- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2005

As it always does, the NBA rumor mill will gain momentum in the next two weeks as the Feb. 24 trading deadline approaches. Names like Atlanta’s Antoine Walker and New York’s Tim Thomas will pop up more often than baseball steroid stories.

But the Washington Wizards are unlikely to make any changes, a result of their startling turnaround to a 29-19 record this season. Despite losing two starters for extended stretches, Washington is off to its best start in 26 seasons.

“I think we like what we have here, and we’re not desperate to do anything by any means,” president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said. “In all likelihood, this will be the team that we finish the season with.

“In this business, you never say never. [But] I believe in continuity and consistency. We are going to add two players [guard Larry Hughes and forward Kwame Brown] after the All-Star Game without having to give up anybody, so we are going to get some bodies in here. The way I see it, the chemistry is really good, and we’ve still got room for growth.”

The Wizards, 7-6 since Hughes suffered a broken thumb, are targeting a Feb. 23 game against Memphis as his return date.

“Larry is going to start as soon as he’s ready to rejoin the team,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “We were playing pretty well right before he got hurt.”

When Hughes went down, the Wizards had won seven straight, including victories over Western Conference powers Phoenix and Seattle. San Antonio, whom the Wizards beat Wednesday, is tied with the Suns for the league’s best record (39-11).

Brown (ankle) said he hopes to return against Memphis or two days later against Chicago. Injuries have limited him to 14 games this season, but Brown did accumulate 20 double-doubles last season.

“What if he showed the same improvement this season as he did last season?” Grunfeld said.

Brown, a 6-foot-11, 265-pound former overall No. 1 pick, and Hughes will be free agents this summer (restricted and unrestricted, respectively) and have had their names bandied about in trade rumors. However, Hughes was producing like an All-Star before his injury, and both players have said they would like to remain with the team.

Jordan doesn’t discuss possible trades, preferring to leave personnel moves up to Grunfeld. But the coach knows that there will be some roadblocks — “lightning bolts,” he calls them — in the second half of the season. For example, during March the Wizards face a stretch in which 10 of 12 games are away from MCI Center, where they are 19-7.

“This is not about ‘Let’s get 50 wins now’ or ‘Can we get into the second round of the playoffs,’ ” Jordan said. “We don’t talk like that. It’s about improving some each day.”

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