- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ernie Grunfeld believes in the championship potential of these Wizards.

He believes in the trio of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

He believes that these Wizards, if healthy, can play with anyone in the Eastern Conference and go deep into the playoffs.

That was the implicit message as the Wizards announced the signing of Jamison on Tuesday, both sides coming to terms before the onset of free agency.

Grunfeld is not about to break up this group despite the Wizards being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the last three seasons.

He is not about to forget the team that ascended to the top of the conference standings in the 2006-07 season before injuries decimated its fortunes.

And he is not about to dismiss how the team has persevered against the NBA elite the last two seasons.

That is one side of the quandary that was before Grunfeld.

The other is that the Wizards never will be a genuine championship contender until Arenas, their lead player, embraces the defensive end of the floor and is at one with the coaching staff.

Teams inevitably adopt the personalities of their lead players, the Wizards no different in that regard.

Before Arenas succumbed to a bum knee, the Wizards were a free-spirited team that preferred to outscore teams. However appealing the style, it is not necessarily suited for the scrum-like contests of the playoffs.

At least that is the conventional wisdom of the NBA, which is considered sacred until the exception comes along to show otherwise.

With Arenas sidelined most of last season, the Wizards adopted the pugnacious attitude of Butler, who showed he could lead a team by filling up the box score.

That in-your-face manner is one of the reasons the Wizards defeated the Celtics in three out of four games.

The sight of Butler jawing with Paul Pierce was a strong cue to teammates to respond accordingly, especially with Butler having his way with Pierce.

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