- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 8, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS | So this is what it was like, huh?

Gilbert Arenas found himself thinking that Friday night after a 102-86 loss to the Indiana Pacers. He finally realized how Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler felt during the Washington Wizards’ 19-63 season a year ago.

Arenas, sidelined by injury, watched for 80 games as his co-captains tried in vain to get their teammates to play with the effort needed to produce winning results. In just three games this season - all losses that epitomized the struggles of a season ago - Arenas has gotten a taste of Butler’s and Jamison’s frustrations.

First, there was the short-handed roster with Jamison out with a shoulder injury, and then shooting guard Mike Miller went out with shoulder troubles of his own. That left players better-suited for supporting roles to fill shoes too big for them.

On Tuesday at Cleveland, the Wizards jumped to an early lead and then fell flat, unable to sustain their momentum. An 18-point lead vanished as they fell by double digits.

The following night against Miami, the Wizards fell behind by 19 points in the first half before rallying late and taking a brief fourth-quarter lead. Then they collapsed, all their energy spent on the comeback. On Friday, the Wizards came out flat and never woke up as they got blown out.

Yep, sounds like 2008-09 all right.

“The frustrations that I’ve seen from Caron and Antawn last year, I see why they’re frustrated,” Arenas said. “It’s about getting five guys to play hard. If you can’t get the whole team to play hard, you’re not going to beat anybody - no matter what kind of talent they have on the other team.”

Coach Flip Saunders and team president Ernie Grunfeld entered the regular season preaching patience as the team learned a new system and integrated a few new players. They described it as “a process” or a “work in progress.”

But they expected gradual improvement - not a strong start in the opening game, another solid showing two nights later and then three consecutive steps backward.

Following the loss at Indiana, Jamison ripped into his teammates with an obscenity-laced tirade that could be heard from outside the locker room. Again he found himself calling out teammates for a lack of effort and professionalism.

“The players who care are frustrated. The players who don’t, don’t,” Arenas said after the locker room cleared in silence. “There are two types of people in this league: the people who get it and the people who don’t get it. The people who don’t get it just don’t get it.”

Jamison can talk all he wants, but with each passing game the Wizards’ need for him becomes more evident. Through the first three games, Andray Blatche stepped up nicely to make up for the 20 points and 10 rebounds the Wizards were missing with Jamison sidelined. Blatche averaged 21.0 points off the bench in those games; in three since, he has mustered just 18 points.

“I’m sorry,” Blatche said Friday night. “I’m speechless about this game.”

Nick Young, who started in Miller’s place, said he too was confused about the poor effort but said part of the Wizards’ problem is chemistry.

“We’re still starting off fresh and trying to learn everything,” he said. “People just have to trust each other out there.”

Arenas agreed that players knowing their roles will go a long way toward helping the Wizards improve. But for now the straight-shooting point guard said most of his teammates aren’t even close.

“This is not the team of 2005, when we had players who knew their roles and came in and gave 100 percent every time,” Arenas said, referring to the squad that won 45 games in 2004-05, the best showing since Arenas and Jamison arrived in the District. “We don’t have that team. We have the team where everybody thinks they should be playing.

“When you have a team like that, you just have bitter players on the sideline.”

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