- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Wizards are up against the trade deadline, with no genuine sense of who they are and limitations all about them.

Ernie Grunfeld cannot begin to repair the Wizards in a meaningful manner until he knows with a degree of certainty the fate of Gilbert Arenas.

All franchise business, with the exception of identifying the leading prospects of the NBA Draft, is impinged by the question of Arenas, whose chronic knee problem is conjuring memories of Bernard King, Grunfeld’s old running mate at Tennessee.

King essentially lost two seasons because of a bum knee but eventually returned to All-Star form, if only for an abbreviated period in the 1990-91 season, when he was with the Bullets.

Although the field of sports medicine has made considerable advances in the last generation, the human body can be impervious to the best team of doctors employing the best techniques.

That has been especially true with Arenas, the one with the incredibly volatile timetable who possibly will be unable to make even a cameo appearance this season.

The Wizards have two players with high trade value in Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, both of whom just happen to be able complements to Arenas.

The Wizards could play with a certain flair, with the emphasis on offense, so long as all three were on the floor and accumulating 65 to 70 points a game. Theirs was an aesthetically pleasing style - the Suns are reverting to it after firing Terry Porter - even if it is fundamentally flawed in the slog of playoff basketball.

Butler and Jamison have made appearances in the NBA rumor mill, which is the product of their All-Star pedigrees and a team in the midst of a history-making swoon. The desperate often receive inquiries from the strong and mighty in the hope the desperate are blinded by their hurt.

A trade involving either player probably would not be in the best interest of the franchise, barring a one-sided scenario, such as the Butler-Kwame Brown swap in 2005. Until Grunfeld and the Wizards know the long-term outcome with Arenas - the best-case guess now pushed back to next December or January - it is virtually impossible to build around a $111 million doubt.

Grunfeld might see an opening to make a second-tier move that relieves potential anxieties about the salary cap. That might prove useful in signing the lottery pick in the summer. But it would not improve the principal concern of the team’s beleaguered fans.

They embraced the sense of hope that permeated the franchise the first two seasons of its four-year playoff run. There was a core group, a foundation. There was a clear-cut plan. With the addition of another piece or two, or the emergence of Andray Blatche, the Wizards and their supporters could dream of deep playoff runs.

Three seasons’ worth of injuries later, the Wizards have hit bottom. Beyond Butler and Jamison and rookie JaVale McGee, the trade value of the remaining Wizards depends on the needs of a potential suitor.

Nick Young has shown he can score but lacks court awareness. DeShawn Stevenson has been betrayed by his body this season, which is either a blip in his career or the beginning of a downward trend after nine seasons in the NBA.

Brendan Haywood would intrigue a number of teams, as 7-footers do, and his availability is liable to rise in proportion to McGee’s development. Blatche remains a work ethic short of being what he could be. The rest of the Wizards are either unmovable or too raw to elicit the sort of interest that would benefit the team in a persuasive fashion.

This is the grim outlook before the Wizards as the trade deadline nears. They are stuck between a $111 million contract and the long-shot recovery of a franchise player who saw his world come crashing down 22 months ago.

That is the snap, crackle and pop of basketball, a beautiful game but ever cruel.

Too cruel on this franchise.

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