- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2008

The only break the Wizards are able to catch is the breaking down of a body part.

The preseason is barely under way, and the medical news reverberating around the Wizards is unsettling.

Brendan Haywood was destined to be out for one week until further evaluations of the wrist on his shooting hand showed he needs surgery and will miss four to six months.

Antawn Jamison is out of commission the next few weeks with a right-knee contusion.

And Gilbert Arenas is out until who knows when.

That injury report involves three of the team’s five starters, leaving Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson the momentarily healthy starters.

Injuries, of course, have been the deciding story line of the Wizards the last two seasons.

Injuries are the thread that connects these Wizards to the ‘80s Bullets, sentenced to the NBA’s netherworld after the premature fall of first Jeff Ruland and then John Williams.

It took the franchise a generation to recover from the injury-induced demise of Ruland and Williams.

In this “Back to the Future” segment of the Wizards, the season already has been tempered by the uncertainty of Arenas, three knee surgeries down and potentially more on the way.

Another blow to the foundation - a sidelined Jamison or Butler would qualify - and the fate of the Wizards will be sealed until next season.

The Wizards are working on their fourth “next season” after advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2005.

The unexpected ascent of the Wizards in 2005 stands as the high point of the Arenas-Jamison coupling.

Who knew that the last-second shot of Arenas in Game 5 of the Wizards-Bulls series possibly would represent the zenith of this era? Who knew the celebration that ensued after the Wizards eliminated the Bulls in six games would have to suffice for possibly another 23 years?

That was how long Washington fans had been waiting for a playoff series victory.

So much unrequited love has led to the impression that the city is almost indifferent to its NBA team. It is an indifference prompted by emotional self-preservation, of hearts broken one too many times.

You could have thought the Wizards won the NBA championship the night they completed their work on the Bulls, what with the horn-blaring, shout-filled scene on the arteries in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood.

That was 23 years’ worth of pent-up frustration being released on one splendidly perfect basketball night. No one knew how to act because the postseason behavioral manual had long since been stored in the attic.

This reflection comes to mind with the Wizards yet on hold again, waiting anew to be whole … waiting, waiting, waiting.

The Wizards, when they were last whole, had the best record in the conference in late January of the 2007 season. The Wizards routinely cling to that period, although its relevance is debatable after 21 months.

Twenty-one months ago, the Mavericks were en route to winning 67 games, the Celtics were gearing up to tank games, and Kobe Bryant was in the process figuring out that Los Angeles was not where he wanted to spend the rest of his career.

Now the Celtics are champions, Bryant is happy in Los Angeles, and the championship window of the Mavericks has closed.

The Wizards? They are not unlike the Rockets. These star-crossed franchises dare to be special until injuries intrude on their quality of life. It apparently is their lot to be among the afflicted and unable to find their rightful place in the basketball universe.

So the Wizards are left to keep hope alive, even if that hope has a faraway sense about it.

Eddie Jordan might want to consider the merit of resting his core players as much as possible in the preseason.

If this season turns out anything like the last two - and it already is trending in that direction - it won’t be long before Mike O’Koren, Phil Hubbard and Wes Unseld Jr. are activated as practice players.

That is not a reassuring thought.

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