- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Even before they parted ways following their four-game elimination from the NBA playoffs by eventual Eastern Conference champion Cleveland, the Washington Wizards didn’t want to talk about what might have been.

It would have been understandable. They definitely had room to wonder.

What if they hadn’t lost All-Stars Gilbert Arenas (torn meniscus) and Caron Butler (broken finger) in the span of 72 hours in early April? What if they hadn’t lost team leader and scoring/rebounding threat Antawn Jamison to a knee injury for the entire month of February?

Or what if forward Darius Songaila — the team’s top free agent acquisition last summer — didn’t miss the first 45 games of the regular season following surgery to repair a herniated disk and need the rest of the season to try to play himself back into shape?

Although they don’t like to discuss it, the Wizards, who finished the 2006-07 regular season at 42-40 before suffering their second consecutive first-round playoff exit, believe had they been healthy they could have represented the Eastern Conference in the finals in June.

As they gather today in Richmond on Virginia Commonwealth’s campus for the first day of training camp, health is not an issue. Arenas and Butler are fine. Jamison has added yoga to his conditioning regime, and he, too, is OK. Songaila spent the summer helping his native Lithuania qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games.

The Wizards will use the next month to fine-tune things. And unlike last year, when the Wizards had to replace a starter for the second straight season, this was a summer of continuity. All five starters return.

All the focus is on getting ready for the season opener Oct. 31 at Indiana.

“No one is happy with the way the season ended last year,” said Arenas, who last season led the Wizards with 28.4 points a game. “We were the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference before we started getting injured. So now we’ll be able to see what we can do when everyone is in sync from the beginning. We know that we’re going to be a dangerous team. We’re all healthy, and we’re all excited.”

After opening last season a disappointing 4-9, the Wizards got on a roll. At their best they were 27-17, good enough to earn Eddie Jordan and his staff the job of coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars in Las Vegas.

But Jamison missed all of February with a knee injury, and the Wizards, who had 11 players miss 153 games with injuries last season, never recovered, going 14-24 the rest of the way.

Jordan eagerly awaits today.

“Everybody is healthy, which we have not had in a while,” Jordan said. “The continuity of the team is at its all-time highest, and hopefully that will be our biggest ally at the start of the season. We do not have to learn something new or bring any new personnel in other than the rookies.”

The Wizards will hold six practices between now and Friday. They will close training camp Friday with an open scrimmage, then will open the preseason with a game at Cleveland on Oct. 9.

The Wizards will play eight preseason games, the last in Toronto on Oct. 26.

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