Read between the lines, listen closely to the coded words that Doug Collins has been saying lately and you will hear an unhappy man.
Of course, Collins, the Wizards' head coach, is troubled not only by the absence of Michael Jordan and Washington's pronounced tailspin, but also by what he and his team aren't getting -- namely foul calls.
Collins has refrained from blatant criticism of the NBA's officiating crew, for fear of drawing a heavy fine for violating commissioner David Stern's "zip your lip" policy toward the league's referees.
But when Collins speaks of the "respect" that Jordan drew late in games, he can only be speaking of the relative dearth of foul shots the Wizards are getting.
Heading into Friday's game in Seattle, the Wizards had been to the line 37 fewer times than the opposition in the nine games since Jordan went on the injured list Feb. 26, and have lost the battle of free throws in seven of those nine games.
Granted, Washington's most prolific scorers not named Jordan usually pass up drives to the basket, and the contact that comes with them, for jump shots, and the Wizards' roster isn't dotted with the kind of big-star names that engender referee respect.
But even the big names aren't getting the calls these days, if the pattern of recent league fines is to be believed. Seattle coach Nate McMillan got docked $7,500 last week for popping off after the Sonics were pummeled in Dallas, on the scoreboard, and in McMillan's mind, on the floor by the Mavericks.
McMillan, a former Sonics player, was particularly incensed by the notion that Gary Payton wasn't getting calls. McMillan explained Thursday on a Seattle station that if Payton, a two-time Olympian, couldn't expect the benefit of officials' calls in a game, what hope could there be for little-known players on his roster?
And to think, someone involved in a game with the Mavericks was griping about officiating and it wasn't Mark Cuban. What are the odds?
Ray Allen, Sam Cassell (Dunbar) and Glenn Robinson are poised to make the Milwaukee Bucks the first team in 11 years to have three players average 20 points a game. Can you name the last team and the three players?
Speaking of the Bucks, someone needs to settle down their coach, George Karl, before he seriously damages his credibility around the league.
Karl, who has manufactured a feud with Orlando coach Doc Rivers, took it to another level recently with comments in an Esquire magazine piece that not only disparaged Rivers, but also called into question the qualifications of many black coaches around the league.
In the story, Karl said Rivers, who came to the Magic straight out of a television announcing gig three years ago with no previous coaching experience, has "been anointed. And that's OK. I understand that that happens, but it's not necessarily right.
"Doc does a great job -- and now there's going to be four or five more anointments of the young Afro-American coach. Which is fine -- because I think they have been screwed, deep down inside. But I have a great young [white] assistant who can't even get an interview."
Karl was speaking of his longtime assistant, Terry Stotts, who played for Karl when both were in the Continental Basketball Association, and has been on the bench with him since 1990 in the CBA and in Seattle and Milwaukee with Karl since 1993.
Stotts probably deserves a shot to run his own team, but Karl didn't help his assistant's chances by making remarks that imply that Rivers, who, in two seasons on the bench, has won the league's Coach of the Year award the first year and taken his team to the playoffs the next, is where he is because of the color of his skin.
Karl conveniently ignores the fact that successful white coaches, on the order of Collins and Pat Riley, came to the NBA with no previous head-coaching experience.
For his part, Rivers noted that Karl had no complaints when former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird got the Indiana Pacers job with no coaching experience and with nary a broadcasting stint, which would at least have given Bird a chance to observe the league before jumping in cold.
"I'll give George the benefit of the doubt," Rivers said. "I don't think he really meant it. At least I'm hoping. But I take it personal when it's about race. There is no place for that.
"The bottom line is that I don't think George has an opinion that anyone should listen to on this subject. I don't think he's been anointed as the coaches' spokesperson. He's just frustrated for his assistant coach. And he blames me for doing a good job. How silly is that? He's a solid coach, give him credit for that. But he thinks he's more than he really is. He has just put his foot in his mouth."
Hive of Hornets
It might not be wise for the Charlotte Hornets to pack up the moving vans for New Orleans just yet.
The Crescent City badly missed a target of 10,500 season tickets, set by Hornets owners George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge as a condition for a move from Charlotte for next season.
Now comes word that a key league owner, Seattle's Howard Schultz, has expressed some consternation about letting Shinn and Wooldridge pack up the team.
"When our fans in Seattle read about the arrogance, the hubris of owners just picking up and leaving, and the way that trust and confidence has been broken in that environment, it's very unhealthy for the NBA, and it's very unhealthy for me in Seattle," Schultz said.
Some league observers now believe that Wooldridge and Shinn might be forced to sell the team to a prospective owner who would keep the team in Charlotte. Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, has expressed interest, and would be the first minority to own a controlling stake in a franchise in one of the four major U.S. team sports.
"I've got to tell you, with my ego, and my confidence, and my arrogance, I didn't think I could handle it." -- Boston's Kenny Anderson on his transformation to a point guard who thinks pass-first instead of shooting first.
Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.