look at it Atlanta's roster is better than us. New York's roster is better than us and they are behind or even with us. Chicago is going to be better than us and we got all those teams ahead of us, so we have a lot of things we need to do."
Jordan agreed and admitted that some of the problems with personnel are of his own doing.
"I'm not saying I shy away from some of the decisions we've made as an organization," Jordan said. "In terms of what happened with this team and some of those changes, I will never walk away from those decisions because I was involved with them."
If Jordan returns, he said he plans to rectify some of his mistakes by being aggressive with trades and in free agency and making a solid selection with the top-13 pick the team will get since it will be in the draft lottery.
Washington needs to acquire a shooting guard to complement point guard Tyronn Lue, a free agent the Wizards hope to re-sign. The Wizards also need a consistent outside shooter and a post-player with some toughness and offensive skills, Jordan and Collins have said.
Much of what the Wizards do will be determined by Stackhouse, the team's leading scorer who can opt out of the final two years of his contract. If he does, the Wizards can renounce him and free up roughly $12 million in space under the salary cap to pursue free agents. If Stackhouse does not exercise his option, Washington will have roughly $5 million in cap space.
Stackhouse wants to be back but said he will wait a few months before he makes his decision. He hinted that his decision could partially rest with Jordan's future with the franchise.
"I'll wait and see what happens with the team, wait and see what happens with Michael," Stackhouse said. "First things first, try to find out what's happening with our organization internally. From there, start talking about what we're going to do to start piecing together the team. That's important to me, to see what direction the team is going in."
Depending on who is making the personnel decisions, the Wizards could make Brown, the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, available in a trade. The Wizards have resisted trade offers for Brown in the past, fearing he would subsequently develop into one of the league's top players, such as former Wizards Chris Webber, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace. However, if the right bait is dangled, Brown could be gone, a team source said.
The Wizards will listen to offers for nearly every other player as well.