Wizards have decisions to make about Arenas, Jamison Print
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Saturday, 03 May 2008 09:13
NBA Headline News

 WASHINGTON (AP) -The Washington Wizards sang a familiar tune in the aftermath of a third consecutive first-round series loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The words were almost cut-and-paste from a year ago.
``Who knows what happens if we have a healthy team?'' point guard Antonio Daniels said.
``If we was whole, who knows what would have happened?'' All-Star forward Caron Butler said.
``We haven't been able to see what we would be like if we were healthy for a long period of time,'' center Brendan Haywood said.
Once again, the world has been deprived of a full-strength Wizards team in the playoffs, their brief run ending Friday night with a 105-88 home loss to Cavaliers in Game 6. The possibilities will be endless when there finally arrives a spring in which the Big Three of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Butler are simultaneously hitting on all cylinders after years of building chemistry together. Eastern Conference finals? Piece of cake.
But how long can the front office wait for that healthy postseason to come around? Isn't every team banged up at this time of year? Weren't the Cavaliers, who struggled down the stretch after a major trade-deadline move, ripe for the picking despite the domineering presence of LeBron James? Is it time for change after so much of the same old, same old? Is there a new voice needed in the locker room?
Team president Ernie Grunfeld will have to address those questions in the offseason. Jamison, the veteran locker room leader, is set to become a free agent. Arenas plans to opt out of his contract so that he can sign for more money. Both have said they want to return, and Grunfeld - who is expected to address the media later this week - has previously indicated he'd like to have both back.
But the business side of sports is a funny thing. All it would take is an impasse in negotiations, a too-good-to-turn-down offer from another team or simply a change of heart among the principals to give the Wizards a dramatically different look next season.
``I'm the only one of the Big Three that has a contract,'' Butler said. ``But that's no guarantee to be back next year. Anything can happen. But I've got faith in this organization, and I strongly feel that we'll stay intact.''
The Big Three are supplemented by Haywood, who had a career year, and DeShawn Stevenson, a solid defensive presence who will be well remembered for his trash-talking, push-and-foul, rapper-for-rapper exchanges with James during the testy series. There is also promising youth on a bench that includes Nick Young, Andray Blatche, Oleksiy Pecherov and Roger Mason. Mason, who had by far the best year of his NBA career, is also an impending free agent.
Then there's coach Eddie Jordan, who has guided the team to four consecutive playoff berths - the franchise's most successful run since the 1980s. The coach is the easiest position to replace if the powers-that-be feels the team has become stagnant, but Jordan has two years left on his contract and appears to have widespread support among the players.
``I love him as a coach. I love him as a person,'' Butler said. ``I can't wait to put on that uniform and play for him again next year.''
Jordan finished seventh in the voting for coach of the year, getting a degree of recognition for guiding the team to the fifth seed in the conference despite not having Arenas for nearly the entire season. That led to open speculation that the Wizards might actually be better without their flamboyant star and go-to player, a notion ridiculed by the Arenas' teammates and opponents. For all his antics, Agent Zero will be very hard to replace if he's allowed to leave.
Arenas said he's ``not going to try anything stupid this summer'' so that his knee will be 100 percent for next season. Butler should be better after some rest.
So, come next April, maybe everyone will have a clean bill of health from the trainer. Maybe the Wizards won't have to face the Cavaliers again. And, if they do, maybe Stevenson, Arenas and Haywood will follow the lead of captains Jamison and Butler and talk less trash and more basketball - regardless of whether Jay-Z or Soulja Boy or anyone else is in the building.
``In the history of time in the NBA,'' Jordan said, ``if it is true that you have to take your lumps and your beatings before you can make the next jump in the playoffs, then certainly we're on the brink of it.''
 

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