The surest sign that the 149-day NBA lockout is over is seeing the doors to Verizon Center open and the players hit the practice court, complete with its new red, white and blue logos. But all is not back to normal just yet.
The new collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners must still be ratified and until it is, players cannot have any contact with the owners or the coaching staff. NBA players from other teams are also allowed to work out in whatever NBA facility they happen to be near.
So, gracing the practice court at Verizon Center on Thursday were Wizards Andray Blatche and Hamady Ndiaye, along with former Wizard Brendan Haywood of the Dallas Mavericks, former Wizard and Knicks free agent Roger Mason Jr., Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers and and Josh Selby of the Memphis Grizzlies.
"The players were anxious to get things started. I was very anxious, our coaches were very anxious," said Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld at a press conference held Thursday at Verizon Center. "Our trainers can work with the players now, and our strength and conditioning coaches can work with the players as we speak as far as conditioning is concerned, but not out on the basketball floor."
The rest of the Wizards will begin arriving next week. Two preseason games have been scheduled: at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 16 and a second game in Philadelphia on Dec. 20. Facing a condensed 66-game season, Grunfeld confirmed that he can contact players' agents, and has made overtures to re-sign Nick Young, Josh Howard and Maurice Evans.
"We have a balanced roster," Grunfeld said. "If you look at the players coming back, we're probably two deep at every position. We'll probably look for one or two more veteran players to come in and provide some leadership and some experience."
Mason, a vice president of the players' trade association, is one veteran player the team might be interested in, although Grunfeld would not confirm contact with the agent of any players not on the Wizards last season.
"It's great to be back in an NBA facility," Mason said. "Everybody is excited, jittery, just happy to be back at work. I know the process isn't done yet, but it sure feels good to be here."
After the workout, Mason collected signed forms from players to re-certify the players union.
Haywood also took notice of the new Wizards court, experiencing a moment of deja vu before he heads back to Dallas.
"I'm definitely excited to be back playing," Haywood said. "This is the game we love. We only get a certain amount of years to play and you don't want to lose any due to a lockout or squabbling over money."
Haywood took a moment for a little verbal taunting of Blatche, about going from a 19-win season to becoming an NBA champion. Blatche responded by talking about this being a playoff season for the Wizards.
"Just from talking with John [Wall], knowing me and him got the same game plan. We have high expectation of making the playoffs," Blatche said. "It's something that we want to do. I moved to Miami, as everybody knows, and I went to a couple of games and watching that basketball is like a whole different game, and that's something I want to be a part of.
"That's something me and John have to have the rest of our teammates come on board with us. I think this should be an easy season for us, for the fact that we have a lot of young guys and it's a shortened season."
The Wizards have only one player, Rashard Lewis, over 26 years old. Lewis is 31.
"That's definitely the advantage for us," Blatche said. "Youth is always an advantage, you know. We've got a lot of young, talented players that's going come in."
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