- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

When Washington Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld decided to trade for a veteran forward in the days leading up to the 2004 NBA Draft, he sought some advice.

Grunfeld, who has built playoff teams in previous stops in New York and Milwaukee, treasures the input of as many basketball people as possible before making decisions, but this time he wanted to hear from Gilbert Arenas, who had gotten a six-year deal worth approximately $65million from the Wizards the summer before.

So he asked his point guard which one he would trade for: Al Harrington, Antonio McDyess or Antawn Jamison. For Arenas, it was a no-brainer.

“They threw the names out there, and I was like, Antawn,” Arenas said matter of factly. “Larry [Hughes]? Same thing. When they did it, I just called him up and said, ‘All right, let’s go.’”

Two years after Arenas, Jamison and Hughes combined to average 42.9 points for a Golden State Warriors team that improved 17 games from the previous season, the older, wiser and clearly happier players have been even better reunited in Washington.

The three are averaging 63.2 points, almost 50 percent better than in Golden State. Washington has won seven of its last eight games, and its four-game winning streak is its longest in almost two years. The Wizards have been more than respectable on the road at 5-3; they didn’t win their fifth road game last season until Feb.7.

And the league has noticed the kind of basketball the trio is playing. Arenas was named Eastern Conference player of the week yesterday after averaging 25.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.7 steals in three victories last week.

With 13 steals in his last two games, Hughes leads the league in the category and is averaging 19.4 points. And Jamison is tied with Arenas for 11th in the league in scoring at 21.9 and leads the team in double-doubles (seven) and rebounding (9.2).

As a result, the Wizards (10-5) are off to their best start in 30 seasons.

While the Washington area has been taken aback by the Wizards’ early success, Arenas, Hughes and Jamison are not shocked.

“We definitely like each other,” said Hughes, who like Arenas and Jamison has constantly shot down rumors the three didn’t get along in Oakland. “That was a totally different situation, totally different organization. We’re talking different sides of the world, and I think that we think it’s a lot better on this side. It’s really positive on this side, and it’s showing up.”

When they played for Golden State, Arenas was a 20-year-old rookie; Hughes, who left college at 19, was in just his third season and was trying to impress a new coach in Eric Musselman because he had been bad-mouthed by Larry Brown and eventually traded out of Philadelphia; and Jamison was trying to shake a reputation — one he thinks was undeserved — that he couldn’t be a team leader.

But the three developed a bond off the court that made them better on it. They lunched together and went to movies together. Arenas, the only member of the group who isn’t married, talked yesterday about how he played with Hughes’ children.

And on Sunday, for instance, Arenas and Jamison watched football together.

“Pittsburgh and Jacksonville was a great game,” Jamison said of the ESPN nightcap.

As a result, in a tumultuous NBA season, harmony is king in Washington — for now at least.

“We are not partying. We are not getting drunk every night,” Arenas said. “No one is fighting to be the big man among us. It’s not like that. We don’t have a Kobe-Shaq situation like the Lakers.”

Jamison, the NBA sixth man of the year for Dallas last season, did what few players in the past have done after finding out he was getting traded to the Wizards for Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and the rights to the fifth pick (Devin Harris).

Jamison welcomed the trade to the Wizards, winners of just 25 games last season. And before Jamison was introduced to the Washington media — even before he had a chance to shake hands with owner Abe Pollin and Grunfeld — Arenas and Hughes had talked with their once-and-future teammate.

“They were like, ‘Hey, why not make it work again,’” Jamison said. “They both knew that I wasn’t going to come in here and say, ‘Hey, this is my team.’ The feeling was that we were going to do it together.”

The disharmony in the Wizards organization has been well documented. The days of Rod Strickland and Tracy Murray coming to blows still resonate, as do the escapades of Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. And no one will forget the brief but unsuccessful dalliance between Washington and Michael Jordan.

But this year seems different.

“It’s just one of those situations that feels right,” Jamison said. “We don’t have a problem with the coaching staff. Coach Jordan’s able to communicate with us. Mr. Grunfeld is the boss, and Abe Pollin is the godfather. We all respect one another, and we all get along. But most important we enjoy what we do.”

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