- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

Flip Saunders is working with Andray Blatche on a daily basis, putting the 22-year-old forward through various basketball drills while trying to solve the four-year mystery of what his destiny will be.

“This [one-on-one training] is what I used to do with Kevin Garnett,” Saunders tells Blatche, aware that Blatche idolized Garnett in his days as a youth in Syracuse, N.Y.

That anecdote comes from Ernie Grunfeld, the president of the Wizards and the one who hired Saunders in April to pick up the pieces from a 19-win season.

That was the first encouraging move on Grunfeld’s part to steady the collective psyche of the injury-cursed team. The second was his pilfering of Randy Foye and Mike Miller from the Timberwolves this week.

At least one more personnel move is on Grunfeld’s to-do list. That would be a frontcourt player capable of providing 10 to 12 quality minutes a game. Grunfeld has several possibilities in mind - none firm - and a conviction that he can be patient.

News of the trade has renewed the sense of purpose among the team’s core and answered questions about the direction of the franchise.

Arenas is showing up shirtless to play in the evening pickup games at the arena.

“You know how you can tell when a guy is feeling good about his body?” Grunfeld said Thursday. “It’s when a guy is out there playing without a shirt.”

Grunfeld is encouraged by the way Arenas is moving on the court and expects no further setbacks. He is not looking for Arenas to be a 30-point-a-game player. He is looking for Arenas to enhance the abilities of his teammates, to be a facilitator, to pick his spots.

“We’re one of the deepest teams in the East now,” Grunfeld said.

The Wizards now have an abundance of shooters and the beneficial prospect of minutes having to be earned.

Grunfeld remains ever hopeful with Blatche, a 6-foot-11 talent with a history of shrinking from his duties. That has been chalked up to his immaturity, a condition Brendan Haywood eventually overcame.

“We like Andray,” Grunfeld said. “I don’t expect him to have a great game every game. That is what you expect from the great players in this league. I knew Patrick Ewing was going to be great 76 games a year. Good players in this league might be great in two out of four games. With Andray and with his ability to shoot and handle the ball… is he someone who can get 12 to 14 points, eight to 10 rebounds a game? But I agree. The jury is still out on Andray. It’s up to him.”

Saunders has taken an active interest in Blatche in an effort to unearth his inner gym rat - if one is lurking inside him.

“Flip is getting through to him at this point,” Grunfeld said. “They have a nice relationship.”

The Saunders-Blatche dynamic is a reflection of Grunfeld’s Red Holzman-inspired belief in developing players, one of the three D’s of building a team. The others are making a sweet deal or draft pick.

Grunfeld is not inclined to say whether he will part with any of the 13 players under contract, although it is clear the Wizards have bodies to spare in the backcourt.

That would be Mike James, DeShawn Stevenson or even Nick Young if the right offer materializes. Grunfeld is always willing to listen to the latest breathless pitch. He counted four inquiries from general managers awaiting his return call by mid-morning Thursday.

Not that he feels a sense of urgency to cut another deal, not after landing Foye and Miller for what amounted to almost nothing.

The scouting report on them emphasizes their 3-point shooting, but neither is glued to the 3-point line. Each has the capacity to create off the dribble, a valuable quality in an increasingly finesse-oriented NBA.

“I like where we are,” Grunfeld said.

That is what a new coaching staff, two additional shooters and good health can do for a team.

• Tom Knott can be reached at tknott@washingtontimes.com.

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