- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 27, 2004

As usual, with another NBA season coming into view, we are wrestling with Abe Pollin’s tunnel syndrome, which is a uniquely Washington affliction that embraces the playoff potential of the Wizards.

We see none of the bad at this time of the year.

We do not see the injuries, the inevitable bickering behind the closed door of the locker room and the ever-growing complexity of the Princeton offense.

We see all the good.

We see Kwame Brown collecting 30 points and 19 rebounds against Chris Webber and the Kings, as he did last March.



We see Gilbert Arenas coming to terms with his shooting guard/point guard quandary.

We see Antawn Jamison reprising his 2001 season with Golden State, where he averaged 24.9 points a game.

We see Larry Hughes being perfectly equipped to meet the demands of a complementary scorer, as opposed to someone who was forced to carry too much of the burden on offense last season.

We see Brendan Haywood becoming well-acquainted with the double-double.

We see the serviceable nature of a bench led by Etan Thomas.

We also see the young legs of the Wizards being a positive, especially as the NBA’s grueling travel schedule begins to wear on teams.

We see what Abe sees, and we say, “Why not this season?”

There is no unspoken rule against the Wizards making a genuine playoff push. It only seems that way.

They talk about the Curse of the Bambino in Boston.

Ours is an ill-defined curse, plus harder to market.

It is not as if the Packers/Zephyrs/Bullets/Wizards ever sold Wilt Chamberlain to another team, whereupon he averaged 50.4 points a game.

So Pollin showed the indomitable Michael Jordan the door.

That was after the 2003 season, the franchise’s place among the have-nots firmly established.

The failure of the Wizards to be vaguely compelling, excluding Jordan’s comeback, is stunning in scope. Teams fall on hard times. But most teams rise again on some level.

The Pistons won two NBA championships, in 1989 and 1990, before capturing the prize again in June. Between the years of Isiah Thomas and Larry Brown, the Pistons hit rock bottom in the 1994 season, with a 20-62 record.

You know what the Wizards achieved in the 16 seasons framed around the three championships of the Pistons?

One playoff appearance. Just one.

And it was brought to an end in three games.

Jordan, whose Bulls won the 1997 series, declared the Webber-led unit to be a team of the future. That was the first time Jordan was wrong about the Washington franchise.

Yet here we are again, on the edge of another season that carries a hint of promise, and the urge to take up with Pollin is irresistible.

No one is expecting the improbable from the Wizards, just a mark in the vicinity of .500 with the P-word in the mix until the last week of the regular season, with their inclusion dependent on how the eight-team party breaks at No. 8.

The Wizards are stocked with a number of young and gifted players. They have been moved to a division that features three get-well teams, the expansion Bobcats and modestly equipped Hawks and Magic.

Unfortunately for Haywood, the division also features a newly committed Shaquille O’Neal, who has lost weight but gained a fire in his belly following his dismissal from Kobe Bryant’s Lakers.

O’Neal just might have one monster season left in his 32-year-old body and enough resolve to put the Heat in the company of the Pistons and Pacers. The rest of the Eastern Conference is a massive negotiation of the questionable, the possibly and the maybes.

The Wizards, starting with Brown, are coming up on show-us time following their 25-57 record last season.

If the core group of the team covets more time to mature — and that is part of the process — it must earn it by showing progress.

And that means now. This season.

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