- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2005

It isn’t often an NBA player who just lost his starting job will spend an afternoon with the teammate who took it, grabbing lunch or taking in a movie on the road before a game.

Demotions in this league usually don’t go down so easy (see Kwame Brown).

But since Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan replaced veteran Antonio Daniels in the starting lineup with Jarvis Hayes seven games ago, the bond the two developed in training camp has continued to grow. And there is no animosity on Daniels’ part.

“It doesn’t matter,” Daniels said when asked about losing his job to Hayes, who posted season highs with 21 points and eight rebounds in the Wizards’ 119-111 overtime victory over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night. “I care about winning games, and whatever is best for our team to win games, I’m for it. If it’s me starting, great. If it’s Jarvis starting, great.

“The good thing about it is we have developed a very, very close bond,” Daniels added. “He wants what’s best for me, and I want what’s best for him. So we trust each other 100 percent.”

Hayes used Daniels, whom the Wizards signed over the summer, as a sounding board during the preseason when the knee he fractured in February still was giving him problems. That injury forced Hayes to miss the final 28 games of the regular season and both of the Wizards’ playoff series.

The 6-foot-8 Hayes, the 10th pick overall in the 2003 draft, showed a glimmer of his potential when he struck for 17 of his 19 points in the first half of a preseason game against San Antonio. But he proceeded to miss the team’s next six preseason games with soreness in the knee.

It was a tough time for Hayes, 24, because an injury had never kept him down that long. And he turned to Daniels, his new teammate, to help him get through it.

“He’s a veteran, and he did everything he could to make sure I stayed positive,” said Hayes, who will start tonight against the Indiana Pacers. “We’ve been close ever since training camp, and he’s had my back. He’s a team guy. … When he started out as the starter, I had his back. When coach made the switch, he had my back. It’s one of those things where we are competitors on the court, but we’ve got each other’s back no matter what happens.”

The Wizards knew what they were getting when they signed Daniels to a five-year, $30million deal.

The 30-year-old combo guard has appeared in the postseason six times with three different teams (San Antonio, Portland and Seattle). With All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison carrying the offensive burden, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan wanted to add a solid defensive guard who could do a variety of things well, and Daniels fit that bill.

Last season he averaged 11.2 points and 4.1 assists for Seattle, and he finished second in the league in assists-to-turnover ratio at 3.96-1.

But now Daniels is the one who is struggling. He already has had a 0-for-10 shooting night against Denver. His 31.6 percent shooting is the lowest of his career, and he’s averaging 5.3 points, less than half of what he did last season in Seattle.

“Offensively I’m not even close to being comfortable,” Daniels said. “But I’m not going to concern myself with that because then I’m getting caught up in the wrong thing. These things take time, and it’s a process. Right now I have to figure out how I can help this team win basketball games, and right now it’s primarily on the defensive end. When my opportunity comes around offensively, I have to be ready to take advantage of it. Right now it’s just not there.”

Note — The Wizards will wear the franchise’s 1972-73 uniforms in eight games this season, starting Saturday when they play host to Chicago and again Sunday night in Miami.

“That [Baltimore Bullets] team won 52 games and marked Elvin Hayes’ first season with us,” Washington Sports and Entertainment president Susan O’Malley said. “We hope that these uniforms bring back some great memories for our longtime fans as well as create some exciting new memories for fans of this year’s team.”

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