- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Kwame Brown’s uncertain status for the start of this season tempered the Washington Wizards’ enthusiasm yesterday.

And yet, it didn’t keep team members from believing they can contend for a playoff berth in the NBA’s newly formed Southeast Division. The Wizards are grouped with Miami, Orlando, Charlotte and Atlanta.

Brown, who underwent surgery in early August to repair a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot, ruled out the possibility he would participate in training camp, which convenes today on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Brown also had serious doubts whether he would be available for the Nov. 3 opener in Memphis.

“It’s all speculation now,” Brown said yesterday at the team’s annual Media Day, “but I’ve been told by doctors that I can be practicing at full speed by the end of November. I think it will be another six weeks, maybe two months before I can practice at full speed.”

Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said Brown, who suffered the injury playing pickup basketball in Georgia, would have to be re-evaluated sometime during this week’s training camp. Grunfeld did not set a timetable for Brown’s return.

“I think in 10 days or so we’ll have a much better feel,” Grunfeld said. “We don’t want to rush the healing process. Right now I’m not going to rule anything out; it’s going to depend on what the doctors say. But there is no time frame. It’s all going to depend on how he heals. We don’t anticipate any long-term problems with this.”

Despite Brown’s condition, management and players are optimistic about the upcoming season.

“I’m excited,” Grunfeld said. “I think we made some additions in the offseason that I feel are going to help us. We feel like we have made some strides and if we improve in certain areas I think we can make a real playoff run this year.”

The returning players from last season’s 25-57 team believe injuries — the team lost 224 man games, including 102 by Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Jerry Stackhouse combined — gave younger players a chance to get a grasp of coach Eddie Jordan’s offense.

“Now it’s going to be a case of us knowing what to do out there,” said Hughes, who averaged a career-high 18.8 points. “We have to fine tune the offense. So there is going to be more that we know about it this time. Our job is to make sure that the other guys get it.”

This offseason, Grunfeld brought in veteran players — from winning situations — to give the Wizards more experience and depth. And Antawn Jamison was the biggest addition.

Jamison, who the Wizards got from Dallas in a trade for Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and the No. 5 pick in the 2004 draft (Devin Harris), played with Arenas and Hughes when the trio was in Golden State. The team also added veterans Samaki Walker and Anthony Peeler. The Wizards believe the additions will improve both chemistry and the offense.

One of the league’s top 10 scorers over the last four seasons, Jamison (19.1 point career average) is considered one of the better team guys in the league. Last year Jamison, a career starter, accepted a reserve role in Dallas, spelling starters like Dirk Nowitzki and Antoine Walker. He did not complain or pout and was effective, averaging 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds and earning the NBA Sixth Man Award.

Last season Jamison, who leads all active players in consecutive games played (328), got his first taste of the playoffs. It is something the sixth-year pro believes can be replicated in Washington, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 1997.

“Gilbert and I had a real long talk when I got here,” Jamison said. “I told him that last year was my first playoff experience. I told him that my job is to continue that feeling, and that I want other guys here to continue that feeling. It’s not just going to happen; it’s a lot of work. … But the only thing that is going to make me happy is winning. Not making it to the playoffs is not a successful season in my eyes.”

Peeler, a 12-year veteran guard and a playoff veteran, last year led the league in 3-point field goal percentage (48.2). Walker, a 6-foot-9 forward who won a championship with the Lakers in 2002, should also help

“I think we are heading in the right direction. We have a lot of pieces in place. Now it’s time for the team to start sacrificing for each other. It has to be a total team effort for the whole thing to come together. So I’m excited,” Grunfeld said.

And it starts today.

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