- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Wizards no more need the 16th pick in the draft than Brendan Haywood in uniform next season.

Neither piece is about to address the sense of foreboding enveloping the Wizards, with both Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison set to become unrestricted free agents next summer.

The Wizards have 82 games and the playoffs to demonstrate that they are a team of substance in the Eastern Conference.

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That demonstration, of course, will be a factor in the decision-making process of Arenas and Jamison.

A team on the rise is certainly more appealing than one stuck in the one-and-done cycle of the playoffs.

Even if the Wizards experience another injury-induced, fault-free fade next season, no one in these parts is liable to be too optimistic about the negotiating process involving Arenas and Jamison, no matter how many times each player says all the right things in the months ahead.

We have heard all these things in the past, and we know how they sometimes turn out, with the player going elsewhere, while dispensing the money quote: “This is a business.”

We can lament all day how, with a break or two, it could have been the Wizards in the NBA Finals instead of the Cavaliers, if not for the injuries to Arenas and Caron Butler.

But it is so much noise because we do not know, cannot know and never will know.

At some point, perhaps next season or never, the Wizards have to exhibit a quality greater than promise. They have to win 50 games and go deep into the playoffs.

No 16th pick in the draft is going to help them do that. The Wizards already have two youngsters in Andray Blatche and Oleksiy Pecherov who will be commanding minutes next season. How does a coach fit another inexperienced player into the rotation of a team that is hardly in the rebuilding mode?

Even Ernie Grunfeld concedes the point.

“I don’t think we’re going to get anyone at 16 who will help us right away,” he said yesterday.

Haywood was last seen trudging off the floor with his index finger raised skyward, an odd sentiment, given the Wizards were a few seconds away from being swept by the Cavaliers.

Haywood undoubtedly is No. 1 in his mind, even if he does not play a second. Eddie Jordan would have played Jack Miles before Haywood in Game 4, although Miles would have been giving up more than a foot to Zydrunas Ilgauskas. At least Miles could have employed his Marine Corps training on Ilgauskas.

As much as Grunfeld would like to make a deal, the reality of the salary cap stifles all too many trade possibilities.

The Poet is immovable because of a contract that has three years and $20.6 million left on it. Haywood has the more appealing contract — three years remaining at $16.5 million — and, unlike the Poet, is a genuine center.

The trade value of Antonio Daniels is limited because of his 32 years and the three years and $18.6 million left on his contract.

Otherwise, the core players of the Wizards are Arenas, Butler, Jamison, Blatche, Pecherov and Darius Songaila.

The Wizards plan to match the best offer that comes Blatche’s way, hope to re-sign DeShawn Stevenson and have decisions to make on Jarvis Hayes, Michael Ruffin, Calvin Booth, Roger Mason, Mike Hall and Donell Taylor.

Hayes likely will end up elsewhere through free agency, and there is certain to be change at the end of the bench, if only out of salary-cap considerations.

Grunfeld is not against packaging the first-round pick with a body or two “if the right opportunity comes along.”

Yet he knows it is far easier to demand a trade in print or on the airwaves than it is to execute one.

“I’m comfortable with our roster,” he said. “I think people forget that we had the best record in the conference at the All-Star break, and that was without Darius, and Andray was not getting a lot of minutes then.”

Perhaps Haywood was trying to remind everyone of that in his farewell stroll.

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