- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2008

The urge to bury Eddie Jordan and the Wizards is understandable after they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Cavaliers a third consecutive spring.

Yet this visceral reaction overlooks two fundamental truths: The Wizards have not been healthy since late January 2007. And it is incredibly difficult to defeat a team whose leading player is allowed to hop, skip and jump to the basket, bowl over defenders, rake the arms of an opponent who has the ball and be granted the kind of latitude not seen since Michael Jordan was in his glory seasons with the Bulls.

And that underlines the principal difference between LeBron James and Jordan.

His Airness earned the benefit of doubt from the referees, while James, at 23 years old, has not.

When Jordan was in the process of claiming his last two championships in the 1997-98 seasons, Jerry Sloan and the Jazz knew the aura of Jordan was worth perhaps 10 points to the Bulls because of the officiating that tilted in his direction.



That same advantage now works in the favor of James and the Cavaliers. This explains in part the incredulousness of both James and coach Mike Brown whenever a call goes against the Spoiled One.

Their sense of entitlement is nauseating, exceeded only when Brown slips into his postgame fawning mode and dispenses the word “terrific” 12 times to laud the Spoiled One sufficiently.

It was fashionable to make the claim that one superstar eliminated three All-Stars, which would be valid if you believe a one-legged Gilbert Arenas and an injury-hampered Caron Butler performed at an All-Star level during the series. And Antawn Jamison merely had a so-so series because of shooting difficulties from the field and free throw line.

So commences the Wizards’ summer of self-examination, with Arenas set to opt out of his contract and join Jamison and Roger Mason Jr. in the free agency pool.

This is the problematic assignment before Ernie Grunfeld, who is obligated to base his evaluations on a series of challenging elements: the recovery of Arenas from two surgeries on his left knee, Jamison’s 32nd birthday next month, the fading memory of a healthy team atop the Eastern Conference 15-plus months ago and an organization that is adverse to paying luxury tax.

And Grunfeld must ask himself this: Are the Wizards, as presently constructed, built to go deep into the playoffs?

That is no easy question because of the team’s lack of health the last two postseasons.

The question of Jordan’s status, recently bandied about on Glenn Consor’s postgame radio show and on the Internet, is ludicrous.

Stick a team’s lead player in street clothes for 69 games and see whether it works to a 43-39 record and fifth seed in the playoffs.

“When we had our injuries, everyone counted us out,” Butler says. “All of a sudden, we were talked about as a playoff team. Somehow, some way, [Jordan] made it happen.”

Grunfeld built championship-caliber teams in New York and a Bucks team that advanced to the conference finals in 2001. His sense of where the Wizards are will be revealed later this week.

His season-long position has been to re-sign both Arenas and Jamison, although we know from the free agency of Larry Hughes and Jared Jeffries that a vow to make a deal does not make it so.

And the Arenas negotiations are likely to be fraught with drama, if only because that is the nature of the person.

A possible dynamic in the negotiations is if Arenas was sensitive to the growing sentiment outside the organization that the Wizards performed more efficiently in his absence. With Arenas, you just never know.

Here’s what you do know with Arenas and Jamison: They will be pondering the same questions as Grunfeld.

They will look at this team, this core group, and imagine where it could be next season if healthy.

It is the what-if dimension without a definitive answer.

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