- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 4, 2009

The sports scene in the District got just a little bit better.

It’s not one particular development, mind you, but a series of transactions that has improved the lot of the fan who follows D.C. sports with devotion and dollars.

The changes aren’t dramatic - in some cases, they’re minor. But given the barren landscape, fresh faces who bring even a little hope are welcome.

Nearly two weeks ago, the Wizards made themselves a better team with a deal that sent the team’s fifth pick in the NBA Draft, Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov to Minnesota for Mike Miller and Randy Foye.

The Wizards got two quality players in Miller, who has averaged 13.9 points and 5.0 rebounds in nine seasons, and Foye, a 25-year-old guard who averaged 16.3 points and 4.3 assists last season.

The Wizards are no closer to a championship - this team won’t be in the title business as long as it’s in the Gilbert Arenas business - but the moves do improve their chances of returning to the level of a 50-win playoff team. That’s where they were several years ago, and those undeniably were good times. Not great times, but good ones, and a return would be welcome after a 19-win season.

The Nationals didn’t make that big of a leap forward when they traded problem child Lastings Milledge and reliever Joel Hanrahan to the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Nyjer Morgan and left-hander Sean Burnett. They did, however, flush out more of the poison that former general manager Jim Bowden left behind.

The Nationals needed to change the Bowden Boys Town culture, and they did that by getting rid of Milledge. He was a woefully undisciplined fielder and hitter who was handed a job in center field and the leadoff spot but played his way down to Class AAA Syracuse - and then out of the organization.

The Nationals replaced Milledge with, by all accounts, his opposite - a quality guy. Not an All-Star, mind you, but someone who will add a positive tone to a negative situation. Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson bemoaned the fact that his team had gotten rid of a player like Morgan.

“What you saw on the field wasn’t even close to what he brought to the team,” Wilson said.

Will the move result in a dramatic improvement for the worst team in baseball? Hardly. But it marks a baby step in the right direction, as does the subtraction of Elijah Dukes, who was demoted to Syracuse this week. You won’t see any Nationals players crying over his departure.

The best new sports citizen in the District is Mike Knuble, a free agent signed by the Capitals - the lone franchise to make the D.C. sports landscape dramatically better the past two years. Knuble has a great reputation and fills the club’s need for a hardworking guy who does the dirty work around the net.

“All the research we’ve done and all the people we’ve talked to say this is a real stand-up guy,” general manager George McPhee said. “He’s really the ideal free agent signing for us.”

So there you go, D.C. sports fans: The town is a little better off than it was two weeks ago.

For victories, that will have to do for now.

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