- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

The Wizards are 2-0 this season if you believe in the relevance of Gilbert Arenas and Jerry Stackhouse as a backcourt item.

They have played in three games together. We will give them the first one, a two-point loss to rust.

The emergence of Kwame Brown is the bonus.

That comes out to a “Big Three,” begging the pardon of Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley in Dallas.

The mood of the Wizards is up from grim and down from upbeat, an act of temperance in the clutches of a 16-33 record.

Stackhouse acknowledged after the victory against the Clippers that he is not inclined to look at the record, a good piece of advice for everyone with 33 games left.

The rest of the slate determines who will be protected in the expansion draft, not too difficult a process up to six or seven out of eight. That should be enough to motivate the personnel unless someone is eager to endure a 20-win season with the expansion Bobcats next season.

The Wizards are stronger than their record indicates, just not sure if their personnel eventually rises to the level of the Pacers, Pistons and Nets in two seasons’ time. That is the unknowable before Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan, left to function in the dark until the team was whole.

The Wizards implemented an 18-point beating on the Cavaliers in Cleveland, the previously moribund franchise haunted by Michael Jordan’s jump shot over Craig Ehlo.

LeBron James is more than a hope, and justifiably steamed by his omission from the Eastern Conference All-Star team. He has remade the rules of admission to the NBA, both impressive and alarming, if you consider the myopic wannabes certain to follow his path.

There is something compelling at work with the Wizards as well.

The Wizards are coming out of their fog, which is more than you can say for the Bulls, more connected to his Airness than the Wizards.

If not for the varying inertness of Arenas and Stackhouse, the Wizards would have mocked Jordan’s 37-victory output this season.

Brown’s play in the last month mocks all the rest.

He is the 2001 No.1 draft pick overall who has been labeled a bust, traded a zillion times and deemed too sensitive and indifferent to ever be more than a bad reminder of Jordan’s proclivity to evaluate personnel by cell phone.

The first impression is being overtaken by a 7-footer who finally is growing into his body. His maturation has been accelerated by the barren environment. Brown has been granted his mistakes in the absence of a quality alternative, which was the opposite approach of Doug Collins, whose desperation to make the playoffs was inflamed by the desperation of his player/boss.

Brown is not where he aspires to be yet, but his acceleration is obvious, past the threshold of a LaRue Martin-like stiff.

Even Brendan Haywood is starting to act his height instead of his Duke-inspired nickname. He has not exhibited this much sustained passion since Collins saw some Robert Parish in him two years ago. He has incorporated a sweeping sky hook into his repertoire and shown the capacity to hit the short jumper.

His newfound ferociousness goes against the nature of his extended placidness, once believed to be terminal to his career.

The Wizards, in their last two games, have given the opposition too many weapons to consider. A defense committed to negating Arenas and Stackhouse is liable to be overburdened with Brown and Haywood.

Larry Hughes, limited to seven minutes against the Cavaliers because of a sprained wrist, is an additional threat to drop 20 points on the opposition.

This was the team of October before the detour to oblivion. This is not to suggest it was an overly serious team, young as it is, but it was a team with prospects.

Those prospects are certain to be calibrated as best as possible the rest of the way, with no payoff of a playoff berth.

If it helps, a bum knee and an abdominal strain will go next to the team’s final record before another dip in the lottery beckons.

That is the sad, lonely destiny of the Wizards until next season.

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