David Aldridge
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 Friday, June 2
Give MJ a break for the Jarvis mess
By David Aldridge
Special to ESPN.com

 I am amused by no end at the number of (anonymous, mostly) folk who are lining up to take shots at Michael Jordan now that he's running the Wizards. The latest supposed Jordanian error involves the Wizards' pursuit of St. John's coach Mike Jarvis. The talks fell apart over the weekend, both sides went their separate ways. But only Jordan gets slammed around by the media.

Let me get this straight. Jordan made a mistake by not overpaying for a college coach who's won zero national championships, made zero Final Fours and one Elite Eight? It's a sign of Jordan's incompetence that, with $1.7 million still due Bernie Bickerstaff and $2.4 million due Gar Heard, he didn't just acquiesce to Jarvis' mouthpiece and give him the $4 million annually he was demanding?

I've asked this before; I'll ask it now.

What are you people smoking out there?

Who died and made Mike Jarvis John Wooden?

It always seems like I'm defending Jordan in these (cyber) pages, but that's only because people are being ridiculous in what they expect from him. The Wizards are an old, capped out team, the victim of bad personnel decisions, impatient ownership and indifferent players. Jordan came aboard five months ago, and he's supposed to a) play; b) show up for every game like a greeter at Bally's, as if his mere presence will will his charges to victory; c) get first-round picks or superstar talent for the likes of aging Rod Strickland and Mitch Richmond; d) find someone to pawn Juwan Howard's $17 million salary on; e) give Mike Jarvis anything he wants, just so basketball fans in D.C. can be treated to Jarvis' coaching excellence.

Oh, please.

Here's the dope. If Jarvis wanted the damn job, he would have gone to his agent, Rob Ades, and said 'thanks, Rob, I'll take it from here.' He would have called Jordan on the phone and asked to meet him somewhere, closed the door and hammered the deal out. He would have taken less base salary (the Wiz petered out around $2 million) because he has yet to prove himself at this level. Because he's wanted to coach in the NBA for about 10 years now!

Instead, Jarvis tried to hold the Wizards up. His prerogative, but why should the Wizards have to pay for it? When they said no, we won't pay you $6 million (Jarvis's initial salary demand), or $4 million, we'll hold onto our money, the lemmings in the media that can't wait to take their shots at Jordan, for whatever reason, lined up.

Contrast this with what's going on in Atlanta. The Hawks trade good guy Steve Smith for team killer Isaiah Rider, implode on cue, and fire Lenny Wilkens -- but, cowardly, wouldn't own up to it, getting Lenny to "resign" in exchange for the $11 million still due him. Isiah Thomas, who at the very least would sell some tickets in the worst sports town in America, all but prostrated himself on Peachtree Street for the gig while the Hawks hemmed and hawed. They offered Tom Izzo $3 million a year to leave college (unlike Jarvis, at least Izzo was coming off a title and had maximum leverage). He said no thanks, I'll stay in East Lansing.

They interviewed Minnesota assistant Sidney Lowe.

They interviewed Sacramento assistant Byron Scott.

And they hired ... Lon Kruger.

Um, Lon Kruger?

Nothing against Mr. Kruger, who's a pretty good, smart coach by all accounts. But were NBA teams lining up to bid for his services? He winds up signing for about $2 million a year, which is, I hate to point out, exactly what the Wizards offered Jarvis. But Jordan is a dope for not doubling that salary, while Pete Babcock and Stan Kasten are visionaries for holding the line? Did I miss something, or is John Calipari no longer coaching in the NBA? Is Rick Pitino in the Eastern Finals? Did Jerry Tarkanian last for two checks in San Antonio? All of a sudden, Mike Jarvis is the benchmark for how serious the Wizards are about rebuilding?

This is getting silly. The Wizards could hire Colin Powell next year and it's not going to change one blessed thing until they gut the roster and start over. And that's going to take time. My guess is that they'll find somebody to take Strickland this summer (Miami is my guess; the Wizards need a small forward and Jamal Mashburn showed signs of life -- until Game 7 against the Knicks, anyway). Richmond will go next summer. And there's talk that the proposal of some owners to average the salaries of big-ticket players like Howard that the league shot down a couple of months ago may be resurrected.

Michael Jordan does not need, or want, me to defend him. But he deserves time to try and straighten out the mess in Washington. The president gets four years. Congressmen get two years, for Barney Frank's sake. Hey, Jordan may wind up the worst executive this side of Ted Stepien.

But how the hell can you tell already?

What's up with the Spurs?
Gregg Popovich doesn't buy my theory that if Tim Duncan goes to Orlando or elsewhere in free agency, the Spurs will start their rebuilding process early and dispatch David Robinson for the best offer.

"For this year that's coming, no," Popovich said. "I would not move him. He deserves to end his contract ($11 million next season) and that would be the furthest thing from my mind, to trade him and start over." But he acknowledged that Robinson might well change his mind about staying if the Big Virgin goes elsewhere.

"He'd think about not playing much more seriously if Tim's not there," Popovich said.

Either way, it's a busy summer for the soon-to-be ex-champs. Popovich knows he needs a perimeter shooter no matter what happens. Mario Elie and Jerome Kersey are gone for sure; San Antonio isn't counting on Sean Elliott's return. Even if the Spurs re-sign Avery Johnson, it won't be for long. The Spurs won't promise Antonio Daniels the starting spot currently held by fellow free agent Johnson to keep Daniels around, Popovich said.

"If I had to say right now, I'd say (Johnson's) the starter," Popovich stated. "Tony knows. He's going through what (Howard) Eisley's going through with (John) Stockton, and Eisley's been doing it a lot longer. I think it's been good for Tony. He's made great strides this year."

The Spurs will enter the third year of Popovich's three-year window to contend next season. After that, San Antonio has just $13 million committed for 2001-02. That number will increase, of course, if Duncan sticks around. But if Duncan sticks around, there won't be much of a need to rebuild.

"I'm not going to spend time each day with 'he loves me, he loves me not,'" Pop said. "The organization is what it is. We'll talk at some time and he'll go on his 'campus visits,' as I call them, and he'll make his decision. And whatever he does, I love him."

Just a guess. He'll love him more if he stays.

Around The League
  • Gary Payton would like the Sonics to pursue a couple of Magic Men, I'm told: John Amaechi and Ron Mercer. He has made his peace with the fact that Paul Westphal is going to return, even though he doesn't think Westy is much of a coach. But Payton is going to demand that Seattle GM Wally Walker figure out a way to add a two, a center and re-sign up and comer Rashard Lewis. Payton saw Lewis busting Ruben Patterson regularly in practice the last two months and was impressed.

  • Lowe may have the inside track to Vancouver's job. The new GM, Billy Knight, is a fan. And although Chuck Daly is advising new team president Dick Versace -- and loves Pacers assistant Rick Carlisle -- Lowe may have won him over, too.

  • Before the Sixers decide what they're going to do with Allen Iverson -- it says here they'll wind up doing nothing; they can talk about winning curing all ills as much as they want, but it wasn't that long ago that the winning Sixers of Julius Erving's vintage couldn't sell out playoff games -- they have to figure out what Toni Kukoc wants to do. Kukoc told me after Philly was knocked out against the Pacers that he'll take all of July to decide what he wants to do.

    "I'll decide in early-August," he said. "What I like about being here is that it's a good team, a young team. With a couple of right things we can go even deeper in the playoffs. As far as other teams, I don't know if you're talking about the Lakers or Portland or Miami (I was thinking about them, I admit, but didn't mention any of them to the Waiter; he brought them up). They obviously have a great chance to win the Finals or (get) to the championship."

    Since the Sixers can pay him more than anybody, I wondered aloud if money would be the driving factor in his decision.

    "Money is not the most important thing in my case," Kukoc said. "I like to play basketball and winning a championship, it's something you can't get enough of." That's not what the Sixers want to hear, I think.

  • Keep this in mind when you hear Isiah Thomas' name come up for head coaching jobs. David Falk, agent to the stars, just happens to despise Thomas. And Falk still has juice in all the cities that just happen to have head coaching jobs: Vancouver (Bryant Reeves), Indiana (Jalen Rose), New Jersey (Stephon Marbury, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn) and Washington (Howard). Not that Jordan would get within a mile of Thomas, anyway.

  • Speaking of old Pistons, John Salley knows that Phil Jackson's constant whining about the officials during the playoffs has an effect. He saw it firsthand in Detroit in 1991, the year Jackson's Bulls finally overcame their eastern tormentors.

    "Phil sat around (the previous season) and said 'that's not the way to play basketball; these guys are thugs, they're trying to hurt our players; that's an illegal pick they always set at the top of the key with Bill Laimbeer and Isiah,'" Salley recalled. "Everybody in the league runs the same pick. Next year we have a game winning play and Bill goes up there and stands still and Isiah runs (John) Paxson off and they call a foul on Bill. Bill did not move. But Billy Oakes had read the paper and they wind up winning the game. I mean, the cat is unbelievable, man. He's Obi-Wan Kenobi."

    And when Jackson says the Blazers don't have a leader other than Scottie Pippen, it does the irritating work of a pebble in a shoe, Salley says.

    "It doesn't have to work on Scottie," he said. "It has to work on everyone around him who reads it. When they realize Phil is saying 'Scottie's the only leader you guys have,' that's when guys start saying 'I'm a leader, I'm a leader,' and that's when you start dissension."


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