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Pistons run smoothly with castoff parts from Wizards

SOME TIME IN the next few months, the Detroit Pistons should send a thank-you card to the Washington Wizards, and portraits of center Ben Wallace, forward Rasheed Wallace and guard Richard "Rip" Hamilton.

The Wizards can't put together a championship-caliber team in Washington, but they can in Detroit, courtesy of Wizards owner Abe Pollin, former team president Michael Jordan and general manager Wes Unseld.

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The Wizards' discards have turned into the Pistons' treasures, with the NBA team becoming a source of pride again in Motown.

In Washington, it's an embarrassment again, but fitting. After all, this is an organization that has given us first-round busts like John Williams, Anthony Jones, Melvin Turpin, LaBradford Smith and Calbert Cheaney. This is a team that selected Kenny Green over Karl Malone in the 1985 draft.

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When was the last time the Wizards actually developed a star player?

The answer: Back when Terms of Endearment won an Academy Award for Best Picture and Ronald Reagan was president and the United States invaded Grenada. The year was 1983, and the player was guard Jeff Malone, then the Bullets' No. 1 draft pick out of Mississippi State.

You can't blame present coach Eddie Jordan or general manager Ernie Grunfeld. This mess was here long before they arrived in Washington. There was some legitimacy in the departure of the three players, but the moves were also based on egos and an impatient front office.

Jordan said Hamilton, the team's first-round pick in 1999, was traded for Jerry Stackhouse after the 2001-02 season because he wanted a contract extension worth $8 million per season, which was too high.

Bad move by Mike, but he had other ones, like hiring coaches Leonard Hamilton and Doug Collins.

Hamilton averaged nearly 20 points a game in the last two of his three seasons in Washington, but he also missed 17 games with a pulled right groin muscle in his final season. Jordan wanted a player to carry the team for three quarters of a game, so he could take over in the fourth.

Hamilton couldn't handle that role. Once out of the lineup, Jordan labeled Hamilton as soft, and sent him packing.

Jordan had a similar problem with Stackhouse. He promised Stackhouse he could be the next "Jordan" in Washington, but Jordan wasn't quite finished being the old Jordan.

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There weren't enough basketballs to go around, and Stackhouse has been disgruntled ever since. Meanwhile, Hamilton has become a rising star averaging 21.4 points a game in the championship series against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Pollin was responsible for giving Rasheed Wallace the pink slip. The power forward averaged 10.1 points in his first season after being the fourth overall pick in the 1995 draft, but Pollin became disturbed by Wallace's on-the-court antics.

It was the stuff that has followed Wallace throughout his NBA career -- the fights with referees, the ejections, the disruptive attitude in the locker room. After one season, the Wizards traded Wallace to Portland for Harvey Grant and Rod Strickland, whose on- and off-the-court problems eventually got him booted out of town by Pollin, too.

The problem, though, is that Pollin still lives in the 1970s and '80s. Players are coddled more now. They are more high maintenance, bigger babies. They are knuckleheads. Instead of running players out of town, or running out of patience so quickly like he did with Chris Webber, Juan Howard and Wallace, Pollin should have found a coach who can connect with modern-day players, like Detroit's Larry Brown.

You don't have to kiss up, but you have to get them to play for you.

Sure, Brown and Wallace have the North Carolina connection that commands instant respect, but Brown is part coach, part father, part mother and part psychologist, the epitome of a modern-day coach. He communicates effectively with most players on their level.

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Since coming from Portland (with a short stop in Atlanta), Wallace has been relatively quiet (for him, anyway). He has settled in, content to play defense and flex his rebounding muscle underneath with Ben Wallace, another Wizards castoff.

At least with Ben Wallace, you understand why he was let go by the Wizards. He was a free agent out of Virginia Union with a limited offensive game. He was only going to fit with a team that had legitimate scorers and needed role players. Wallace has developed into one of the league's most dominant rebounders and defenders.

It's a shame the Wizards traded him after only three seasons. He's just another one of the players that got away, another player the Wizards had no patience in trying to groom.

Maybe just as disturbing is that the Wizards got almost nothing in return for these players. Instead, this has been an organization more concerned with sideshows than building a team. The Wizards gave us a freak show with the diminutive Muggsy Bogues, and the long and tall Manute Bol. They gave us the game's ultimate attraction in King Michael, even though his skills were fading and he had no previous experience in player personnel.

And last season we got Maryland II, the sequel starring the old cast of the Terps' national championship basketball team.

Maybe one year the Wizards will give us a bona-fide team with developed players, much like they gave the Pistons this season.


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