- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan will soon end the suspense surrounding which player — Brendan Haywood or Etan Thomas — will start at center when the regular season begins Wednesday in Cleveland.

Jordan says he has decided. He’s just waiting for the right time to make the announcement.

“In my mind, yes, I know what I’m going to do,” Jordan said yesterday after practice at Verizon Center. “But I’m delaying what I have to say to you guys until I talk to my team. I’m just going to wait for another day or so. It will be in time. We’ve got practice tomorrow and then a day off. You might have something by then.”

Yesterday, a pair of team sources speaking on the condition of anonymity, indicated that Thomas would get the nod.

While it’s not like choosing between Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, Jordan has made it clear that the starting center is going to have to assert himself at the defensive end, specifically with respect to keeping opposition from getting easy shots in the paint.

All the other spots in the starting lineup are secure, with Gilbert Arenas and DeShawn Stevenson forming the backcourt and Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler getting the nod at the forward positions.

While the perception is that Haywood — who started 70 games last season and has 268 starts in his career — is the incumbent, Jordan clarified the situation.

“Etan was the starter at the end of the season, if you remember, and then he got hurt at the very end,” Jordan said of Thomas, who made nine of his 34 starts last year. “So, realistically, he was the starting center until he got hurt.

Jordan gave Thomas and Haywood four starts each in the preseason. Haywood logged 17.9 minutes a game while Thomas averaged 14.7.

Neither player created an advantage at the offensive end. Haywood averaged 4.4 points and Thomas 3.7 — numbers that are pretty much irrelevant because the Wizards already have a plethora of able scorers on the roster.

Both players rebounded well. Thomas pulled down 5.9 a game compared to Haywood’s 5.1.

Thomas, however, was the more aggressive shot blocker, swatting away 1.75 a game compared to Haywood’s 0.75.

“We want to protect the paint and the rim more than ever,” Jordan said. “We want to really protect the paint.”

Jordan also plans to use the workman-like Michael Ruffin and Darius Songaila — when he’s healthy — at center.

“It’s going to be by committee, and it’s just not [Haywood and Thomas],” Jordan said. “We may go small at different points in the season. The way we play we are counting on Darius being a part of that, but he’s hurt. So it’s going to be by committee.”

Songaila, who has battled a pinched nerve in his back and has yet to play in the preseason since signing a $23 million deal with the team in the offseason, probably won’t be seeing any playing time any time soon. His back has not responded to the treatment, and he is limited in the amount of conditioning he can do.

“My frustration level is pretty high,” Songaila said. “But you’ve got to stick with it. I’m sure there is nothing they can’t fix so I’ll be back some time.”


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