- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 21, 2010

WASHINGTON | The Washington Wizards have taken what seems like eons to play just 41 games, just half the NBA season.

“For me, it felt like about 86 games,” guard Randy Foye said Thursday.

That’s how it feels when a team has been losing, chemistry and discipline have faltered, and its star player has been to court for playing with guns in the locker room.

The tougher news? The second half could be even longer.

The status of the indefinitely suspended Gilbert Arenas remains in limbo, pending final judgments by the NBA and the courts following his guilty plea for felony gun possession.

His teammate Javaris Crittenton also remains under investigation. Prosecutors have said the charge against Arenas came from a dispute with another player over a card game. Authorities have not identified the player but investigators searched Crittenton’s apartment for a gun. He has not been charged.

And the trade deadline is looming in February, when a team that is substantially over the luxury tax might want to unload some assets.

On top of it all, the franchise is being sold following the death of owner Abe Pollin.

The financial wranglings could take weeks or months, but, barring an unexpected development, Pollin’s longtime minority partner Ted Leonsis will eventually assume control of the franchise and begin making his own changes.

On the postivie side, the Wizards have had a few good games since Arenas was suspended on Jan. 6. So, despite a 14-27 record, they are only 4 games out of a playoff berth amid a big batch of mediocre teams in the Eastern Conference.

“Why wouldn’t I be optimistic? It’s January,” center Brendan Haywood said. “You’ve got to continue to believe in yourself and your teammates. I believe in myself and I believe in those guys in that locker room, and we believe that we can get it done.”

“If we were in the Western Conference, uh,” he added with a shrug, “it might be a little different story.”

The coach and players can’t be faulted for clinging to hope. They’re not allowed to cancel the season, and, as Antawn Jamison has pointed out, the Wizards would turn into a feel-good story if they made a playoff run, a classic case of a team overcoming adversity and proving the naysayers wrong.

“We’re just trying to find a cure,” Jamison said, “and the only cure we can find right now is to win.”

Of course, as one of the Wizards’ most marketable players, Jamison might not be around much longer, win or lose.

Trying to keep a handle on it all is team president Ernie Grunfeld. Despite his impressive title, Grunfeld is hardly in the best shape to predict the franchise’s immediate future — because it depends on factors out of his control.

Will Arenas play for the Wizards again? Will the team try to void the remainder of his six-year, $111 million contract? .

There’s no use committing to any action on those fronts until Arenas is sentenced on March 26, and until NBA commissioner David Stern announces how long Arenas will be off the court. All Grunfeld can do now is order almost every morsel of Arenas’ existence be removed from the Verizon Center, leaving the impression that there are no plans whatsoever for Arenas to wear a Wizards jersey again.

And Crittenton? No gun was found is the search and all the Wizards can do is excuse him from practice during the investigation. He was injured and wasn’t playing anyway.

Grunfeld also doesn’t know who his new bosses will be. Even though Leonsis is the presumptive owner of the team, he’s not calling the shots yet. Grunfeld still answers to Pollin’s family until the team is officially sold.

Where Grunfeld retains a firm grasp is the trade market.

If the Wizards become realistic playoff contenders, he’ll have to decide whether to keep the roster together or that it is time to move on, dispensing of longtime stalwarts such as Jamison and Caron Butler.

“I think in the last five, six games, the guys have pulled together,” Grunfeld said. “We’ve had some nice wins and some real nice efforts, and hopefully that can continue. You always look to see if you can improve your team in some way, and we’ll just keep track of everything and a see how everything flows and how the team comes together here in the next month or so. … The players and the results will tell which direction we really have to go.”

Rebuilding the franchise’s reputation will be as tough as rebuilding the roster.

The atmosphere had become such that at least one player — and allegedly two — felt comfortable bringing guns into the locker room. Several other players saw nothing wrong with making light of the whole Arenas situation with their antics on the court before a game in Philadelphia.

Four players were fined for that, but the Wizards have otherwise treated the Arenas saga as an isolated act by a rogue athlete that couldn’t have been predicted — even though Arenas had been suspended once before by the NBA over a gun-related matter.

Asked if there’s anything he wishes he had done differently, Grunfeld chose not to dwell on the past.

“We’re looking forward,” he said. “A lot of people felt we had a good team in place. Most people picked us to be among the top four or five teams. It just hasn’t worked out like that. I think our team’s started to come together a little bit.”

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