- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

The NBA’s trade deadline was fast approaching, and the Washington Wizards owned one of the league’s worst records. Despite a steady flow of offers for forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, team president Ernie Grunfeld stood pat.

Grunfeld held to the belief that if the injury-riddled Wizards could ever get all their pieces together, they could compete with the elite teams in the NBA.

After a 76-game wait, Grunfeld received some reassurance Thursday night. With franchise player Gilbert Arenas and starting center Brendan Haywood back on the floor with Butler and Jamison, Washington beat LeBron James and the league-leading Cleveland Cavaliers.

“It’s been a long, frustrating year,” Grunfeld said Friday. “But last night, we finally had everybody - or close to everybody - back, and I thought we got a glimpse of what we thought we could be this season, and where we can be next year. I got excited. It was only one game, but it was a glimpse.”

The glimpse was an up-tempo game directed by Arenas, who had 11 points, 10 assists and six rebounds; solid performances by Butler (25 points) and Jamison (19 points); and an experienced post presence in Haywood, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Wizards also got 17 points and six rebounds from reserve forward Darius Songaila.

“It’s just great for the organization,” Arenas said. “We’ve been through rough times the last two years. We were right on their heels, we were snipping. One shot away, five seconds away from going to the second round [of the playoffs] each year with this team. It just lets us see that we’re not that far behind.”

The development of the Wizards’ young players provides more optimism. Second-year swingman Dominic McGuire, who started at shooting guard, grabbed 10 rebounds, handed out five assists and scored seven points in the win. Backup guard Nick Young provided a spark as the sixth man. At one point, he was on the floor with Arenas, Haywood, Butler and Jamison, and it resulted in an awkward situation because he’s used to having the green light while playing with second-unit teammates. But he settled into a rhythm and scored 10 points.

“Everybody has to be put in the right situation, and that wasn’t the case this year,” Grunfeld said. “But [Thursday] night was an indication that, when everybody’s in their proper roles, we can be a very competitive team.”

The Wizards have other pieces to work back into the fold. Backup point guard Javaris Crittenton missed Thursday’s game with back spasms, and fellow reserve guard Mike James is out with a broken finger. Shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson is done for the year after back surgery, and backup center Etan Thomas is rehabilitating a torn meniscus in his left knee.

“We will have a very deep team once we get all the pieces back,” Grunfeld said. “I’m excited for the offseason because it’s a big offseason for us. … The best opportunity for us to improve is to get everybody healthy and back together. And another thing is we have a very good asset in our draft pick. We don’t know where what pick we’ll get, but it’s an asset, and we’ll use it to put our team in the best possible position.”

The Wizards also must address their coaching situation. Grunfeld said the decision of whether to remove the interim tag from Ed Tapscott or hire another coach - Flip Saunders, Avery Johnson and Sam Mitchell are rumored to interest the Wizards - won’t be made until after the season.

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