The Washington Wizards got back to practice today, two days after a frustrating loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Following the loss Brendan Haywood and Gilbert Arenas called out teammates for ego and hidden agendas. It may have seemed like Haywood was directing his comments at Arenas, and Arenas back at Haywood, but from what I’ve been able to glean, the center and guard’s beef isn’t with one another, but at another member of the team.
Gilbert Arenas voluntarily spoke today after practice, which was the first time all year that he’s done that, and further expounded on the locker room cracks.
“Most of us feel we’re confident in each other on the floor and there are a few that don’t. I have no idea. But for the most part, we all get a long. There are, what, 15 players on the team? Fourteen do.”
When asked why things seemed to be flowing just fine in training camp and preseason, Arenas replied, “Real stats don’t happen in the preseason and training camp. Right now we’ll get it figured out.”
Arenas was asked whose responsibility it was to heal the locker room rifts and said, “Me and antawn. That’s our jobs [as captains]. But 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.”
Wait, Gil. You forgot somebody. What about the other captain? Is it Caron’s responsibility as well?
“Come again?” the guard replied.
Isn’t it Caron’s responsibility as well?
Arenas grinned and said “Yeah.”
I think we can tell where the rift is. Arenas has taken issue with Butler’s turning down open catch-and-shoot opportunities, which A) means blown assists, and B) breaks up the flow of the offense. According to an insider, some players inside the locker room — Arenas included — feel Butler’s drop-off from 4.3 assists last year to 1.2 this year are also to blame for some of the Wizards’ woes.
Butler, who didn’t practice today because of a right foot injury, left Verizon Center without speaking to reporters, but I caught up with him via phone, and he has chosen to take the high road rather than firing back at Arenas.
“As far as all the drama goes, I think a lot of things get magnified when you’re losing,” Butler said. “Everybody wants to be successful, but you’ve got to stay in the team concept and just focus on playing winning basketball. No one person can do this on his own. It’s all about team ball. Have confidence in the system and confidence in what coach Flip is asking us to do in his system.”
Butler said that he and Arenas and Jamison haven’t gotten to work together as much to re-develop the flow and chemistry they had three yearsa ago because of Arenas either resting for a practice here or there in preseason and then Jamison getting hurt. But he said he doesn’t understand why anyone on the team would have beef with him.
“I have never had a problem with nobody on the team. … I honestly don’t have no hard feelings toward nobody,” Butler said. “I don’t take my work home with me. I just focus on how I prepare myself to be able to compete at the highest level possible. My resume speaks for itself.
“It’s frustrating when you’re losing games, but when you’re frustrated, do you point the finger?” Butler added. “Do you blame other people? Or do you try to get better and see ‘What can I do?’ That’s where maturity comes in. I can’t control how nobody feels about me, I can only control how I prepare and try to make the situation better.”
Antawn Jamison said frustration over losing is to be expected, but he called for more self-examination rather than calling people out.
“As soon as I lose a game, I’m frustrated,” Jamison said. “I look at what I did, what I could’ve done, what we did as a team. I think it’s normal, if you have the best record in the league or the worst record in the league. if you lose, you’re supposed to be disappointed. That’s the nature of what we do.”
Flip Saunders echoed Jamison and Butler’s feelings: “Here’s the thing, you gotta look at yourself in the mirror. I think you don’t look at anybody else. First, look at yourself, no matter who that is. When we struggle as a team, which we are, we all are bad, from the coaching staff on down to the players, and you can’t be satisfied. But don’t look for somebody else to make a change and things. You gotta change first within yourself. This league is all about egos. 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.”
In addition to frustrations with a certain 15th player, Arenas shed a little light on another thing that may be eating away at him during this 3-9 start.
The guard said he had a bet with Sam Cassell and each went through the schedule and made predictions. Arenas expected the Wizards to start 13-2. Ummm, yeah.
“It’s kinda frustrating because me and Sam had a little bet thing going on,” Arenas said with a laugh. “Now I’m kinda down in a hole. Every time we lose a game that we weren’t supposed to lose, I owe a hundred dollars to the team.”
Meanwhile, the Wizards take on Eddie Jordan and the 76ers tomorrow.
Butler is questionable for tomorrow night’s game with a right foot injury. He got an MRI done this morning and still is waiting on results after experiencing some inflamation and an inability to push off of it effectively Saturday night against the Spurs.
Meanwhile, Mike Miller (whose MRI results on that right calf the Wizards also are waiting for) will not play. Miller was on crutches today, and Saunders said on Saturday they believe they could be without him four to five weeks.
Nick Young, who was just inactive, will start at shooting guard, and if Butler can’t go, Flip said he has a few options, but doesn’t know which he will go with.
“Rock, paper, scissors,” Saunders joked on how he’ll decide on his starting lineup. “We’re definitely going to start Nick at shooting guard, and so we’ll have to see what we’re going to do with that other spot. We could go small, could put Dom in there or whatever, could put Randy at the two and move Nick to the three. We could play Fab at the four, move Antawn to the three, put Andray at the four. I want to wait and see where it¹s at. I’m hoping right now that Caron’s going to be able to go.”
Butler, himself, however was uncertain of his availability.