In March, Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin said when the offseason came, he would spend the money needed to help his team contend for the NBA title, even if it meant taking a salary cap hit.
When the summer arrived, the 85-year-old authorized team president Ernie Grunfeld to upgrade the roster. Grunfeld dealt the team’s first-round draft pick - No. 5 overall - to Minnesota for Mike Miller and Randy Foye, who are expected to upgrade Washington’s perimeter attack. And he signed center Fabricio Oberto to provide depth.
The draft pick drew interest around the league. Grunfeld reportedly received an offer from Phoenix that involved shipping All-Star big man Amare Stoudemire to the District in exchange for the pick and forward Caron Butler.
But Grunfeld rejected the offer, standing by his desire to see the core group he assembled in 2005 finally have a chance to show its potential. He also held onto Antawn Jamison (whom Grunfeld gave a four-year, $50 million contract in 2008) and Gilbert Arenas (who signed a $111 million contract to remain with Washington).
This season, the Wizards hope they get to see what they would have been capable of if Arenas, Butler and Brendan Haywood had not been stifled by injuries since April 2007. But the preseason put a damper on those hopes; Jamison will miss at least the first three weeks with a partially dislocated shoulder.
“You really want it to work,” Butler said. “That’s why guys put in extra work over the course of the offseason - staying late after practice, doing extra things, coming early, going over the offense, learning the offense in and out and being able to adjust and really make this thing work.”
The window of opportunity could be shrinking. Haywood, Miller and Oberto will be free agents after this season, and Butler has only one more year on his deal. Jamison has two more, and during that time he wants nothing else but to win a ring.
“I’m playing to win a championship,” he said before training camp. “I’ve only got two years left after this, and then that’s it for me.”
With Pollin taking roughly a $6 million luxury tax hit, it’s up to the players to prove they have championship potential - or else brace for change.
“Every year you want to make strides toward getting better, and we feel like we have pieces in place that complement each other well: a lot of youth but a nice blend of veterans as well,” Grunfeld said. “We’ll see how they come together this season, then determine what we do next summer.”
Haywood and Jamison have said they would like to retire with the Wizards, but at the same time they understand winning is what matters.
“You can’t really think about that,” Jamison said Friday. “It’s a business, but I don’t think they’d do it since we haven’t been together and you haven’t been able to see the potential of the team. But that’s the last thing on everybody’s minds. If it happens, hey… but we’re just focused on winning this season.”
Said Haywood: “I don’t think anybody’s worried about the window of opportunity. You can’t look that far ahead, because you’ll forget what’s right in front of you. And as far as capitalizing on opportunities, we didn’t have our best players healthy. If you don’t have your best players healthy, what opportunities do you have?”
If Jamison heals without any lingering effects, the Wizards might finally get to see what opportunities await.
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