For the sixth consecutive season, Washington Wizards Team President Ernie Grunfeld and head coach Eddie Jordan sat in front of the media to discuss the state of their team. Based on their enthusiastic answers and assessments during their press conference, it is clear that much is expected of this team in the upcoming 2008-2009 season.
The first item off discussion on Grunfeld and Jordan’s agenda was the one year option the Wizards picked up on Jordan’s contract. Jordan, who is entering the second of a three year, $12 million deal, will be under contract through the 2009-2010 season.
Jordan, despite being caught off guard by the timing of this announcement, was thrilled at receiving the extension.
“It was a total shock to me. Ernie called me up to his office to talk about [training] camp, personnel and a few other things, and then he told me that they were going to pick up my option. It was a total shock. I’m very grateful to Ernie and to Mr. Pollin. My assistants and our players contributed tremendously to this happening. Now we’re preparing to go to training camp and that’s the only thing that’s on my mind. We’re in training camp mode. We went on a retreat last week, we’ve been in the office (this week), and we’ve been watching tape. We’re locked in to preparing this team, so my option was totally out of my realm of thinking.”
Grunfeld, when asked about the extension, did not hesitate to sing the praises of the longest tenured coach in the Eastern Conference.
“He’s [Jordan] done an outstanding job for us. He’s a big part of what we’re about here. It’s something that he earned, and it was something that I thought about doing a long time ago, and I wanted to make sure that it was done before camp.”
Speaking of training camp, one of the biggest stories around the Wizards involved Gilbert Arenas, who will miss all of camp, preseason, and possibly the remainder of 2008 after undergoing a washout procedure on his knee. Arenas himself has said he’s aiming for a December return to the court.
Jordan, while acknowledging Arenas’ importance, is getting his team prepared to play regardless.
“He[Arenas] is a star and he’s the straw that stirs the drink…and certainly we need Gil to get to where we need to go, which is an NBA championship. But I’ve got 14 guys in that locker room that have to prepare themselves for training camp, preseason games and November. And we know Gil’s not going to be around for training camp, preseason, November. That’s an easy walk for me. When the process takes care of itself, that’s when we start to analyze when we have to ramp up his rehab or get him on the basketball court.”
When asked about the depth at point guard with Arenas’ absence, Jordan again exuded nothing but confidence about his personnel.
“We are very comfortable in Antonio [Daniels] and DeShawn [Stevenson] and Dee Brown, who we signed and played in the summer league. We’ve always wanted a guard like Dee who can change the pace and quicken the pace defensively. He’s got some experience under him and he’s relatively young. He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid from Chicago, and we’re very excited about him being on our roster.”
The other major absence that affected the Wizards last year, was that of Etan Thomas. Right before the 2007-2008 season, Thomas was diagnosed with an aortic leak in his heart, and it took him the entire season to recover.
Coach Jordan mentioned that despite center Brendan Haywood’s career year last season, a healthy Thomas will provide some much needed depth.
“He’s completely healthy. He’s been cleared for many months. He’s playing with our players here and he’s been working out diligently. He’s been scrimmaging for the last two and a half months. He hasn’t really played in a game-type condition with officials and everything else, but from a conditioning standpoint and a physical standpoint he looks very good. It’s going to take him some time to get his timing and rhythm into a real game kind of situation. I’m not sure how long it’s going to take him, but we expect him to come back and be the same type of player he was before the surgery”.
Coach Jordan then briefly touched on Nick Young and the results of his summer workouts.
“For him to average almost 7 points in 15 minutes is a promising foundation for us and for him. We know he is a dynamic and exciting scorer. We want him to be a better player defensively, understand (game situations), (improve) work ethic, maturing and all of that is going to take place. We’re very excited about Nick’s opportunity that lies in front of him.”
Another young player who stepped up last season was Brendan Haywood. Jordan still envisions a big season for Haywood despite the return of Thomas and the possibility it could eat into Haywood’s minutes.
“[I’m just looking for] subtle improvement — little things that would mean a lot for us. Certainly his approach and his intelligence are top-notch. He’s one of the most intelligent guys on the team and in the League. He talks on defense, he works on his body. He maintains his body to be big and strong. His defense has improved greatly. There are some subtle things, like maybe some more passing to cutters, screening and stuff you guys don’t really see in games. Overall his improvement was huge for us this year, and we continue to see him work on his body and on his game.
With Arenas out until at least December, one of the obvious questions is who will pick up the slack. While Wizards fans might be worried, Jordan isn’t as he has a locker room full of veteran leaders.
“One of the things that went well was our leadership. Our leadership was impeccable; it was the engine that really drove the car for us. Caron [Butler] and Antawn [Jamison] are certainly at the top of that totem poll. Antonio Daniels was a big part of that. DeShawn [Stevenson] in his own right was a leader for us, and Darius [Songaila] also. We like the way that Brendan [Haywood] had a career year. Even though Caron and Antawn were All-Stars, I always said that DeShawn and Brendan were the unsung heroes for us because they were defensive anchors for us. They were there for us pretty much every game.”
Coach Jordan the rest of the Wizards roster will be heading to Virginia Commenwealth University in Richmond, Virginia for training camp. Camp will run from September 27-October 3. The Wizards’ training camp roster now stands at 18 players. The team will hold camp from September 27-October 3.
Two weeks after training camp, the Wizards will head to Europe to play two preseason games with New Orleans Hornets. The first game is in Berlin, Germany and the second one in Barcelona, Spain.
Jordan spoke about this unique opportunity for his team and he had a tough time hiding his excitement.
“The team feels like its a natural bonding week. You’re in a foreign country with 14 of your players and your coaches, and you hang together and stay together. We will practice, we will do NBA sponsored appearances… it’s going to be a unique situation for us, but certainly exciting and a lifetime experience.”
As Arenas said earlier this summer in his press conference, when the Washington Wizards are healthy, they are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for the Wizards, they will be starting their season without the man who uttered those words.
Even though they made it to the playoffs last year without his services, other teams have gotten better and the landscape of the Eastern Conference has gotten tougher.
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