- 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.

The Wizards never lost that attitude. They just lost Butler for a spell. Even after he returned, he was not the Butler of the first half of the season, and the Wizards were less equipped as a result.

So Grunfeld is down to the apparent formality of re-signing Arenas, who is off in China but ever cognizant that his principal stipulation, the retaining of Jamison, has been met.

Arenas and Grunfeld are waiting on the NBA’s salary-cap adjustment, expected to rise to about $58 million. Once the exact number is known, then Arenas and Grunfeld can work out an agreement that gives the Wizards the financial flexibility to make a stab at re-signing Roger Mason Jr.

Arenas is not inclined to leave the Wizards because it is where he has become a star, it is his team, his city, and he is afforded a wide latitude to be who he is, sometimes to the detriment of the player-coach communication process.

So one down, two to go.

The fuss on this hot and muggy day in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood was reserved for Jamison, a classy gentleman with the unorthodox playing style that should allow him to be productive well into his 30s.

Abe Pollin made the effort to attend the event and noted his fondness of Jamison, comparing him to Wes Unseld as a person of high character.

“For Mr. Pollin to put me in that category - we all know how highly he thinks of Wes Unseld - it’s the ultimate compliment,” Jamison said.

Not surprisingly, Jamison believes in the championship relevancy of the Wizards.

“If we are healthy, it’s scary what we could accomplish,” he said.

The question of the team’s health is not apt to subside in the fall, not with Arenas coming off two knee surgeries.

Grunfeld is betting on good health and the players who had the Wizards atop the conference in late January 2007.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide