On Sunday, following their fourth loss in their last five games, Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan and his All-Star guard looked like a couple in need of counseling.
Apparently, they just needed a day.
One day after Gilbert Arenas suggested the team’s emphasis on defense without injured forward Antawn Jamison was hurting performance — a suggestion Jordan called “ludicrous,” saying, “we didn’t have the leadership out there that we needed with Antawn out” — the two men spoke face-to-face and the team had its first players-only meeting to quell the troubles.
“Gil and I had some one-on-ones, some film sessions, and we’re back on the same page,” Jordan said. “The fight’s over with.”
Said Arenas: “The way we finished our meeting you would have never known something bad had been written. Everybody is on the same page. The air is cleared.”
Arenas also addressed Jordan’s open questioning of his leadership ability, something the coach has done more than once this season.
“Eddie has been trying to groom me into a leader since I got here,” Arenas said. “As a player it’s hard for me because when you are a leader you have to have a perfect air about you. My leadership is different. I’m not going to be the guy who speaks up all the time. My role is to keep the locker room loose. At the same time I put the pressure on myself and try to take it off of the other guys. But in our locker room there is no question who the leader is. It’s Antawn. So no, I didn’t take offense to what Eddie said.”
With one game left — tomorrow in Philadelphia — before the All-Star break, the Wizards (28-21) have fallen from a first-place team with its coach and two players — Arenas and Caron Butler — selected to the All-Star Game to one facing dissension, fighting, a suspension and poor play.
Since losing Jamison on Jan. 30 in a victory over Detroit that put their record at 27-17, the Wizards have lost four of five by an average of 18.5 points and seen their third fight in two seasons between their top two centers, Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas. Thomas received a two-game suspension for his role in the fight.
But despite their recent struggles, the Wizards indicated the meeting — in which team sources said Butler, Jamison and veteran reserves Calvin Booth and Antonio Daniels took the lead — was not a distress signal.
Butler used the team’s 4-9 start to the season, which included an 0-8 start on the road, to illustrate a point.
“It was the same way,” he said. “Everybody was wondering what was wrong with the team and what was wrong with the chemistry. Then we came out and played great basketball, went on a nice winning streak, and then it was, ‘You guys are so great.’ It’s the same situation — back to the drawing board.
“Hopefully we can get a win Wednesday, have a good break, bounce back and get everybody saying the same thing.”
While things haven’t gone well for the team since Jamison was injured, without question the flare up and comments between Jordan and Arenas garnered the most attention — and for good reason.
Jordan was endorsed by owner Abe Pollin over the summer in the form of a three-year extension, and Arenas is the team’s first bona fide superstar entering his prime in almost three decades.