Sunday, January 7, 2007

While Gilbert Arenas has turned just about every game the Washington Wizards play into must-see TV, Antawn Jamison just sits back and smiles contentedly.

And why not?

In his ninth season, Jamison, who played with Golden State when the Warriors drafted Arenas in 2001, finally feels like everything is coming together on the court at the right time.

“I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying this,” Jamison said Friday night after the Wizards (19-13) won their 15th game in their last 19, a 116-105 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers that kept the Wizards atop the Southeast Division. “Our chemistry is unbelievable. We have a situation where there are no egos; everyone checks their ego at the door. It’s the best team environment I’ve every been on.”

No doubt better than the five years in purgatory he spent in Golden State. No doubt better than the season he came off the bench in Dallas to win the Sixth Man Award and reach the playoffs.

And even better than the 2004-05 season, when he made the All-Star Game for the first time in his career.

Jamison, again, is putting up numbers that should garner him All-Star consideration. He’s averaging 19.5 points and leads the Wizards in rebounding at 8.3 a game. And with 27 blocked shots this season he’s just one shy of the 28 blocks he recorded in his first two seasons with the Wizards.

But a second All-Star appearance is the last thing on Jamison’s mind right now. It’s not lost on him that while Arenas, 25, is a lock for his third trip this February, Caron Butler, 26, is having his best season — averaging 20.9 points and 8.0 rebounds and shooting 50.3 percent — and has likely replaced Jamison as the Wizards player with the second-best shot of making the team.

In a league filled with enormous egos, that’s not the easiest thing to do. Remember, Jamison, 30, has been his team’s go-to guy before. In the 2000-01 season, when Jamison started all 82 games in Golden State, he scored 51 points in consecutive games in December, becoming the first player to score at least 50 points in consecutive games since Michael Jordan in the 1986-87 season.

Instead, Jamison is enjoying the evolution of the Wizards. While he was the man when they traded for him three seasons ago, he’s now content watching as Arenas morphs into a superstar. More importantly, Jamison is relishing in his role as the Wizards’ captain and unquestioned stabilizing entity on a team that is aspiring to reach the finals and bring an NBA championship to Washington.

“It’s not about how many points I’m scoring or rebounding,” Jamison said. “The only thing for me is to be able to play for a championship. To see the transformation of the team from my first year, seeing how we go about things and the way that we stay calm when we’re low and stay calm when we’re high. I’m enjoying it. This is what basketball is all about; this is why you put all the hard work and dedication into being just who you are.”

Averaging a career-best 30.5 points a game this season, Arenas is thankful to have Jamison as a teammate.

“He’s done a great job,” Arenas said. “I was with him when he was in the prime of his career and I was trying to make a name for myself and he let me grow. Now he sees what I’m growing into what I am and he’s still there just being there with support.”

And as Arenas continues to evolve into an MVP-caliber player, Jamison is sure to continue that support.

“He’s coming into his own — he’s not selfish,” Jamison said of Arenas, who also is averaging 6.6 assists a game. “Even though he’s doing his thing offensively and playing phenomenally well, he’s not selfish.

“He’s being more vocal, he’s communicating more with the coaches. Everything you ask a leader to do he’s starting to do that. In my eyes he’s definitely one of the best in the league and he’s improving night in and night out. He’s becoming that guy that you can actually win a championship with and that really says a lot. When you start saying that an organization has that one guy that you can win a championship with, you strap on for the ride.”

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