- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

It appears the NBA’s trade deadline, which arrives today at 3 p.m., will pass quietly in Washington.

Barring a blockbuster deal coming across his desk today, Washington Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld doesn’t foresee his team making a major move.

“We’re going to approach it the same way we do every year,” Grunfeld said yesterday following the team’s workout at MCI Center. “We’ve been on the phone and have had conversations to see what opportunities are out there.

“If the right opportunity presents itself, then it’s something we’ll take a look at,” he continued. “If not, I think we’re comfortable with our team. We’re playing much better basketball, we’ve improved on the defensive end and I think the players are playing with a nice amount of confidence right now.”

When Grunfeld picks up his mobile phone these days, reserve center Etan Thomas and swingman Jared Jeffries are believed to be the two names most inquired about.

One deal that has been discussed involved the Wizards sending Thomas, the Wizards’ longest tenured player, to Chicago for former Georgetown power forward Michael Sweetney and cash.

Though that deal interested the Wizards, there are questions about Sweetney’s weight and conditioning. In his third season in the league, the former New York Knicks first-round pick is putting up decent numbers (9.2 points, 5.9 rebounds) while playing almost 21 minutes a game.

However, Sweetney is not known for his defense. And the Wizards, who feel they have enough offensive weapons in Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, are looking to get better defensively.

“Obviously I’d like to improve our team,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “But I haven’t heard anything that improves our team.”

Teams also have expressed interest in Jeffries, who will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, meaning the Wizards will have the right to match any offer he receives.

The main reason the Wizards aren’t salivating about a last-minute deal is they believe they are headed in the right direction.

After a rocky start, the Wizards have won 14 of their past 20 games, including six of their last eight. They also have improved dramatically at the defensive end. Most importantly, the Wizards would be seeded sixth in the East if the playoffs started today, and climbing as high as fourth is not out of the question.

“The players are starting to jell, and they are starting to understand each other,” Grunfeld said. “We have put ourselves into position to make a good run. Our destiny is in our own hands.”

Notes — Regarding the practice altercation that resulted in Thomas and Brendan Haywood getting benched for Tuesday’s game, Jordan indicated the players crossed the line.

“It’s good to have physical practices, but we have rules,” Jordan said. “We want competitive practices, and when we emphasize a physical approach, it’s going to happen where you have some physical contact.”

Said Thomas: “Nothing happened worth writing about.”

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