WASHINGTON -- Only the venue had changed. Darrell Walker's new position as the interim coach of the Washington Wizards isn't much different from the job he just left with the Rockford Lightning of the Continental Basketball Association. Or from his first stint as an NBA head coach, three years ago with the Toronto Raptors.
He is trying to improve the fortunes of a last-place team.
Walker, whose 10-year NBA playing career included four seasons with the Washington Bullets in the late 1980s and early '90s, had intended to come here this week as an assistant under Rod Higgins. But Higgins, an assistant with the Golden State Warriors, was not made available to the Wizards after the teams haggled over compensation.
So Michael Jordan gave the job to Walker for the remainder of the season.
The decision to hire Walker, 38, came two days after Jordan fired Gar Heard 44 games into Heard's first season as head coach and 10 days into Jordan's already tumultuous tenure as the team's president of basketball operations and minority owner.
"When I talked to Darrell, I was very straightforward," Jordan said during an afternoon news conference yesterday at MCI Center. "I told him he had an opportunity to coach this team and at the end of the year, we were going to evaluate coaches and players.
"In saying that, it certainly gives Darrell some incentive and motivation. Until we get this thing back on track, I'm not going to make any guarantees past the obvious."
Jordan did put some pressure on Walker, saying that the playoffs were not completely out of reach for a team that will take a 14-30 record into Cleveland tonight.
"We're going to really have to get some things in gear, play hard and play like I think we're capable of playing," Jordan said. "If some adjustments come up, in terms of trades and opportunities to make this team better, certainly we have to be an organization to take those opportunities. We certainly have an opportunity to make the playoffs, but I'd like to see an effort in that direction."
It was something Jordan didn't see during the five games since he joined the team's front office, a span that included wins over Indiana and Cleveland but also losses to Dallas, Atlanta and Toronto.
But Jordan said that his decision to fire Heard had as much to do with the lack of respect among the players as the team's record, the worst in the Atlantic Division.
"In my evaluation of Gar, he had some great knowledge about the game, but it was very obvious and unfortunately it happened way before I got here, he had lost the respect of the players," said Jordan. "I didn't see any signs of him getting that back. The onus has been put back on the players."
Many of the players certainly didn't appear too upset to see Heard fired. What bothered some was to see comments made by Heard in response to their immediate reactions Saturday night.
Point guard Rod Strickland said Saturday, "It's been tough around here. The atmosphere hasn't been too good. It's been a lot of negativity," to which Heard replied, "He's the most negative of anybody. There's got to be a time when you're going to stop blaming everybody but yourself."
Said Strickland: "The bottom line is, maybe he couldn't coach. He came in with a bulldozer mentality. He was always barking, cursing and screaming every day. That gets old."
Nor did Jordan seem pleased to hear that Heard had pointed a finger at his agent, David Falk -- who also represents Strickland and Juwan Howard -- for having a role in Heard's firing.
"When you're disappointed, quite naturally you start reaching out for some different types of straws," said Jordan. "He said he thought David Falk changed my mind or initiated the firing -- that's totally incorrect."
Walker, whose relationship with Jordan stems from their being teammates with the world champion Chicago Bulls during the 1992-93 season, said, "I'm just happy to be here.
"Anytime you get a chance to coach in the NBA or do anything in the NBA it's a golden opportunity. To me it's like a dream come true. I played here, I played hard here, and hopefully, I can be the guy to turn this team around and get us going back in the right direction."
Said Jordan, "When I talked at the press conference [two weeks ago] about being able to look in a player's eyes to see the fierceness and certainly the dedication and challenge he presented to me -- Darrell certainly carries those qualifications."