- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

False alarm.

Although he watched his teammates take on the Phoenix Suns from the bench decked out in full team warmups and a sweatband Saturday night, Washington Wizardscenter Brendan Haywood isn’t close to making his return.

Haywood, who has missed the entire season while recovering from an October wrist surgery, said via text message Sunday that there is “no chance” he will play at all this week as the Wizards - fresh off an 0-4 Western Conference swing - host a three-game homestand.

Haywood said he was in uniform because he didn’t have a suit jacket - an NBA dress code requirement for injured players - with him and he “still wanted to support the guys.”

Meanwhile, Gilbert Arenas remains conflicted on whether to come back this season and has yet to make a decision, according to a team source.

Haywood last week was cleared to resume full contact activity. The 7-footer has maintained his playing weight of 265 pounds, but he still needs significant practice time to regain his game fitness. And the Wizards haven’t held a full practice since Haywood was cleared because they played four games in five days in the past week.

Washington, which at 16-55 has the second-worst record in the NBA, returned from Phoenix early Sunday morning and will play host to Chicago on Monday, so Haywood’s first possible practice wouldn’t be until Tuesday.

“I’ll be back in a suit jacket tomorrow,” said Haywood, who last season averaged 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.

Haywood, who tore a ligament in his right wrist in training camp during the first week of October, has taken part in limited portions of practice since Feb. 23 and since then also has done some work during pregame warmups.

A timetable for Haywood’s return has yet to be set.

Arenas, who has missed the entire season while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery in September - his third since April 2007 - said in January that with the Wizards’ season well out of hand he likely would wait until next season to make a comeback. But since then he had wavered in that stance and is debating the pros and cons of returning this season.

In January, Arenas’ concerns stemmed from his knee’s failure to respond positively to rigorous activity on back-to-back days. He would feel good playing one-on-one, two-on-two or three-on-three, but he would have to wait a day or two before playing again. But since Feb. 16, when Arenas resumed full-contact practice with his teammates, recovery hasn’t been a problem for Arenas, and he has been able to go hard in consecutive days without a problem and feels no pain at all.

But according to a team insider, the guard is still working on his timing and getting back into game shape.

While Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld would like to see both Arenas and Haywood back on the court at some point this season so the team can set a foundation for next season, neither player has been pressured to make a comeback this season. Management has left the decision up to the players.

Arenas, however, is conflicted over when to return because he doesn’t want to risk another setback like he did last season. He returned to play in five of the final eight games before his knee was 100 percent, struggled through four of the Wizards’ five playoff games against Cleveland and then required a third procedure.

The three-time All-Star would be more comfortable waiting until the start of next season when he expects to know without a doubt that he is 100 percent, the source said. But Arenas, for reasons unclear, can’t quite bring himself to scrap a 2008-09 comeback for now.

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