A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Without Agent Zero, Wizards Have Zero Chance
WASHINGTON, D.C. — With one week to go in the NBA regular season, the Washington Wizards had hoped to be entering the postseason as winners of the Southeast Division, with home court advantage in the first round.
Instead, All-Star forward Caron Butler has a cast on his broken right hand, and All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas is recovering from left knee surgery, blogging away from his hospital room, and lamenting the slow internet connection that kept him from playing video games.
The team that lead the Southeast Division for much of the season now has to enter the playoffs after losing two of their three best players in a span of three days, just two weeks before the post season begins.
Without two of their big three, the Wizards have lost four consecutive games, and barring a miracle, are headed for another first round exit.
Butler broke a bone in his right hand in the April 1 game against Milwaukee trying to block a shot by Reuben Patterson. Arenas tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee in the April 4 game against Charlotte when Gerald Wallace fell into his knee.
Now, the team will limp into the postseason, most likely as a six seed against either the Toronto Raptors or the Miami Heat. Forward and team captain Antawn Jamison, who himself missed several weeks in February with a sprained left knee, is now the sole remaining member of the Wizards big three.
“I have nothing but respect for our guys. They went out there and fought to the end and that’s all you can ask for. We’re going to do everything possible to make some noise in the playoffs,” Jamison said after Friday night’s loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Jamison led all scorers with 27 points in the defeat. In the following game against the New Jersey Nets, Jamison scored a season high 37 points, including a three pointer to send the game into overtime, but the shorthanded Wizards were no match for the duo of Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, both of whom recorded triple doubles in a 120-114 loss for the Wizards.
“It’s tough when you lose your best player. But the guys in the locker room, their heads are not down,” Jamison said.
Arenas may be the team’s best player, and Butler, who nickname is ‘Tough Juice’, may be their most consistent, but Jamison is clearly the team’s leader.
Jamison won the NBA’s sixth man of the year during the 2003-04 season with the Dallas Mavericks, and was an all-star in the 2004-05 season, his first with Washington.
Jamison reigns in the quirky Arenas when necessary, played the role of diplomat when centers Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood had their second fight in practice earlier in the season, and was singled out for his leadership skills by head coach Eddie Jordan after an ugly home loss to Portland in February when Jordan said that ‘no one stepped up into a leadership role with Antawn out’.
But on the court, the Big One will still need help. With Arenas out, back up point guard Antonio Daniels takes over as the team’s new floor general.
“This team has to take on a different identity. Guys have to do things and play minutes and step up and do things they haven’t done throughout the course of the year. To develop chemistry with those minutes, that will take some time,” Daniels said.
Jordan admitted that he will be looking for a spark from his bench. “We’ve got guys that played a lot of minutes that don’t normally carry those minutes. Let’s see how they react. We’ll see if they can bring some energy for us,” Jordan said.
More playing time will likely be doled out to Mike Hall, Donnell Taylor, and Roger Mason Jr. Second year forward Andray Blatche will return this week after missing two weeks due to a knee injury.
Despite the injuries, one player still not seeing many minutes is Haywood, who has averaged about nine minutes per game in the two games since Arenas went down.
Haywood lost his starting job once again to Thomas, who was the starter at the beginning of the season, until a sprained ankle in December forced Thomas to the bench. Thomas, who seems to play with far more energy and passion than Haywood, finally regained his spot in the April 1 game against Milwaukee, after several poor performances by Haywood prompted Jordan to make the change.
“I didn’t see enough consistent energy,” Jordan said. “I’m going to make stands to get us to bring a lot of energy. I don’t want them to think that I’m going to stand still and allow things to deteriorate”.
“I’ve had patience. I’ve gotten to the point where I held on long enough,” Jordan said of making the change from Haywood back to Thomas.
Arenas has not yet rejoined the team, but eternal optimist Butler graces the end of the Wizards bench wearing a suit and a cast.
“I can’t get down. These guys need me to stay positive,” Butler said. Butler was among the first to pay a visit to Arenas the day of his surgery, a day Arenas wrote about extensively on his NBA.com blog.
‘Hey, I’m Still Smiling’ was the headline of Arenas’s blog entry on April 5, the day of his surgery. (There are far too many good quotes to try and pick out the best ones. Check it out – it’s a must read).
Of his team’s chances without him, Arenas wrote, “I think they’ll do fine. They’re a strong minded team.”
Still, without the Butler and Agent Zero, this hard working but injury depleted group looks headed for an early start to their summer vacation and the end of a season that held so much promise just a few days ago.