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Tapscott hopes to give Wizards new identity

By Joseph White
Associated Press / November 27, 2008
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WASHINGTON - After his first win as an NBA coach, Ed Tapscott congratulated his players in the Washington Wizards locker room by reciting the goals they had achieved.

They had outrebounded the Golden State Warriors. They had held the Warriors to their season-average field goal percentage and below their average 3-point shooting percentage.

"And one of the things I told them," Tapscott said, "I was very proud we held them under their free throw average. They shot 69 against us, and they normally do 72, so our free throw defense was really solid."

Silence. No one got the joke.

"They sat there," Tapscott said. "They thought I was serious. At least they're taking me seriously."

What a shame. Good humor has been hard to come by this season with the Wizards, whose 1-10 start got Eddie Jordan fired and Tapscott hired as interim coach for the rest of the season. Emotions were mixed following Tuesday night's 124-100 victory over the Warriors, with the general sentiment best expressed as "How did it all come to this?"

"The most important thing is, we've got to have pride," forward Antawn Jamison said. "We were 1-10. Guys in this locker room want to win."

Despite the record, Jordan's firing was a surprise because injured starters Gilbert Arenas and center Brendan Haywood haven't played this season, and because there was no sign of splintering among the players. All signs indicated the Wizards were a united locker room.

"I had some of my best years under Coach Jordan," Caron Butler said. "He's a guy that I consider a friend outside of the business, a lifelong friend. Just to see him go, that was tough."

Butler then turned the poignant moment into a funny one by comparing Tapscott to President-elect Barack Obama because, among other things, "he stands for change."

"Guys just rallied around one another, rallied around the new coach and accepted Tap with open arms," Butler said.

It was an appropriate segue. The fact that Tapscott was the choice should help the players get over their old coach. He and Jordan have similar personalities, right down to the fact that both are natives of Washington. Tapscott has been the team's director of player development for more than a year, developing solid rapports as he spoke about life skills outside basketball.

"You do a lot of one-on-one stuff with people," Tapscott said. "You get to spend some time with guys in a way that you may not in other ways. I think that's helped."

Of course, it also helps that Tapscott was given a gift of a first game. The Warriors were a so-so team on the second game of an East Coast road trip and started a player - Jamal Crawford - who had been with them for only one day. It's not uncommon for teams to play with a renewed zeal for a game or two after a coaching change; the true test comes over the long term, when the Wizards realize their lineup is just as depleted and raw under the new guy as it was under the old one.

"The thing you want to do with a team is somehow be greater than the sum of your parts," said Tapscott, whose second game will be Thanksgiving night at home against Orlando. "And we haven't achieved that yet."

Tapscott will tinker with the lineup and try to emphasize defense - of course, Jordan tried that, too - but the Wizards' hope for the season is that he can help them grasp some sort of intangible that was missing during the first weeks of the season.

"We talked about signature," Tapscott said before Tuesday's game. "Everyone has a signature. You're identified by it. How you sign your checks. How you sign your mortgage. It's your signature that carries a certain weight and gravitas about you. When you say 'the Washington Wizards,' I want there to be a signature thought in your mind about what this team does, and I think we're still in the process of developing that."

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