Pissed by Inconsistent Teammates, Michael Jordan, Seeks Greater Role

Washington Wizards guard Michael Jordan, pissed by the performance of his team's younger players during a three-game losing streak, said yesterday he is in favor of increasing his playing time, even if it leads to a career-ending injury.

"I'm not concerned about [injury]," said Jordan, 39, who agreed to fewer minutes this season to prevent a recurrence of the right knee problems that forced him to miss 20 games last season. "I know they are. Doctors are supposed to be conservative, especially with a guy who's about to turn 40. I might not make it to 41 -- who knows?

"I'd rather live in the moment. I'm a guy who'd rather live for now."

In elaborating on remarks he made following an 11-point loss to the previously winless Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night, Jordan said the main reason he wants to play more is because he feels there is too much inconsistency among the team's younger players.

"If they step forward and play, I may not get the increase in minutes and you won't hear me gripe," Jordan said of Brendan Haywood, Kwame Brown and Etan Thomas. "If they don't play well and we're not winning, we've got to go to an area you can count on and I hope they can count on me from a coach's standpoint."

Averaging 28 minutes per game this season, Jordan said he feels he can deliver regularly. Second on the Wizards with a 15.7 points-per-game average, he has played as a reserve in Washington's 13 games. But if Coach Doug Collins "wants to put me in the starting lineup, believe me, I'll be ready," he said.

"You can save all you want, but if you don't get to where you want to go, by the end of that time I may be healthy, but I may be playing golf in April or May. So if I feel good, which I do feel good, I'd rather get on the court and play."

Collins has resisted Jordan's overtures to play him more this season in order to keep Jordan healthy for the 82-game season. Hired last season by Jordan, then part owner and president of basketball operations, Collins said he would take Jordan at his word if he feels he can play more.

"I've tried to keep my eye on that but you know what, I don't think Michael wants me to keep my eye on that," Collins said. "Michael feels that he's strong enough to do those things, so I'm going to trust in my conversations with him about the way he feels and we'll go from there.

"All the eyes are on me about the minutes, but I also have to trust him. It's his body and he knows what he can and cannot do," Collins said. "He and I have to have a real trust with each other and I trust him to the highest level. What I don't want to do is be forced into him playing heavier minutes because other guys aren't performing and he tries to carry the load.

"If we're going to win we have to have other guys to play well. And then, the minutes that he plays aren't heavy minutes. When you're carrying the load, those are heavy minutes. When you're playing when other guys are playing well you can pick and choose your spots."

Jordan said he does not want Collins to feel pressured to play him more and that his desire for an increased role is because Washington (6-7) has lost three straight games.

"I don't want to handcuff Doug in terms of what he foresees in trying to build for the future, to let the guys grow," Jordan said. "If we're winning and the other guys are playing well, I'll be over here cheering and wishing everybody the best. . . . Everything is predicated on how these young kids play."

The "young kids" Jordan referred to are forward Brown and centers Haywood and Thomas; the latter has played little this season. Jordan said rookie forward Jared Jeffries has done very well for this being his first season in the NBA.

"Kwame, Brendan and Etan, they've been under the system for a couple years and we expect consistent play coming from those guys," Jordan said. "They've shown great signs. They've shown some growth. They need to show that consistently."

Brown, Haywood and Thomas are big men and Jordan is a guard, which begs the question: Whose minutes would Jordan take if his playing time increases because of their shortcomings?

"I'm not the coach," Jordan said. "Doug's going to have to read the situation, read how the guys are playing, how I'm playing, how the rhythm is going over the course of the game and make the judgment accordingly."

Jordan and Collins said the Wizards' recent woes can't be blamed solely on the young players and that everyone has to improve. For the most part, though, the veterans have been pretty solid, Jordan said. He did say that converted shooting guard Larry Hughes, who might not play tonight because of a strained right wrist, "is going to have to exert more point guard skills and [make] sure everybody blends together from a starting five situation."

Collins admitted, "I'm still trying to figure this team out. . . . We've only played 13 games but, at the same time, we're in a situation where our schedule is real hard, so I got to learn quickly."

That could be tricky.

"You've got a lot of players [who] are very fragile and, the minute inconsistency deals with less playing time, then all of a sudden it's like, 'Coach has given up on me, he doesn't trust me anymore,' " Collins said. "From a coaching standpoint you're saying, 'I can't lose games.'

"When you have delicate, fragile situations, sometimes that's walking that tight rope and that's what I have to be able to try to do."

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