|Arenas, teammates would like to keep core together|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 01 May 2007 10:40|
WASHINGTON (AP) -Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler smiled and applauded as they walked to the locker room at halftime of Game 4 of the Washington Wizards' first-round playoff series.|
The good news? The Wizards were beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, and youngsters such as Andray Blatche and Donell Taylor were making key contributions and getting valuable experience.
The bad news? Arenas and Butler were wearing blazers, not uniforms, because they were out injured. The other bad news? The Wizards wound up losing Monday night's game to cap a sweep, a quick end to a season that once seemed so promising.
Arenas - aka ``Agent Zero,'' aka ``Hibachi'' - and Butler both had breakouts in 2006-07, and joined Antawn Jamison to put the Wizards atop the Eastern Conference midway through the season.
But a late fade, due largely to Arenas' torn knee and Butler's broken hand, left Washington at 41-41 and seeded No. 7, then four-and-done in the postseason.
``It's always difficult when you didn't accomplish what you want to accomplish,'' Jamison said Tuesday, when coach Eddie Jordan spoke to the club and players met individually with president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld. ``The team that lost is not the team that we had envisioned to really make a push.''
Now comes an offseason where the question is: How much will change?
Eight players - more than half the roster - can be free agents, including starting guard DeShawn Stevenson. The assistant coaches' contracts are up. Jordan and Brendan Haywood are at loggerheads, with the 7-foot center walking off the court alone Monday as the final seconds ticked away of a game he never entered. Jamison acknowledged that the situation was a distraction but also lobbied for Haywood to return.
``The summer is going to tell us how we move forward with the franchise,'' Jordan said. ``We've got some terrific young guys, and we've got a good core - when we're healthy - and we'll build around that.''
Arenas, third in the NBA with a 28.4-point scoring average, has said he'd like to see that core stay together, and several teammates echoed that sentiment.
``Hopefully we can keep everyone intact and have an opportunity to make a run,'' Jamison said.
Said Butler: ``It's a matter of continuing to build around (Arenas). The right pieces are in place, and I thought we had a great shot this year, barring injuries.''
Stevenson said he plans on opting out of the second year of his contract, which paid him the veteran minimum this season, but he also said, ``I want to be back.'' Free-agent-to-be Jarvis Hayes said he wants to return, too. Blatche and Taylor are also in the sizable group that could depart over the summer.
``It's frustrating to know you have so much talent and such a great group of guys and team chemistry - and you're still around the .500 mark,'' Jamison said. ``The season coming up can dictate whether we're here until our career ends or you're finding somewhere else to play after next year.''
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