- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 6, 2006

Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown got a little tongue-tied after Game 5, which stretched into the early hours of Thursday morning, when the Washington Wizards’ Gilbert Arenas — who scored 44 points in a losing effort — came into the Cleveland locker room to congratulate former teammate Larry Hughes.

“After Game 5, I did my interview and I was walking down those stairs in our building and I opened the door and Gilbert was there in street clothes,” Brown said last night. “I was so caught up in what he did on the floor and trying to figure out how we can slow him down a little bit. I wanted to tell him, ‘Gilbert, you’re a great player. What a great game.’ I had all this stuff planned when I saw him.”

It didn’t quite work out that way.

“I stumbled over my words and my thoughts,” Brown said. “And the only thing I could say was, ‘You’re good! You’re good!’ And I shook his hand. And he laughed at me and walked up the steps. I couldn’t even get out, ‘You’re a good player.’ ”

Brown chuckled heartily as he told the story.

“I appreciate his game a lot,” he said of Arenas. “He’s a very, very good basketball player on his way to being a great player.”

Jordan goes off

Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan didn’t attempt to mask his anger late in the first quarter when he thought LeBron James got away with a foul on Arenas.

Jordan — and Arenas — thought James fouled Arenas on a layup attempt after Arenas stole a pass with the Wizards up 24-16 with 30.3 seconds left in the quarter. Arenas was knocked to the floor and when he got up to complain about the no-call (a foul was eventually assessed to Hughes for fouling Jared Jeffries), he was immediately assessed a technical.

Jordan had to be restrained by his assistant coaches from charging the court. He received another technical, which further angered the coach.

Rival GM praises moves

One Eastern Conference general manager watching this series said the moves the Wizards made last summer — allowing Hughes to leave via free agency, trading for Caron Butler and signing Antonio Daniels — have worked well.

“I think that if you look at what they got, as far as value, they’re better now — not just for this year but in the future — than they would have been had they stuck with what they had,” he said.

To begin with, he said, the Wizards got Butler and Daniels this season for a combined $7.4 million in salary. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are paying Hughes $12.3 million.

But that’s not all. In reality, the Cavaliers will pay Hughes more than $14 million this season because of a clause in his contract that guaranteed him more than $2 million in bonuses if the Cavaliers won more than 45 games.

“I think that Caron is going to be an All-Star in the very-near future,” the GM continued. “I know that next year he’s going to have his salary bumped up [to around $5[ThSp]million], but they are still going to come cheaper than Larry will. Don’t get me wrong: Larry is a very good player. But one of the reasons the Wizards didn’t keep him was because he has a reputation of being fragile.”

Hughes, who averaged 15.5 points this season, appeared in just 36 regular-season games. Over the last six seasons, the most games he has played in a season is 73 (2001-02).

Meanwhile, Butler averaged 17.6 points in 75 games, and Daniels, the Wizards’ most consistent player off the bench, averaged 9.6 points in 80 games.

“No, they didn’t win as many games as they did last season,” the general manager said of the Wizards. “But they are deeper. And I think they are also tougher than they were.”

James and Arenas

While visiting Hughes after the game, Arenas spotted LeBron James, who scored 45 points and had the game-winning shot in overtime.

Arenas kiddingly told James that he messed up his chance to again be “Mr. Game 5.” In last year’s playoffs, Arenas hit the winning shot against the Chicago Bulls in Game 5. James is first in scoring during the playoffs, while Arenas ranks second.

Asked about the show he and Arenas have been putting on, James said, “It’s been awesome _ guys trying to will their team to victory. He’s done a great job of doing that, and I’m trying to do the same. We’re just going out and competing every night.”

Complimentary boos?

James was greeted by boos when he was introduced last night. The boos continued throughout, as has been the case during the other games at Verizon Center.

One fan held a sign which read, “LeBron, how was your flight? We know you love traveling.”

But the jeers don’t faze James.

“There’s a reason why you get booed,” he said. “They fear me, I guess. If I was a sorry player, if I was the 14th or 15th man on the bench, I wouldn’t get booed. I like the boos.”

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