- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 9, 2004

RICHMOND — Part of the failed experiment that was the Washington Wizards’ 2003-04 season was the unfulfilled promise — on and off the court — of the team’s veterans.

Coach Eddie Jordan hoped Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner would provide leadership on one of the NBA’s youngest rosters. But injuries destroyed Stackhouse’s season, and Laettner lost any credibility he might have had when he received a five-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy.

Both are now gone, traded to Dallas for durable Antawn Jamison. Now two other veteran acquisitions via free agency, Anthony Peeler and Samaki Walker, are quietly being asked to fill leadership roles.

Peeler, 34 and a 12-year NBA veteran, played a significant role for Sacramento last season, leading the league in 3-point shooting at 48.2 percent.

Walker, 28 and entering his ninth NBA season, gives the Wizards flexibility because he can play center or power forward. Despite being limited by injuries to 33 games last season in Miami, the 6-9 Walker said he is in the best shape of his life and wants to show that he can be a leader.

“The most important thing they will bring to us is their professionalism,” Jordan said. “Their approach to playing the game is always good for a team, especially a young team. But they’re going to help us in that they can fill roles on the court, too.”

The 6-5 Peeler, who can still fill it up from long range, will come off the bench and could cut into reserve shooting guard Juan Dixon’s minutes. Last season Dixon usually was the first one brought in when the Wizards needed outside scoring. However, Dixon is small by NBA standards at 6-3 and 164 pounds, and opponents often attacked him on defense.

“I’m at the point in my career where I think I can have a valuable role helping younger players,” said Peeler, who played in a similar offensive system in Sacramento. “I looked at the roster and thought Washington was heading in the right direction. They had Gilbert {Arenas], Larry [Hughes], Kwame [Brown], and then they added Antawn, who is a leader. This is a good mix and a good fit.”

Walker never lived up to lofty expectations after being picked ninth by Dallas in the 1996 NBA Draft. However, he is reaching his athletic prime and believes he can be a leader and an key part of a playoff contender in Washington.

“When the opportunity comes, I’ll be ready,” Walker said. “But I’m not looking at this from a selfish standpoint. It’s not just about me. I took my ego out of the situation a long time ago.”

For Walker, whom Jordan said will be the No.3 center, the most important role will be as leader; both in the locker room and on the hardwood.

“You become a veteran just by being in the league,” said Walker, who writes about spirituality in his spare time. “But leading is something you have to earn. And it starts here first in the drills we’re doing now. You can’t go out and expect to turn it on and become a potential playoff team. You have to come in here and do the work, listen to the coach. I’ll speak up in certain situations when guys are slacking up.”

Notes — Brown’s right foot was examined by team physician Steven Hass yesterday. Brown, who broke the foot in August, is still unable to run, and no timetable has been set for his return. Last week Brown suggested he might miss the first month of the season.

“I don’t think there is a time frame on it,” Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said. “I don’t know when he is going to return. We will monitor him and see how his rehab goes.”

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