- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

That bewildered look on the face of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith as he was victimized by the Washington Redskins last week? That’s something some of the new Washington Wizards can relate to as they try to digest the intricacies of the Princeton offense.

The comparison wasn’t lost on Chucky Atkins yesterday after the Wizards returned to practice following just their second day off since the start of training camp.

“It’s not an easy situation,” Atkins said. “It’s like having a rookie quarterback out there, and he’s got to audible because he doesn’t really know all the language that the coach is filling his head with.”

Don’t be fooled by the fact that in three of Washington’s six preseason games Atkins has scored 18 or more points. Caron Butler, acquired along with Atkins from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Kwame Brown, doesn’t want anyone focusing on the 22-point effort he had in the Wizards’ 75-71 loss to Houston over the weekend. And Antonio Daniels, the team’s top free agent acquisition, has had his awkward moments as well.

Digesting the Wizards’ free-flowing offense takes a little more than three weeks. Atkins, Butler and Daniels know they won’t have it down by the start of the regular season Nov.2 at Toronto, either.

But in time, it will come. The only question is when.

“When I went to Seattle it took me almost a year to establish my niche and how I could be successful in the team concept,” said Daniels, who spent the last two seasons with the Sonics and is playing for his fifth team.

“What we’re doing is we’re helping each other along,” Daniels continued. “We are in this together, and we’re all trying to learn the new system at once. That’s a good thing. When we don’t understand something, we’ll get together in practice and try to talk through it. Maybe I understand something that Caron doesn’t. Maybe Caron understands something that Chuck doesn’t, and maybe Chuck understands something that I don’t. We help each other out that way.”

The new Wizards face several barriers in getting acclimated. For starters, while many NBA offenses are built primarily upon the pick-and-roll, the Princeton offense is geared more to getting several players opportunities rather than just one or two.

And because of the nature of the NBA — in which coaches are fired frequently and player movement is rampant — learning each coach’s philosophy and language can become difficult. Among them, Atkins, Butler and Daniels have played for 13 teams.

“We’re just trying to figure everything out, and it’s hard,” said Butler, who is in transition from Phil Jackson’s triangle offense to Jordan’s system. “The big thing is you don’t want to come in and try to do anything too heroic and mess up the chemistry that’s already established. You want to ease yourself into what’s going on. You just can’t walk right in and understand it.

“But I think it’s starting to come. We’re picking it up in practice, and slowly I think we’re all starting to get a little more comfortable with it.”

Notes — Guard/forward Jarvis Hayes’ status is uncertain for the Wizards’ final preseason game Friday night at Indiana. Hayes, who hasn’t played in a week because of a sore right knee, said he will be ready for the season opener next week.

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