- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

Break a leg is the last phrase to utter around the Wizards.

They just might comply with the expression intended as good luck.

Antawn Jamison, in particular, is the new flavor of the moment looking to avoid the deleterious forces lurking on Fun Street.

We wish him the best, if only because bad things happen to the best intentions in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood.

There is lead in the water and mortar in the hands of Brendan Haywood, to cite two environmental hazards plaguing the area.

Players land in Washington to celebratory salutations, only to disappear into the Bermuda Triangle-like vortex of injury, obstinacy and the hemp plant. They end up with an arm in a sling, a foot in a cast and a head in deep trouble.

At least two players, both gone, succumbed to the uniquely Washington tradition last season.

One came to have nothing but quit in him, while the other adopted his fashion cues from the painting of “The Last Supper” before eliciting the services of the NBA’s drug czar.

Haley Joel Osment sees dead people. We see the Wizards.

The distinction is often slight, especially by the spring.

The temptation to be at one with playoff-fixated Abe Pollin is strongest in October, when the team’s record is 0-0 and the new faces are naive to the dangers of a five-game losing streak.

Jamison is packing a modicum of cheer and a pleasant smile, plus the capacity to score and rebound in bunches. He is the first element in the mix, Gilbert Arenas the second, and we only can hope that Kwame Brown eventually decides to be the third.

One way or the other, Brown will determine in large measure what the Wizards are destined to be this season. He is big enough, and talented enough, to be so much more than the paragon of understatement he has been in his first three seasons in the NBA.

Brown is running out of developmental time, the Wizards out of patience.

It is his destiny to either confirm or deny the effectiveness of Michael Jordan’s personnel evaluations by cell phone.

That is a potentially worthy trio, a Big Three even, assuming Arenas was able to include deep-breathing mental exercises in his summertime workout regimen.

Arenas is the joker wild who goes into the season grappling with demons of an extreme nature, whether shooting the ball too much or not shooting it at all, depending on his mood and the observations of his teammates.

Not shooting at all is the schoolyard equivalent of taking your ball home following an argument. This is unbecoming of a professional athlete, although the definition of one is forever being defined down in the prom-raiding NBA.

Arenas is dripping with competitive verve, some of it counterproductive if the target is an elbow-swinging 7-footer after the game has been decided. This is the Arenas the team’s supporters have come to know and love while rolling their eyes.

There is every reason to believe that the trio of Jamison, Arenas and Brown can lead the Wizards to the playoffs, the first step in this interminable reclamation project.

As long as they stay reasonably healthy, the Wizards should have a playoff push in them this season. A lack of health sentenced them to 25-win misery last season. Health is the caveat to all things Wizards.

Their relative youth will buy them no understanding this time around, especially in the two- or three-team Eastern Conference, where the modestly committed routinely keep hope alive.

The city is desperate to embrace a genuinely energetic NBA team that at least pays lip service to the one-for-all, all-for-one dictum of professional sports. A basketball team with an inkling to flirt with a .500 record would pass as a champion in these parts.

That is the challenge, unpretentious as it is, before the Wizards.

Restore the NBA to Washington and the city will applaud in earnest.

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