- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

It would be easy for the Washington Wizards to open training today at Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University with the attitude that they have arrived.

After all, they posted their best record (45-37) in 26 seasons and reached the second round of the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time in 23 years last spring before being swept in four games by the Miami Heat.

Nonetheless, the Wizards gave every indication yesterday that they aren’t content with being a one-year success story.

“Being swept by Miami was an eye-opener,” said forward Antawn Jamison, who is fully recovered from offseason knee surgery. “I think it really stuck in the guys’ heads. If we had played better defense, there is no telling what could have happened.”

So the Wizards, who begin the regular season Nov. 2 at Toronto, will spend the next month trying to fine-tune a team that captivated the city last spring with its unlikely run after a 20-win improvement. To a man, the Wizards want to live up to the heightened expectations surrounding them.

“The city embraced us,” All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas said. “They’ve been waiting a long time, and we gave them what they want. Now we don’t want to come out here and have people saying, ‘Oh, they did it for one year, and now they’ve got to sit through [23 more bad ones].’ No, we are ready, and we are committed to winning now. We know the hard work it takes to become a winner, so you can’t slack off. There are only a couple of things we have to do, and that’s get better as players and as a team.”

The team had its share of changes.

The most notable is the departure of NBA first-team All-Defensive guard Larry Hughes, who signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

As part of the Big Three, Hughes (22.0 points per game) joined Arenas (25.5) and Jamison (19.6) as part of the league’s highest-scoring trio.

To soften the loss of Hughes, the Wizards have added quality depth, acquiring Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins from the Los Angeles Lakers for former No. 1 pick Kwame Brown. They also signed veteran guard Antonio Daniels.

Washington also improved its frontcourt, signing Calvin Booth to complement the center rotation of Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas.

With all the changes, the Wizards will need to develop team chemistry, one of their strengths last season. Butler, who is expected to pick up most of Hughes’ scoring burden, will have to make the fastest adjustment. But Butler, who averaged 22 points in the final 15 games of the season, said the transition shouldn’t be a problem.

“Last year the feeling was restored in Washington,” Butler said. “Last year, coming in at the end of the season with the Lakers, we saw some of the best fans I’ve seen all season in any facility. It was great. They backed their team 100 percent, and you saw it. I’m just happy [the Wizards] came and got me and now I’m a part of this movement. I want to keep the movement going.”

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