- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Eddie Jordan announced Tuesday that the Wizards are in pursuit of an NBA championship.

This possibly comes as a shock to those supporters of the team mired in a Gilbert Arenas-induced funk.

Arenas has come to spend more time at Sibley Memorial Hospital than in the uniform of the Wizards, which is no way to seek a championship.

“It’s going to be a journey,” Jordan said. “I’m not going to put a number on it. We see ourselves like the other 29 teams in the NBA. We’re competing for a championship.”

The message was sponsored by the Chipotle bean burrito, presumably delivered to the press room by Andray Blatche, the all-Chipotle forward of the Wizards with the heavy foot.

It was Blatche who spent the summer doing his impression of “Smokey and the Bandit” in rural Virginia.

Blatche delivers a mean Chipotle bean burrito during the second quarter of every home game and sometimes plays at a level that draws admirers and projections that one day he could be somebody in the NBA.

The latter depends on his work ethic, maturity and capacity to heed the advice of Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, the team’s consummate professionals who often have to resist the urge to roll their eyes amid the foolishness.

The issue of Blatche, who is either being shot or arrested in the offseason, takes on an added dimension with the uncertainty of Arenas, who is up to three surgeries on his left knee.

Blatche has the size, athleticism and skill set to be so much more than a role player if he ever comes to accept that he is in a cutthroat business that happens to be a game.

He could be the No. 3 guy the Wizards lack with Arenas relegated to entertaining the doctors, nurses and support staff at Sibley.

Arenas probably played another hand of online poker just before the surgeon cleaned out the debris in his left knee, and the surgery possibly was performed in a room that had been converted to approximate Colorado’s altitude.

By now, the Wizards are accustomed to being competent without Arenas.

Yet their competence is synonymous with exiting from the playoffs after meeting LeBron James and the Witnesses.

“You certainly need a Gilbert Arenas to get where we want to go,” Jordan said.

It was an otherwise upbeat day in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood, where Ernie Grunfeld noted the impeccable coaching work of Jordan after the team exercised the right to pick up the option year on his contract.

It almost was an obligation after Jordan squeezed 43 wins out of his infirmary unit and came under criticism from the AARP after testing the physical endurance of Phil Hubbard and Mike O’Koren in practice last season.

Hubbard and O’Koren are reportedly on the mend, and the team’s roster is bulging with 18 players, 17 healthy, which is nine or 10 more than at certain times last season.

The tweaking of the roster includes the addition of Juan Dixon, the local favorite expected to lead the Wizards to the NCAA championship one of these seasons.

With the Eastern Conference expected to be improved, the Wizards begin the season with a sense of vulnerability and with the reality that they are financially stuck.

It is that time of the year when ESPN’s John Hollinger feeds every statistic imaginable into his computer and it spits out the bad news the Wizards will not win more than eight or nine games.

“The good thing is, we have to play the games, and there are 82 of them,” Grunfeld said. “Our goal is to get homecourt advantage [in the first round of the playoffs].”

That may not be as important as the Wizards finding a way to avoid another first-round meeting with the Witnesses.

“We feel very confident in the players we have,” Jordan said.

Confident or not, the fate of the franchise rests on the unresolved question of Arenas.

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