WASHINGTON -- Michael Jordan keeps saying the Washington Wizards have been underachievers. Fired coach Gar Heard and the players always talked about a chemistry problem.
Now, after a whirlwind first week on the job, one that required an emergency shipment of clothes from his wife, new coach Darrell Walker has a different explanation for the team's losing ways: lack of talent.
"We have some talent on this team, but we're going to have to get more talent, there's no question about that," Walker said. "We need a presence, a real dominant presence inside would be good for us."
That's a direct shot at Ike Austin, who is making $4.8 million to average just 7.4 points and 5.1 rebounds coming off the bench. The Wizards, who haven't had a dominant center since Gheorghe Muresan got hurt in 1996, gave up four players to get Austin in a trade with Orlando, but he's lost his job to second-year player Jahidi White.
Thus it's no wonder, as the trading deadline approaches, that president of basketball operations Jordan and general manager Wes Unseld are looking for someone willing to take on Austin's big salary and low output.
"I'm sure Mike and Wes are putting their heads together," Walker said. "We've got nice core of players, but we're probably going to have to get better to really see us start competing. I'm sure they're looking for somebody we can go inside to.
"When Jahidi goes out, we have no presence at all. I know that as a coach. That's why I'm not ranting and raving on the sidelines."
The Wizards (15-33), who play at Orlando on Wednesday, are 1-3 since Walker was hired. In their last two games, both losses, the opposing teams had 90 combined free throw attempts. The Wizards had just 35. In both games, White got in foul trouble and Austin was ineffective.
Charlotte, pounding the ball inside, took 55 free throws in the Hornets' 110-102 victory Saturday night. It was the most free throw attempts ever by a Wizards opponent.
"Some of them were legitimate fouls." Walker said. "I thought we were fouled some times and didn't get the call, but that's all back to respect. Come on, let's just be honest. You don't see me going crazy. I know what it's all about.
"I think we're on our way back to earning some respect because (referee) Dick Bavetta and different officials are going up to me and saying these guys are playing so hard. Eventually the word will get around."
To Walker's credit, the Wizards are playing with energy, enthusiasm and a sense of liberation since Heard's departure. Heard was stern and demanding, and Walker's "I'm a people person" approach seems a breath of fresh air.
"I feel it totally, in practice and in the game, much more energy," White said. "He can relate to the players. He's a positive coach. He motivates the players, encourages the players."
Walker, 38, has had a hectic time getting settled in his new job. He was coaching the Rockford Lightning in the CBA, spending his evenings watching the NBA on TV because there was not much else to do, when Jordan contacted him about being an assistant under Rod Higgins once Heard was fired.
But the Wizards never hired Higgins, an assistant at Golden State, because the Warriors wanted compensation. Suddenly, Walker was the head coach.
His first week's schedule: four games in five nights. That's not much time to get to know new players and the team kept running out of gas playing Walker's more aggressive defense. Walker himself started running out of clothes and had to call home for more.
"I'm going home Thursday," said Walker, anxious to see his wife and five children in Little Rock, Ark. "To heck with the All-Star game."
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