- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

The Wizards either win 50 games and go deep into the playoffs this season or the brain trust’s devotion to continuity and chemistry is likely to succumb to a series of changes.

In a worst-case scenario, that could mean the departures of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and coach Eddie Jordan, either by choice in the case of Arenas and Jamison or by pink slip in the case of Jordan.

That is the reality before the Wizards, unsettling though it may be.

The franchise has evolved beyond the point of being satisfied with a playoff berth after three consecutive postseason appearances.

The Wizards now have an obligation to show they have most of the right pieces in place, the center position excluded, and the only way to do that is to become one of the elite teams of the Eastern Conference.

Ernie Grunfeld had a quiet offseason because of his belief in the existing personnel and the what-if dimension of last season.

It is not far-fetched to think it could have been the Wizards in the NBA Finals last June instead of the Cavaliers if not for the season-ending injuries to Arenas and Caron Butler.

That exterminated the playoff chances of the Wizards, as it would any team missing its two leading players.

The injury-fueled descent does not ease the sense of urgency enveloping the Wizards.

Arenas plans to opt out of his contract after the season, while Jamison’s contract expires at the same time.

The season, whether good or bad, will contribute in part to the decision-making process before Arenas, Jamison and Grunfeld.

To resist the lure of change, the principal parties will want to see a team that is moving in the proper direction.

Jordan, who has the fifth-most coaching victories in franchise history, will be subjected to the same hints of change if the team is unable to advance beyond the second tier of playoff teams.

Grunfeld did Jordan no favors by failing to unload Brendan Haywood, if not the Poet.

Or to put it another way, Grunfeld found no willing takers.

Jordan, Haywood and the Poet have what can be charitably called communication problems, although that observation is possibly not fair to either Jordan or the Poet.

The Poet and Haywood sometimes resort to fisticuffs to settle their differences, at least on three known occasions.

Haywood also resorts to pouting in the vicinity of Jordan, often not grasping how securing only one rebound in 15 minutes can be damaging to the player-coach relationship, especially if the player is a 7-footer.

The strain is not expected to abate, not unless Haywood starts to pen sonnets with the Poet and Jordan suddenly finds value in the one-rebound performance.

The center position remains the team’s most glaring imperfection, which is saying something around a team that waves the green flag to those opponents interested in dribbling to the basket.

Otherwise, Jordan may have an able bench for the first time in his tenure.

Andray Blatche is energetic, even in the wee hours of the morning, Darius Songaila is healthy and gritty, and Antonio Daniels is reliable.

Nick Young and Oleksiy Pecherov eventually could work themselves into the regular rotation, depending on their capacity to adjust to the pace of the NBA and reduced roles.

Alas, the Wizards are not about to be anything but what they have been the last few seasons, which is a defensively challenged team that must outscore the opposition.

That worked sufficiently well before the All-Star break last season, when the Wizards had the best record in the conference and a conviction that they could prosper as a version of the Suns.

Injuries prevented the team and its supporters from seeing what might have been.

Now the Wizards will try again amid the prospect of a turbulent offseason.

Their personnel defers to no one in the conference, and their identity is fixed.

It is either this season for this core group of Wizards or it possibly will never be any season.

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