- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The “longest offseason” in Washington Wizards history is over, and after talking off and on over the summer about their potential, the team is ready to get to work.

The Wizards will tip off training camp Tuesday in Richmond, and they’ll do so determined to put last year’s 19-63 season in the past and squelch the doubt surrounding the team.

From new coach Flip Saunders to three-time All-Star/three-time surgery survivor Gilbert Arenas to free-agent-to-be Brendan Haywood down to aging backup point guard Mike James, every member of the Wizards has some individual criticism, fault or doubt to disprove.

But when the Wizards’ players held court during media day Monday at Verizon Center, the common theme - as cliche as it may sound - was Just win.

DeShawn Stevenson and offseason acquisitions Mike Miller and Randy Foye will compete for the starting spot at shooting guard, but all three said they’ll accept whomever Saunders chooses to start and do their part to contribute.

“This is my 10th year in this league, and the main thing you want is to be on a winning team. A winning team keeps you in the league, gets you the contract,” Stevenson said. “So, whatever we’ve gotta do to win, I’ll do.”

Miller has spent the past three seasons playing for lottery teams in Memphis and Minnesota.

“If you’d been in my shoes, getting beat up in this league the last three years, you forget all about that stuff,” Miller said. “I just want a fun year - want to enjoy myself and know that anytime we lace ‘em up, we’ve got a good chance of winning.”

Likewise, Antawn Jamison said he isn’t concerned with returning to All-Star status or obtaining any individual accolades. All the 33-year-old wants is to quiet the demons he said kept him from sleeping at night throughout last season.

“It’s no hidden agendas, no ‘I gotta average this.’ No getting to the All-Star Game. Last year in itself was an embarrassment. So it’s all about doing what it takes to be a championship-caliber team. I haven’t slept well since last season, and I want to sleep well again,” said Jamison, who has three years remaining on his contract and has said he plans to retire after that. “For me, there’s not much time left, and the only thing I’m concerned with accomplishing is winning a championship.”

Even Arenas is talking about blending more into the team fold rather than standing out so much. Arenas, known for his outspoken comments, blogging, and - before his injuries - game-winning 3-pointers, said: “I’m not going to be an entertainer anymore. I just wanna play basketball.”

Arenas said he has given up blogging, “won’t mess with the tweeting” and on the court will shy away from “chucking 3s” and will facilitate more, attack the paint and pop the midrange jumper - all in an attempt to become more effective and better position his team to succeed.

“I’m not gonna take 500 3s; I’m trying to take less than 100,” said Arenas, who in 15 games the past two seasons attempted 85 3-pointers. “I’m not gonna be a 3-point shooter this year. … The deep shot’s still there if it comes to a game-winner. But I’m not going to be sitting there launching 3s. I’m going to be shooting for percentage.”

When it comes to dropping his goofy demeanor, Arenas’ teammates had their doubts but didn’t see a need for the guard to alter his approach as long as the wins return.

“As long as he’s out there on the court, that’s all I’m worried about,” Jamison said. “It’s always good to have him out there joking around and having a good time because that’s who he is. But my only concern is him being healthy and being able to withstand the 82 games and get back into the playoffs.”

And then once the Wizards get to the playoffs, they want more.

“It’s crazy to think, I’m going into the season, I got my troops healthy, and I’m aiming for the eighth seed. Who says that?” Caron Butler said. “I hope nobody in the league says that. But we’re going for the title. We’re healthy, and that’s what we’re pushing for. … The weapons that we have, I just don’t see a lot of teams being able to handle us, and if we put it together right, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”

Five storylines heading into camp

1. The health of Gilbert Arenas - After two years, three surgeries, three aborted comeback attempts and a summer spent in Chicago working with famed trainer Tim Grover, Arenas is finally back to full strength and expected to be the focal point of the new-look Wizards.

2. Flip Saunders at the helm - Ernie Grunfeld has supplied the ingredients, now Saunders steps in, working to mold the Wizards into an elite team and put last season’s 19-63 campaign in the distant past.

3. The starting SG spot - Point guard, small forward, power forward and center are basically set in stone, but who will emerge - DeShawn Stevenson, Mike Miller, Randy Foye or Nick Young - as Gilbert Arenas’ backcourt mate?

4. Who makes the eight-man rotation? - Saunders has made it no secret that he plans on using an eight-man rotation the majority of the time. So who will earn time as the trusty backups?

5. Defense - The Wizards have long been known as an offensive team, but to crack the ranks of the league’s elite they must improve their defense. Is this the year they finally put forth the effort to make that more than just talk?

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