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Jordan has a bumpy start

Wizards guru gets tangled in nasty coaching change. Darrell Walker gets the job.

Michael Jordan's first big management move with the Wizards turned out to be a confusing and bitter change of coaches.

As a result, Darrell Walker, who had been coaching a last-place CBA team, was hired as interim coach Monday.

Walker expected to become an assistant, but he moved up the ladder when Jordan's first choice, Golden State assistant Rod Higgins, didn't work out because the teams couldn't agree on a compensation plan. Players and staff were told Saturday night that Higgins would be the new coach, only to learn Sunday the deal was not completed.

"That was an unfortunate situation in that things did not work out properly with Golden State," Jordan said.

Walker was 41-90 in 1{ seasons with the Toronto Raptors before quitting in 1998, and he is leaving the Rockford Lightning, 13-17 and in last place in the CBA's Atlantic Conference.

Thrilled to be out of the minors, Walker used the word "fun" at least a dozen times at his news conference.

"It's a dream come true," he said. "Hopefully, I can be the guy who can turn this team around back in the right direction. It's not like we're going to jump up and run off 20 or 30 in a row. I just want us to go out, be competitive, get after people, play defense and have some fun."

But Walker, whose first game is tonight in Cleveland, was almost the bit player as tough parting shots were exchanged among the players, Jordan and fired coach Gar Heard. Jordan had to defend the timing and manner of Heard's dismissal, and Jordan, Rod Strickland and Juwan Howard rebutted Heard's allegation that his dismissal was due in part to agent David Falk.

Jordan was in Atlanta for the Super Bowl when Heard was fired Saturday night, immediately after the Wizards beat Cleveland. Jordan said he was deferring to the wishes of general manager Wes Unseld.

"I actually offered to (fire Heard) because that's my responsibility as president," Jordan said. "And Wes took the approach that "I hired the guy, I'll fire the guy.' My response to Wes was that this is the only time that you're going to be able to do this. From this time forward, I'm going to do the hiring, and I'm going to do all the firing."

From the day he was named part owner and president of basketball operations, Jordan gave Heard the cold shoulder. Heard said he wished Jordan had fired him immediately and suggested to several newspapers that Falk, the agent who represents Jordan, Strickland and Howard, was an intermediary to his demise.

"I didn't expect to be one of (Jordan's) guys, especially with the David Falk factor," Heard told the Washington Post. "Rod and Juwan, I'm sure they didn't have anything good to say."

Strickland and Howard, who clashed with Heard's old-school coaching style, reacted angrily.

"I wanted to be very diplomatic about this," Strickland said. "But instead, he's taking his little shots. He came in with a bulldozer mentality. He was like that every day, cursing, screaming every day. After a while, that gets old. We're grown men."

Said Howard: "I think that's disrespecting Michael when he says something like that because Michael's a very intelligent, respectable guy. He's his own man. David Falk don't control me. He works for me."

Jordan was more diplomatic, saying he fired Heard because the coach lost the players' respect. "He had some great knowledge about the game, but the thing that was very obvious _ and, unfortunately, it happened before I got here _ is he lost respect for the players," Jordan said.