Eddie Jordan meets his top assistant, Mike O'Koren, at a Seventh Street Starbucks every morning. He always orders hot chocolate and a decaf Venti to go. He and O'Koren talk about players, their lives and then go about their workday. They start over the next morning. Same place, same order.
Boring, huh? A coach who lives between the margins and not on the fringes, a guy who eschews the drama for the routine.
The NBA is such a get-it-hot-now, Phil, Larry and Riles league. No one pays attention to the power of monotony anymore. They look past steady and stable and head right for the sexy name and the instant bump at the box office. Building a foundation is something John Wooden did.
At the end of this season, Jordan will have more tenure (three years) than any Wizards coach since Wes Unseld. He already has been with the same team longer than any current Eastern Conference coach.
"That says more about the profession than it does me," Jordan said in his office yesterday.
Still, after every marquee coach and stopgap in Washington -- after every emotional wreck and happy-to-be-here guys in between -- the former Archbishop Carroll High gym rat is still here. He is putting up wins and putting down roots.
Abe Pollin went through nine coaches in six years before Jordan. On the day the season opens amid real expectation for a change, there is no reason the owner should go looking for another.
The organization made re-signing Larry Hughes its No. 1 priority last offseason. Irrespective of financial issues, the Wizards didn't get it done. They cannot make the same mistake with their No. 1 free agent next summer: their coach.
"Eddie has done a great job," said Ernie Grunfeld, the team's president of basketball operations. "He guided us to the second round last year. We had a lot of adversity with injuries and lineup changes. He shuffled the deck very well and always had the players playing hard. And he plays a fun brand of basketball."
So . . .
"We'll deal with all that when the time comes," Grunfeld said.
Grunfeld is not being coy as much as he is realistic. Technically, Jordan is not a free agent next summer; his contract runs through the 2006-07 season.
But teams are paying ransoms for other teams' decent-to-good coaches and $10 million per to the deity of the moment. Wait till Pat Riley hits the open market again. Sending your established coach into the last season of his deal without re-upping makes him a lame duck in today's NBA, and the players know it. It becomes a major distraction, the way Larry Brown's courtship with Cleveland and New York late last spring distracted the Pistons.
The summer is probably a good time to take care of business with Jordan. But the Wizards may want to act sooner than later because the going rate for a sideline savior is rising much faster than Friendship Heights' housing prices. Jordan will not see Brown's reported $50 million over five seasons in New York or Phil Jackson's $30 million over three years to rejoin the Lakers.
But Nate McMillan left Seattle for Portland because Blazers owner Paul Allen was willing to fork over $27 million for five years. That's more than $5 million a year for a coach with less experience and less of a resume than Jordan, who currently makes about $3 million per season.
Jordan deflects any contract talk, saying he will deal with the issue when it's time and adding that he's very happy. But so is Larry Brown until someone waves more money in front of him. Then the loyalty expires and it's time to make someone else in some other city "play the right way."
The Wizards have some nice pieces this season, pieces that will take some time to fit together. In Jordan's constant-motion Princeton offense, they have three guards who like handling the basketball. How Gilbert Arenas, Antonio Daniels and Chucky Atkins make it work and move the ball will go a long way toward their success.
"With Larry, Gilbert knew what he was getting," Jordan said. "They respected each other and Larry was the quiet one. Chucky and Antonio like to talk, go at each other with jive. How does all that work? I don't know yet."
On his daily walk from Starbucks to MCI Center recently, Jordan encountered a homeless man whom he sometimes helps out.
"Make 'em play together, coach," the man said.
Somehow, Jordan usually finds a way. He took a team of alleged gunners a year ago and turned Antawn Jamison and Arenas into all-stars, putting Pollin's team into the second round for the first time in 23 years. The "curse" quips are stale material. Arenas may just be on the cusp of becoming one of the top five players in the game, a mission that Jordan wants to assist Arenas in.
Jordan likes to say Arenas "is in a different place right now."
"The team going to the playoffs was a big story and he had a terrific year," he said. "All that motivated Gilbert. Now what's it going to be? Is it starting in the All-Star Game? Is it 50 wins? Is it being first-team [all-league]? We'll see."
Arenas originally turned down Jordan's offer to be a team captain. Arenas didn't feel he was vocal enough and had other doubts, too.
But here's the thing: Jordan did not make a big to-do about it. Arenas begrudgingly accepted the offer and everyone moved on. Jordan was willing to wait for Arenas to gradually take the next step as a mature all-star.
The coach showed patience, tolerance and perspective -- all the things the league is no longer about and Eddie Jordan still is.