A day that started out with Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas taking Saturday's critical comments of his teammates a step further by slighting fellow captain Caron Butler in a post-practice interview apparently ended on a more peaceful note. Butler and Arenas spoke Monday evening, and both players said their conflict was resolved.
Two days after Arenas ripped his teammates for having "hidden agendas," the point guard singled Butler out as the one player on the team who is struggling to get on the same page as his teammates.
"For the most part, we all get along," Arenas said while voluntarily speaking to reporters after practice for the first time this year. "There are, what, 15 players on the team? Fourteen do. ... At the end of the day, if 15 players don't want to go and it's only 14, you've seen 'Remember the Titans.' It's the same thing. We've just got to play."
Arenas' issues with Butler seemed to stem from what he perceived as Butler's unwillingness or inability to fit into the offensive system. Arenas on a few occasions has criticized Butler because he believed when he passed to Butler, the two-time All-Star forward would waste key scoring opportunities by hesitating or driving rather than catching and shooting. Arenas said Butler was the only player with such struggles.
When asked whose responsibility it was to cure the in-house feuding, Arenas said, "Me and Antawn [Jamison]. That's our jobs [as captains]."
Arenas was reminded that Butler also is a captain and was asked whether he too was responsible for resolving the problems.
"Come again?" Arenas said with a smile. The question was repeated, and the guard smiled again and said, "Yeah."
Butler didn't practice Monday and is questionable for Tuesday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers with an ankle injury. He left Verizon Center without speaking to reporters. But when reached Monday afternoon, he said he was miffed over the apparent rift and that he believed a couple of wins would cure the team's ills.
"A lot of things get magnified when you're losing. Everybody wants to be successful, but you've got to stay in the team concept and just focus on playing winning basketball," Butler said. "Honestly, I have never had a problem with nobody on the team. It's frustrating when you're losing games, but when you're frustrated, do you point the finger? Do you blame other people? Or do you try to get better and see 'What can I do?' That's where maturity comes in."
Butler said Arenas' two-year injury-induced layoff and then this season's injury to Jamison was to blame for a lack of chemistry between he and Arenas but that he expected it to be resolved in time.
Later on Monday, Butler reached out to Arenas in an attempt to clear up any misunderstanding between the two. Butler said in a text message the two had "no beef" any longer. And Arenas in a phone conversation said that after talking to Butler, he understood the forward still is trying to modify his game to suit coach Flip Saunders' system better.
"I told him to just shoot. 'I don't care if you take 22 shots and only make six of them. Shoot and get comfortable,' " Arenas said. "I'm the only player that needs to sacrifice. For us to be successful, I told Caron, 'I need you to be Caron.' I need [Jamison] to average 20 [points] and 10 [rebounds], I need Caron to do his 20 [points], eight [rebounds] and four [assists]. I need Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Nick Young, Andray Blatche to shoot every time I get them the ball. Me? It's a puzzle, and I'll fill in the gaps. I'll sacrifice [the three-time All-Star] that I was, and I'll just be the gap filler. Me and [Haywood]."
Saunders said frustrations over losing are to be expected, but the key to curing those ills is self-examination, not finger-pointing.
"Here's the thing. You gotta look at yourself in the mirror. I think you don't look at anybody else," the first-year coach said. "First, look at yourself, no matter who that is. You have to have an ego to play in this league. But what you have to do is you have to understand that your ego is never more important than the team. There's no one in that locker room who doesn't want to win. That's the bottom line."
Note - An MRI on Monday confirmed Miller has a strained right calf. Miller, who already was playing despite a badly sprained left shoulder, injured his calf in the first quarter of Saturday's 106-84 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Team doctors say Miller will miss three to six weeks. Miller, who is averaging 9.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists, missed three games earlier this month because of the shoulder.
Third-year guard Nick Young, who has received five DNPs and was inactive Saturday, will start in place of Miller.