- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

With the issue of Eddie Jordan’s future resolved, Ernie Grunfeld is left with the issue of a roster that could use a significant addition.

Or so that is the conventional wisdom.

Yet neither Grunfeld nor Jordan subscribe to that notion.

They like where the Wizards are. They like the team’s relative youth. They like its upside. They believe the Big Three of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison does not have to defer to any of the top trios in the NBA.

They see a team that was on a 50-win pace with Butler in the starting lineup last season. They see a marked change in the NBA that rewards up-and-down teams like theirs. They see an Eastern Conference in which the two leading teams, the Heat and Pistons, are expected to slide.

They also see the postseason success of the Mavericks and Suns as a potential model.

The Mavericks and Suns did not so much stop teams defensively as they outscored them last season.

That, of course, is the mind-set of the Wizards. They just do not execute that philosophy as well as the Mavericks and Suns, in part because they lack the overall playoff experience of the Mavericks and the Suns.

Not too many seasons ago, the Mavericks were the forerunners to the Wizards. They had the Big Three of Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley and a big hole in their interior.

Their postseason adventures were mostly stuffed with frustration, which is what prompted Mark Cuban not to re-sign Nash two summers ago.

We know how it has worked out for the various parties.

Nowitzki became a more complete player in Nash’s absence, and Nash became the two-time MVP of the NBA in Phoenix, which is to say it has worked out exceedingly well for everyone.

Both organizations enjoyed considerable success last season with limited contributions from traditional centers.

It may be premature to note the passing of the traditional center — Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming remain the best of that prototype — but basketball coaches at all levels of the sport no longer pigeonhole players on the basis of height.

Magic Johnson, in particular, forced coaches all across America to readjust their thought process in this area, and his example only has accelerated the rise of those who would be like him in the last generation.

Seven-foot lugs still have a place in the NBA, but that place is becoming ever more marginal.

As the Mavericks and Suns have shown, high skill level can mask a lot of deficiencies, especially in an NBA that no longer tolerates the bump-and-grind defenses of the ‘90s and now permits coaches to employ the zone defense.

Grunfeld and Jordan have every reason to believe that the fortunes of the Wizards will ascend in accordance with the ongoing evolution of Arenas.

Jamison was an All-Star in 2005, and Butler is on the cusp of becoming an All-Star, but the 24-year-old Arenas is a franchise-type player who is seen as one day having the capacity to lead this team deep into the playoffs.

That day may be a couple of seasons away, and it may require the development of Andray Blatche or a subtle acquisition that pays off handsomely, but Grunfeld and Jordan believe the team’s core players eventually will have something special in them if permitted to grow together in a stable environment.

That has been their recurring message since the end of the season.

The team’s first-round playoff exit stung. But it is part of the maturation process. All teams go through it.

Grunfeld landed Arenas in 2003, Jamison in 2004 and Butler and Antonio Daniels in 2005, which has eased the need to make a splashy move this summer.

Grunfeld is always interested upgrading the roster, as he likes to say.

But the act of upgrading has been defined down to tweaking the supporting cast.

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