- The Washington Times - Friday, July 22, 2005

Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards have responded to the departure of Larry Hughes with two transactions that temper the unexpected loss and enhance the team’s financial capacity to make additional moves.

Re-signing Hughes would have crippled the maneuverability of the Wizards. However difficult it is to accept in these environs, Hughes is hardly a $14million-a-year player.

That is stupid money, and Danny Ferry’s Cavaliers are under orders to be as stupid as necessary to keep LeBron James interested in the operations long term.

Hughes was the Wizards’ No.2 guy and one whose career season came about because of the emergence of Gilbert Arenas and the acquisition of Antawn Jamison.

Even his vaunted defensive prowess came to be overstated, for it was mostly the result of his ball-stealing abilities in the passing lanes.

As a straight-up defender, Hughes was sometimes less than satisfactory, as Dwyane Wade showed in the playoffs. Not that being roasted by Wade is an indictment. It is just that a worthy defender is going to have his moments against a gifted offensive player like Wade. Hughes could make no such claim, which is one reason the Heat swept the Wizards.

Improbably enough, the Wizards have bolstered their backcourt with the additions of Caron Butler, Antonio Daniels and Chucky Atkins.

Butler is versatile enough to play the big guard or small forward spot, Daniels is a hard-nosed defender with some scoring ability and Atkins is the 3-point shooter the Wizards so desperately need.

The three more than offset the loss of Hughes. They also likely will end the bittersweet tenure of Juan Dixon, which is a positive.

Dixon, to his credit, has maximized his physical skills. He is in the NBA by only the force of his will. Yet he forever will be a 98-pound elf without a position, a marginal defender and passer and a person inclined to dribble a hole in the floor as the 24-second shot clock is winding down.

If he has a notion to shoot the ball, well, darn it, he is going to shoot the ball, even if it means shooting in heavy traffic, while falling down and with his eyes closed.

As much as Dixon is beloved on Fun Street from his championship days at Maryland, he is a one-trick player, an all-or-nothing sort who is the quintessential break-your-heart type.

For every game that he might have you shouting to the heavens in praise, he would have four or five games that would make you bury your head in your hands.

A typical possession involving Dixon starts with the following: Be cool, Juan. No. Don’t do it. No. No. Nooooooo.

Remember, too, the Bobcats could have tabbed Dixon in the expansion draft last summer but didn’t. What does that tell you?

For all the comings and goings, the Wizards still lack a consistent scoring presence in the low post, and that is not to trivialize the development of Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas.

Haywood has turned himself into a respectable center, while Thomas has shown he can be effective if he is able to get a few early dunks.

Thomas never was in peak playing form last season because of a seemingly terminal abdominal strain that left him on the bench penning sonnets until midway through the season.

Worse, Thomas still has not resolved what he wants to do with the ball.

Couples are able to complete their courtship, marry and divorce in the time it takes Thomas to complete his up-and-under move.

Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon have nothing to fear from the rock-you-to-sleep gyrations of Thomas.

Jarvis Hayes is back playing, and Jared Jeffries is trying to recover his offensive game that apparently was lost with the luggage on his flight from Bloomington, Ind., to Tony Cheng’s neighborhood. The lasting image of Jeffries from the playoffs was not a pretty one: the 6-foot-10 Jeffries being unable to post up the 6-3 Kirk Hinrich.

At least Peter John Ramos still does not look a day older than 45 after turning 20 in May.

Grunfeld, who is laboring under the league edict not to comment on anything other than local weather conditions, has not indicated if another personnel move is necessary to complete the roster.

Yet there is plenty of offseason left, plenty of cursory calls to be handled.

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