Magic thinks Wizards are close to title contention

Former Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson believes that the Washington Wizards — as long as they don’t lose Gilbert Arenas — are a big man away from contending for the NBA championship.

“Right now Gilbert is unstoppable,” Johnson said. “There’s nobody in the league who can stop him. Caron Butler is the heart and soul of the team because he is so tough mentally and physical. And Antawn [Jamison] is probably the hardest cover on the team because he’s not a traditional power forward.

“But after that you can’t point to anyone down low who can score some baskets and also help out defensively on the interior,” Johnson continued. “That’s the only place where they are lacking. Once they get that I would say that they are the favorites. Who is going to stop them?”

Johnson was in town to participate in Freddie Mac’s Hoops for the Homeless campaign. Arenas, almost completely mended from his torn left meniscus, also was helping out at the event.

Johnson, a three-time NBA MVP, a 12-time All-Star and winner of five NBA titles with the Lakers, said the Wizards don’t need a big man on the level of Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan.

“Not with the perimeter players they have,” Johnson said. “They just need a guy who can give them 10 to 14 points a night. But they don’t have that and that is what’s going to hurt them in the playoffs every year unless they improve there. What happens when those outside shots aren’t falling in a seven-game series? That’s where they are lacking.”

Jamison had another stellar season for the Wizards at power forward, averaging 19.8 points and eight rebounds a game. However, the Wizards suffered another year of inconsistent play at center. Etan Thomas averaged 6.1 points and 5.8 rebounds, and Brendan Haywood averaged 6.6 points and 6.2 rebounds a game.

Haywood already has told president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld that he wants to be traded if Eddie Jordan is back as the team’s coach. However, Grunfeld will only deal Haywood if he can get another big veteran big man, which might be difficult.

Both Haywood and Thomas have three years remaining on their contracts.

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