- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2008

The Wizards are caught in the clutches of a long-shot proposition after only 20 games.

Their playoff prospects are faint, their franchise player remains on hold and their long-term viability is in doubt.

The Wizards, in forging the worst record in the Eastern Conference, would have to play at an approximately .587 pace the rest of the way to be in the playoff mix.

That is the assignment, improbable as it is, for a team with a rookie center and a retooled backcourt that was vying to be the worst in the NBA.

This remains a potential calamity in the making that could set the franchise back a number of years.

Or until the six-year, $111-million contract of Gilbert Arenas runs out.

The health of Arenas is the dynamic that haunts the franchise in incalculable ways.

The chance of Arenas returning to who he was after three knee surgeries appears increasingly remote.

Arenas has endured one setback after another since originally injuring his left knee in early April two seasons ago.

That is the cold reality, no ifs, ands or spin about it.

Arenas has become the growing doubt that no one in the organization dares acknowledge, except in hushed tones.

As it is, Ernie Grunfeld has been reduced to groping for a light switch in the dark.

He has fired the coach and pulled the trigger on a trade that improves the team only in small measure, at least in the short term.

Dee Brown is possibly scratching his head after going from starting point guard to unemployed within 24 hours.

This is the unsettling nature of a team that is in free-fall mode. All that is left is the splat.

Continuity has been shown the door, along with Eddie Jordan, Antonio Daniels, Brown and other players to be named later.

Continuity has been the rallying cry of the Wizards the last two offseasons, even as other teams in the conference made moves that enhanced their situations.

This is not to imply that continuity is a trivial positive. As the addition of Elton Brand in Philadelphia shows, the acquisition of a big name does not necessarily yield results right away. Assimilating to a new system and teammates can take more than a preseason.

With cries of do this or do that all about the Wizards, plus cries of what they should have done in the offseason, their plight comes down to one person: Arenas.

Did Grunfeld make the correct decision in re-signing him?

That is the easy second-guess now, coming as it does after Arenas underwent a third surgery.

Yet if Grunfeld had allowed Arenas to walk, the outcry would have been long and loud.

Arenas essentially has been out of commission the last 20 months. Grunfeld may work around the edges of the team, as he did so on Wednesday, but he does so without the guts of the franchise in place.

Imagine where the Celtics would be without Kevin Garnett, the Cavaliers without LeBron James, the Magic without Dwight Howard and the Heat without Dwyane Wade.

They, too, might have an interim coach and a roster that would be psychologically fatigued from having to play above its means for so long.

The psychological drain on the Wizards cannot be overstated. No entity functions well in seemingly endless purgatory.

If the Wizards did not have bad luck, dating to the tweaking of Antawn Jamison’s knee in late January 2007, they would have no luck at all.

They have been defined by their injury report and Abe Pollin’s aversion to exceeding the salary cap ever since then.

Here is the season: The Wizards allowed Roger Mason to sign with the Spurs before losing Arenas in September and Brendan Haywood the next month.

The latter was an especially cruel shock to the system after the Wizards spent the summer believing it would be different this season, that they finally would be whole again.

It was not to be.

Now the Wizards are left to negotiate the terms of their surrender.