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The Big Twenty: The Michael Jordan era with the Wizards

The Big Twenty: The Michael Jordan era with the Wizards

NBC Sports Washington is rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 7.

Throughout the 59 seasons in Wizards/Bullets franchise history, there have rarely been times where the team was at the forefront of the national sports conversation. And some of those instances have not been for good reasons.

That was not the case in the early 2000s, as the biggest star to ever to play in the NBA decided to trade in his executive suite for a Wizards uniform and return to the game. Michael Jordan, the greatest player in basketball history, announced his second comeback to the NBA on Sept. 25, 2001.

Jordan had previously only played for the Chicago Bulls, but he had joined the Wizards organization the year before as part owner and president of basketball operations. His brief tenure running their front office was unsuccessful and included the infamous decision to draft Kwame Brown with the first overall pick in 2001.

But as a player, he proved he could still compete with the best in the NBA despite playing for the Wizards at Age 38 and 39. In his first season, he averaged 22.9 points in 60 games with 5.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.4 steals. His second and final season saw him average 20.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He played 37 minutes a night and appeared in all 82 games.

The Wizards didn't make the playoffs in either of those seasons, the first in part because Jordan missed 22 games due to injury. But they were some of the more entertaining years in franchise history.

Jordan scored 40 points or more eight times with the Wizards. He dropped 51 against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 29, 2001 at the age of 38. That was the record for oldest player to score 50 until Jamal Crawford did so at Age 39 last April.

Jordan didn't have the same vertical leap or burst of speed with the Wizards that he did with the Bulls, but he still got buckets because he was the smartest player on the floor. He used old school moves in the midrange to light up opponents who were half his age.

And he still had the knack for making clutch shots. Jordan sank a series of buzzer-beaters, including one against the Phoenix Suns and one against his longtime doormat, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Jordan's most famous late-game shot as a Wizard, however, was in the 2003 All-Star Game. He knocked down a fadeaway over Shawn Marion, one of the league's best defenders at the time.

Throughout those two years, the Wizards sold out games at home and on the road. At away games, No. 23 Wizards jerseys peppered the crowd. Wizards gear could be seen in major cities all around the country. He made the Wizards more relevant than they have ever been since the name was changed from Bullets in 1997.

Jordan's tenure, though, ended on rocky terms. When he finished playing, he left the organization altogether. It was a clean break, no return to the front office or any involvement with the franchise whatsoever.

And his departure was capped with a famous picture of Jordan driving out of the arena and onto 6th St. in his Mercedes convertible. The greatest NBA player of all-time had left the building.

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Troy Brown Jr. closing game at PG is perfect example of value Wizards see in Disney restart

Troy Brown Jr. closing game at PG is perfect example of value Wizards see in Disney restart

The Wizards were the final team included in the NBA's restart in Orlando, FL and with that brought some potential pitfalls, some of which Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans certainly weighed for themselves before choosing not to go. There is also the potential they hurt their lottery odds or even get screwed by the league's adjusted lottery rules.

But the Wizards chose to look at the situation as glass half-full and not half-empty. They embraced the opportunity to play more basketball and viewed the final 11 games (three exhibition, eight real ones) as a unique circumstance for player development.

On Monday in their loss to the Pacers, we saw a perfect example of that. They played a certified perennial playoff team, one with an airtight defensive structure. And they were able to push them at the end while using a lineup completely full of young players.

The final lineup for the Wizards, from the 5:56 mark on, had Troy Brown Jr. at point guard, Jerome Robinson at the two, Isaac Bonga at the three, Rui Hachimura at the four and Thomas Bryant at center. All five players are 23 or younger and Bryant, now in his third NBA season, is the most experienced of the bunch.

Head coach Scott Brooks saw immense value in that stretch where he was able to put some of the Wizards' youngest players into unfamiliar roles.

"We have to see what we have in a lot of different positions. These are great minutes," he said. "That's why we're here. We're here to get better and we're here to improve."

Most notable was the backcourt. Though Bonga, Hachimura and Bryant have taken on more responsibility with Beal and Bertans out, they have played those positions in crunch time before.

For Brown and Robinson, it was a different look from what they are used to seeing. Robinson would normally be sitting in favor of Beal and Brown would not be playing point guard. Ish Smith or Shabazz Napier would instead be out there, depending on who had the hot hand.

Brown has played plenty of point guard in his life, and he holds a preference for the position. But he has only played it sparingly so far in his two NBA seasons, not enough to even register on his Basketball Reference position estimate breakdown.


On Monday, Brown got to let loose and be the floor general. He responded well with three points and three assists during the final six minutes. The Wizards were down 13 when he checked in and cut the lead to seven before Indiana closed them out.

"I enjoyed it," Brown said. "For me, it felt natural. Today, I had more turnovers than I would like. But I feel comfortable calling out the offense, bringing the ball up and just initiating the offense and getting us into a flow."

It wasn't much, but it may have been a preview of more to come. Brooks, in fact, suggested Brown could start at point guard in one of the team's remaining five games. 

"There might be another game where Troy maybe starts at the point, you never know. He has to be ready," Brooks said. "We have played him in that before. We did it during the season and I wouldn't be surprised if we did it sometime during the next five games."

Brooks wasn't asked about Brown potentially starting at point, he brought it up himself. If he does go that route, it would make plenty of sense.

The Wizards are using their time at Disney World to develop young players, which they have plenty of. But they don't have one in their usual point guard rotation. Brown can play the position, so if they fully commit to playing youngsters, he would be the guy.

The Wizards' final five opponents are tough ones: the Sixers, Pelicans, Thunder, Bucks and Celtics. Those teams feature some really good point guards like Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Eric Bledsoe, Jrue Holiday and Kemba Walker. 

But two match-ups stand out as arguably the best for Brown. With Ben Simmons now playing forward, he could try his hand against Shake Milton of the Sixers, whom the Wizards play on Wednesday.

Or, what would be really intriguing is when the Wizards play the Pelicans in their following game, on Friday. New Orleans has Lonzo Ball, who is about Brown's size and would be great barometer for him on both ends of the floor. 

Either way, if Brooks does indeed give Brown a game to start and play heavy minutes at point guard, the Wizards' time in Orlando will all of a sudden become a lot more interesting.

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5 takeaways from Wizards-Pacers, including Rui Hachimura's match-up with T.J. Warren

5 takeaways from Wizards-Pacers, including Rui Hachimura's match-up with T.J. Warren

The Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 111-100 on Monday afternoon in Disney World. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

Expected result

We knew the road was going to get tougher for the Wizards after they started out with the Suns and Nets, two of the worst teams the NBA brought to Orlando. And even with Victor Oladipo out for rest and Domantas Sabonis injured, the Indiana Pacers still possess far more experienced talent than the Wizards do.

Washington was able to hang around in the first half, but the Pacers blew the doors open in the third quarter and coasted to victory. T.J Warren had another big game with 34 points and 11 rebounds.

The result of the game, though, is secondary to what the Wizards' young players did, and there were some positives in that regard. Troy Brown Jr. (10 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds) and Thomas Bryant (20 points, 11 rebounds) were solid. So was Jerome Robinson (17 points), who is producing more consistently now than ever before.


Another off-day for Rui

We are starting to see the effects of Rui Hachimura being moved up the scouting report. After he went for just nine points against the Nets on Sunday, he managed only nine points on 4-for-12 shooting against the Pacers. He was harassed by one of the NBA's best defenses and should be able to take some lessons away from the experience.

Hachimura, by the way, got to spend much of the game matching up with Warren, who made waves recently with a 53-point game against the Sixers. It was fascinating to watch because Hachimura and Warren's games are very similar.

Warren, in fact, might be one of the best comparisons to Hachimura in today's game. While many have focused on Kawhi Leonard, that is arguably unfair to Hachimura. Leonard is the best wing defender of his generation and has the chance to be an all-time great. Hachimura isn't known for his defense at all, at least not yet. So, it makes little sense.

Warren, on the other hand, is a gifted scorer who began as a midrange killer and has expanded his range to add a three-point shot, just as Hachimura will hope to do. They also have nearly identical builds. And if Hachimura follows the same track as Warren, who is now a fringe All-Star, that would be just fine.


Rotation changes

Losing their first two games in Orlando was enough to convince head coach Scott Brook to shake things up. He pulled Shabazz Napier from the starting lineup for Ish Smith and also turned to Admiral Schofield early and more often. Schofield appeared to take the place of Jerian Grant, who actually played quite well the day before.

As for Schofield, it was good to see him play more, though he didn't play particularly well. He had logged only six minutes so far in the seeding games and was a DNP on Sunday. They need to play him more just to see what he's capable of, as this is their best chance to get film on him in NBA situations. Though he just joined the organization as a second round pick last summer, minutes are going to be much harder to come by next season. He needs to be given an opportunity.

Regarding the point guard spot, it would be nice to see Brown get a real, extended look there by the end of the Wizards' time in Orlando. Point guard is really the only position the Wizards don't have a young guy to let loose. Both Smith and Napier are veterans. 

But Brown can play there and given this is becoming entirely about player development, the Wizards should let him play at least one game with 30-plus minutes at the one. Maybe you don't do that against the Thunder or the Celtics where Chris Paul or Kemba Walker could eat him up. But what about against the Pelicans? Let him go toe-to-toe with Lonzo Ball for 35 minutes. Maybe he shows you he can be counted on at point, where he has said he would prefer to play long-term.

Napier stepped up

After getting demoted to the bench, Napier responded well. In fact, Brooks pointed Napier out as a player he wanted to see more from, just as he did with Brown and Bryant the day before. They bounced back accordingly, and so did Napier. Maybe there was a cause-and-effect.

Napier came out blazing with 11 pts in his first nine minutes on 5-for-7 shooting. He ended up with 16 points and four assists.

That was good to see because, remember, Napier is an impending free agent. Everyone focused on Davis Bertans, who decided to opt out, but Napier has a lot riding on this offseason as well. And because of that, he has a lot to gain in Orlando. It would be a shame if he were to fizzle out at this point in the year.

Points in the paint

The Wizards got decimated by the Pacers in the paint where they outscored Washington 62-44. Warren hurt them and so did Myles Turner, who had 17 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.

That, of course, is not a strength area for the Wizards' defense. Bryant and Moe Wagner (5 points, 5 rebounds) aren't exactly known for their rim protection.

And as it all transpired, it sort of made you realize how much the Wizards could use a guy like Turner. If you recall, he was reportedly available not long before the trade deadline. If Indiana starts picking up the phone again, the Wizards would be smart to give it some consideration.

He led the NBA in blocks last season, is only 24 and is on a manageable contract. He would be a great fit alongside John Wall, Bradley Beal and Hachimura. And the Wizards really need a shot-blocker to shore up the defense behind Wall, who is likely to struggle on that end more than he will on offense coming off of his injury.

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