The similarities are eerie. A quick glance at Michael Jordan’s stats from the first game in his second comeback last week in New York closely resemble his stats from his his first game in his first. That night in 1995 against the Indiana Pacers Jordan played 38 minutes, scored 19 on 7-for-28 shooting with six assists and five rebounds.
Jordan played 37 minutes last Tuesday night, scored 19 on 7-for-21 shooting with six assists and five rebounds. In his first comeback, Jordan dropped 55 in game five against the Knicks and won three consecutive championships.
Should we expect the same this time around? Fifty-five against the Boston Celtics this week? Probably not. Three Wizards championships? A resoudning no.
This time, Jordan has the rest of the Wizards as his supporting cast, a far cry from the great players he was accustomed to playing with in Chicago. Even if the 38-year-old Jordan can reclaim his greatness, which is questionable, the pieces around him are not comparable.
Richard Hamilton is a budding superstar, but he’s no Scottie Pippen. Jordan had Dennis Rodman, the league’s leading rebounder, under the boards in Chicago. In Washington, the top rebounders are Popeye Jones and Jahidi White. I’m not making this up.
And don’t forget the coaches. Jordan and company are no longer under the tutelage of Phil “Zen Master” Jackson, but rather Doug “I’m really just a figurehead” Collins. Jackson’s teams have always stepped up at key times to overcome issues of cohesiveness (Shaq and Kobe, Rodman and everybody). Jordan’s success will not be his alone. It will be a result of the other players around him – players that, as of now, remain large question marks.
Realistically, the Wizards should hold their own in the marathon that is the NBA season. Very few teams in the Eastern Conference are exceptional, and the bottom playoff spots should be wide open. I’d like to pull my own Jim Fassel here and proclaim “this team is going to the playoffs.” Come mid-April, the Wizards will march into the first round of the playoffs, which is a huge step in itself. But they will be convincingly beaten by a better team.
Jordan’s key advantage is his uncanny ability to make everyone around him much better. Take Pippen. While he flourished next to Jordan, he hasn’t accomplished anything in the NBA since. This year’s Wizards roster is filled with journeymen: Christian Laettner, Jones and young players Courtney Alexander and struggling child Kwame Brown. They all have room to grow, and who better to foster their growth than Jordan?
The bottom line is this: as president of basketball operations, Jordan was looking to bring a marquee player to the Wizards. Unhappy with any of his available options, he chose himself. He got his marquee player, and he can now play the game he loves for two more years.
The Wizards have made the best free agent acquisition in the history of the NBA. They spent the league minimum (a salary of only $1 million, which Jordan donated to charity) on a player that will help improve this team in every facet of the game. Jordan can get it done, so look for the Wizards to double last year’s win total of 19 and earn a playoff berth. Just don’t count on any rings just yet.