Winning brings its own special rewards, Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan learned during the offseason.

"A lot of free drinks," Jordan joked when asked about the response he has received around Washington this summer. "Lots of free drinks. That's always fun."

There was a time when most Washingtonians couldn't pick out the Bullets/Wizards head coach if you gave them a media guide.

After the Bullets finished 24-58 under Wes Unseld during the 1993-94 season, a seemingly endless procession of coaches took turns sitting in the big chair, including Jim Lynam, Bob Staak (one game), Bernie Bickerstaff, Jim Brovelli, Gar Heard, Darrell Walker, Leonard Hamilton and Doug Collins.

Only Bickerstaff managed to lead the franchise to the playoffs, and none of Jordan's immediate predecessors won a playoff series or captured the hearts of Washington sports fans.

"I got the sense that people are a lot more satisfied with the stability of the program," said Jordan, who is the longest-tenured coach in the Eastern Conference along with Miami's Stan Van Gundy. "We have a good group of young guys, a good core and a coach that has been here more than two years. People, I think, are happy about the stability."

As the Wizards get ready to report to training camp in Richmond tomorrow, there are signs that things are changing under Jordan, a Washington native who is entering his third season.

After winning 25 games in Jordan's first season, the Wizards finished 45-37 last season, posting the franchise's best record since Dick Motta's Bullets kept the fat lady from singing on their way to a 54-28 record in 1978-79.

The Wizards also overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs, giving the franchise its first playoff series victory since 1982.

Despite losing defensive ace Larry Hughes to Cleveland via free agency, Jordan is excited about the additions of Caron Butler, Chucky Atkins and Antonio Daniels, and confident that the Wizards can build on last season's success.

Still, Jordan and the Wizards will face several challenges this season as they attempt to meet team president Ernie Grunfeld's goal of becoming a perennial playoff contender:

* Aside from the statistical impact of Hughes -- who posted career highs in points (22.0), rebounds (6.3), assists (4.7) and steals (2.89) and might have joined Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison as all-stars had he not fractured his right thumb in January -- the Wizards will have to reestablish the chemistry that flowed throughout the team.

Arenas and Hughes played off each other like a basketball version of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, and their uncanny feel for one another impacted the entire roster.

"The most important thing about camp and the preseason will be getting some chemistry going with the new guys," center Brendan Haywood said. "Last year, we knew where everyone was going to be on a certain play, how they were going to react to a certain defense or where they wanted a pass. It's going to take some time before we have that again."

* The Wizards will have to create that chemistry quickly before facing an Eastern Conference that markedly improved over the summer. Miami re-signed Udonis Haslem and added Gary Payton, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and James Posey.

Indiana gets all-star Ron Artest back after he was suspended for most of last season. Detroit has a new coach in Flip Saunders but kept its core group intact. New Jersey, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, New York and Orlando arguably made headway.

"Everyone got better in the Eastern Conference," Jordan said. "Everyone."

* Opponents will no longer look at the schedule, see "Washington" and assume they are in for an easy night.

"We aren't going to sneak up on anybody this year," Jamison said. "Last year, maybe there was a sense that yeah, they are the same old Wizards. Now that we had some success, got to the playoffs, people are going to be up for us. We have to be ready for that challenge every single night."

Jordan's first task will be integrating the team's newcomers. Butler, Atkins and Daniels must become familiar with their teammates while learning Jordan's Princeton-style offense. One of the areas where Jordan says he's changed since his first season is in the teaching of the offense, which emphasizes ball movement and screening and cutting away from the ball.

"My philosophy going into the third camp is: less is more," Jordan said. "Let's concentrate on what this team did well the last two years. If we did 10 things on offense and they executed six of them better than the other four, let's stay with those six. In the first year, we just threw it all out there so we could find out what the guys can handle."

Jordan's growth as a head coach has been witnessed by the man who helped introduce him to the business, Wizards assistant Tom Young. It was Young, then the head coach at Rutgers, who recruited Jordan out of Washington's Archbishop Carroll High School in the 1973.

When Jordan's professional playing career ended in 1984, Young hired him as an assistant coach on his staff at Old Dominion. Jordan returned the favor by adding Young to his staff when he was hired by the Wizards.

"I think he has a lot more confidence . . . because you gain that confidence each year you are in it as a head coach," Young said. "He's more confident because he's had success. In coaching, success breeds success."

"We have a good group of young guys, a good core," said Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan, who hopes to improve his team's 45-37 record from last year.