The Washington Post
As a player, Michael Jordan always wanted the ball in his hands for the last shot of a close game. His confidence was imperial. He loved the opportunity to come through in the clutch when others might be paralyzed by self-doubt or fear of failure. Now, as an executive, Jordan finds himself in a similar situation. His Washington Wizards have the first overall pick in Wednesday’s NBA draft. After 20 years of being mediocre or worse, the franchise can make huge progress with one pick. This moment is exactly the reason the Wizards gave Jordan a stake of the team to come aboard as president of basketball operations. To make the tough personnel decision, just as he once took the pressure shot. What Jordan does in this “game situation” may be more important to his team than any one shot he ever took in his career — even if it decided an NBA title. This time, many seasons — perhaps a decade of them — will be affected. Jordan knows it. “My neck’s on the guillotine with this first pick and I’m so indecisive,” Jordan said this week. Well, it’s time to get decisive. If Jordan selects a player who ends up becoming a star like Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett, he will certainly add at least 100 wins to the Wizards total over the next 10 years. But if he selects someone like Sam Bowie, the player taken No. 2 overall in the 1984 draft (one spot in front of Jordan himself), then he may do several years of damage to his franchise and his own reputation. So, does Jordan “want the ball” in this situation? Or is he running away from the play? For now, it looks like he wants it. According to The Post’s Steve Wyche, Jordan will likely make the Wizards the first team ever to use a No. 1 overall pick to select a high school player when they choose 6-foot-11 forward Kwame Brown. The Wizards will continue to explore trade possibilities, but seem ready to select Brown. Choosing Brown constitutes going way out on a limb. That’s risking looking like a fool if the kid is a head case or a washout. That’s truly trusting your own “personnel judgment.” If his Airness isn’t capable of evaluating young talent and “projecting” a few years into the future, then who on earth is? In fact, if Jordan can’t do it, why would you want him to run your team? If Jordan takes the big shot, and the big chance, on draft day, then it’s a good sign about his career as an executive. Even if he’s wrong this time, he may have a fine front office future. But how can you succeed at anything if you don’t relish the risk inherent in doing your job? Jordan’s task is to look at Brown, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry (another high schooler), Seton Hall freshman Eddie Griffin and everybody else in this draft and then say, “That’s my guy. In a few years, he’s going to be a great one. And I’ll help him get there.” However, if Jordan trades the pick, that’s worrisome. As 7 p.m. approaches, he’ll get offers from old front office pros-confident in their own judgment — who want the ball in their hands, not his. If Jordan trades down, he might as well admit he passed the ball because he didn’t have the decisiveness to take the big shot. Statistically, you get a No. 1 overall pick in the modern NBA about once every 30 years. It’s your chance to change the history of your team. You shouldn’t use it to get two good players — a young veteran and a lower first-round pick. Instead, you try to pick a future Hall of Fame. If Jordan makes a trade, then says “this was a weak draft class,” then you may be listening to a classic cop out. When you can’t pull the trigger, you blame the choices, not the chooser. In fact, it’s a rare NBA draft that doesn’t have a great player on the board. To paraphrase a certain shoe company, “Just find him.” In his draft-day Eden, Jordan may find himself tempted by a familiar NBA apple: trade down and pray that the guy you really wanted at No. 1 is still available. Jordan loves a wager. If he pulls off such a deal, and still gets Brown or Chandler, it’ll be as much good luck as good management. If he ends up with anybody except his true heart-of-hearts No. 1, it’s not worth it. While a trade is a poor idea, picking Shane Battier is probably a downright bad one. If Jordan takes that road, it’s worse than passing the ball. It’s an unforced turnover. He’s classy and educated like Tiger Woods and civic-minded and dutiful like Cal Ripken. But, please, don’t draft him. If Battier works out well, he’ll be Juwan Howard or Tom Gugliotta. Or he could be this year’s Danny Ferry — which is not something to be ashamed of. You could hardly find more similar careers than those of Battier and Ferry, both forwards at Duke. Ferry’s senior numbers (22.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists) were actually better. Both may also have maximized their talent at the college level, due to good character, hard work and long exposure to a top coach. The consensus in this draft is that the great futures belong to the high schoolers. So, they’re coming out early. Would basketball be better served if players couldn’t turn pro until they were 20? Is the college game being damaged by the NBA’s skim-the-cream policy? Will we feel scared for the teenagers who get handed the world on Wednesday? Yes, on all counts. But that’s not Jordan’s problem to solve. Somebody is going to grab Brown, Chandler and Curry early in the first round. It might as well be the Wizards.
Which should it be? The buzz on Chandler is that he’ an L.A. kind of guy, accustomed to being given the kingly treatment. Brown is from small-town Georgia and may be more grateful for the chance to learn from Jordan and new coach Doug Collins. If all things are equal, take Brown on his good character references. But are all things equal? That’ why you have Michael Jordan aboard. From evaluating talent to having intuition into a player’ competitive character, nobody in the basketball world should be more equipped to make this call than he is. Just like the old days, Jordan has the ball and the whole sport is watching. The lane’ clogged. Here comes the double team. He’ got no easy choices. Should he dish? Or should he create. Take it on himself. Trust himself. Risk failing. Don’ pass, Michael. Take your best shot. We’l live with it.