Michael Jordan ended his playing career with the Washington Wizards amid hoopla, controversy and disappointment -- the perfect cocktail for potential changes within the organization.
But what those changes will entail remains unclear. Jordan will meet with Wizards Chairman Abe Pollin next week to discuss his return to the front office as president of basketball operations, a position he held from January 2000 until October 2001, when he resumed his playing career.
Asked to comment Friday on his plans for the franchise, Pollin issued a one-sentence statement through a team spokesman: "There is a lot to be done in terms of the future of the franchise and it's more than just player evaluation." Pollin declined repeated attempts to elaborate on his remarks.
Jordan, through a spokesman, also declined to comment before his meeting with Pollin.
One thing Pollin, Jordan and Coach Doug Collins can agree on is their disappointment in the team's failure to reach the playoffs. There were high expectations after the offseason acquisitions of Jerry Stackhouse and Larry Hughes and the addition of Hall of Fame-bound center Patrick Ewing to the coaching staff to help the team's young big men.
Instead, despite the weakened Eastern Conference competition, the team failed to reach the playoffs for the sixth straight year. After the final home game of the season, Collins -- under contract for two more seasons at roughly $8 million -- publicly cited players for disrespecting and cursing him. Players, in turn, shared their displeasure about Collins's coaching style and strategies and what one player described as a "hot and cold" temperament.
Collins did not back off his comments but he did say he did not live up to his duties.
"I'm disappointed that as the coach that I could never get the team to play at its highest level," Collins said. "That's my job and I never felt I could get everything pieced together. I feel badly about that for [Jordan], as well as everybody. Obviously you want to have a good team. We have good players but we just didn't fit. We just couldn't get the right fit. It's my job as a coach to get [us] to do that.
"I'm disappointed in myself. I feel very badly right now because I thought we'd be getting ready for the playoffs. That's not the case."
Stackhouse said that the Wizards (37-45) were uncertain all season of their "identity."
"We changed lineups. We changed personnel. Whenever we did that, we changed our style," Stackhouse said. "We changed the plays we ran -- constantly. We had plays like a football team. There was a point in the season when we said we would try a youth movement. Then we went with veteran guys, trying to focus on winning games. We did that for awhile then we went back."
The Wizards were "a team in disarray," NBA television analyst and former player Charles Barkley said Friday on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption." Barkley, who is a friend of Jordan's, also said the Wizards were a "broken organization" but hopes Jordan remains with the franchise.
Whether the failure to get to the postseason coupled with locker room tensions factor into Collins's job security remains to be seen. What is certain is that the on-court product won't focus on Jordan, to some players' delight.
"I like the makeup of the team that we have," Stackhouse said. "I think we're a better team than what our record shows. That's with Michael. Without Michael we could be just as good of a team. I look forward to that challenge and I know other guys in this locker room, even though they may not say it, are looking forward to that challenge, too."
The roster will be much younger without Jordan, 40, and departing free agent Charles Oakley, 39. Forward Bryon Russell, 32, can opt out of the final year ($1.5 million) of his contract, which he said he might do because he doesn't feel he is part of the team's plans. Some team sources said he is correct in that assessment.
Washington will have a top-13 draft pick because it failed to make the playoffs and a second-round selection. It also has the rights to last season's second-round draft pick, Juan Carlos Navarro, a standout guard from Spain.
Stackhouse can make the most impact on Washington's roster. He can opt out of the final two years ($14.3 million) of his contract, which would leave the Wizards -- who need a point guard, at least one perimeter shooter, a true small forward and an interior scorer -- roughly $12 million under the projected salary cap of $41 million.
That would allow Washington to pursue either a single big-name free agent, such as Jason Kidd, Gilbert Arenas, Andre Miller or Elton Brand, or multiple second-tier free agents, such as P.J. Brown, Eric Piatkowski or Stephen Jackson.
If Stackhouse decides to stay with the Wizards, the team will be roughly $5 million under the salary cap, which would allow it to sign a marginal free agent but also give it the flexibility to facilitate sign-and-trade deals or multi-team trades.
Because of its abundance of shooting guards (Hughes, Juan Dixon), the Wizards also could trade Stackhouse, whose relationship with Collins has been strained at times.
Stackhouse said he would wait a few months to see which direction the team appears headed before he makes up his mind but he has said several times he would like to stay in Washington.
"The biggest thing is to see the approach guys take in the summer," Stackhouse said about his criteria for returning. "There's no cavalry coming. There's no savior player. Maybe we can get a talented free agent that could help our talent pool that could take us up another level, but there's no savior. You have to get better in-house and that has to be the focus."
Jordan said Wednesday that if he returns as president of basketball operations, "We have got to find the right mix to move in the right direction. We may have to keep certain components on this team that we can utilize but then there are things on this team that I think we probably need to change or they need a different atmosphere."
Washington is not eager to trade second-year forward Kwame Brown, the No. 1 overall pick in 2001 who had another up and down season and was one of several players whose relationship with Collins grew frosty, a source said. Some sources feel Brown could improve next season simply because he could feel more at ease without Jordan on the court evaluating his progress, or lack thereof. But the Wizards would be more open to listening to trade talks concerning Brown than they have been in the past, a source said.
Dixon and fellow 2002 first-round pick Jared Jeffries, who missed most of the season after tearing ligaments in his knee, are held in high regard and certainly will be back, a source said. The Wizards also would like to re-sign two of their pending free agents, point guard Tyronn Lue and small forward Bobby Simmons. Everyone else could be traded, the source said.
"Until we get ourselves in the position where we consistently play the way we should play every night we have to make changes," Jordan said. "They may be minor but you still have to make changes."