- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2005

Rather than revel in the Washington Wizards’ first playoff series win in 23 seasons, coach Eddie Jordan left little doubt yesterday he believes this club could be even better.

“Yes, I do,” Jordan said when asked whether he liked the team that will gather for training camp Tuesday at Virginia Commonwealth University better than the team that defeated the Chicago Bulls in the first round before falling to the Miami Heat in the second.

The Wizards’ big offseason news, of course, was more about the players they lost — Larry Hughes through free agency and enigmatic Kwame Brown in a trade — than the additions to the 45-37 team.

While trading Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers for Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins can be seen as a shrewd move that adds quality depth — and removes a player who clearly had worn out his welcome — losing Hughes, who earned all-defensive first-team honors, will hurt. After all, replacing Hughes’ 22.0 points and league-leading 2.89 steals a game won’t be easy.

But Jordan said the addition of Butler, whose 15.5 points a game were second to Kobe Bryant on the Lakers, and free agent veterans Antonio Daniels and Calvin Booth make the Wizards better in a number of ways.

With the Lakers out of the playoff race, Butler averaged 22 points in the last 15 games of the season. Jordan already is mentioning him as the third option behind Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.

The 6-foot-4 Daniels is coming off a career year in Seattle, where he averaged 11.2 points and 4.1 assists.

Atkins, another point guard, was fourth on the Lakers in scoring (13.6) and second in assists behind Bryant.

Yesterday, Jordan did the same thing president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld did the day before, rave about an improved Brendan Haywood, who averaged a career-best 9.4 points last season.

If Etan Thomas remains healthy, Booth — originally drafted by the Wizards in 1999 — will give them another veteran big man and allow 6-8 reserve Michael Ruffin to play his natural power forward position.

“I like the fact that we have Calvin Booth, an experienced third center and a solid veteran,” Jordan said. “We have forwards who can post up and face up and play off the dribble. I think we’re bigger in the backcourt. Last year we had Steve [Blake] and Juan [Dixon], good players but smaller guys that I think other teams felt they could take advantage of. And we have more playoff experience, guys who have had career years in Caron and Antonio. So I like this roster better, yes.”

But Jordan said there are some mitigating factors for the Wizards. For one, he doesn’t think Washington will be a surprise this season, and he thinks Cleveland, Miami and New Jersey are all much improved.

“With everyone else getting better in the Eastern Conference and with people knowing that we are for real, we are not going to be overlooked,” Jordan said.

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