I knew it was going to be an odd night, when I walked into the media room and saw former Washington Times beat writer, now current Comcast SportsNet writer, Mike Jones. The Washington Times discontinued their sports section back in January, and I had not seen Jones since then. I talked about my All-Star experience in Dallas, he talked about how happy he was to be back in the media room, and then we both joked that it seemed to be a slow night in the wonderful world of the Washington Wizards.
Despite our sarcasm, I don’t think either one of us expected things to pick up as briskly as they did.
About 30 minutes after our meeting in the media room, me, Mike and the other Wizards bloggers and beat writers, descended upon center court for Flip Saunders’ pregame press conference. But right before he was scheduled to start speaking, a member of the Wizards PR staff temporarily whisked Saunders away for about five minutes.
Immediately everyone suspected that yet another trade involving the Washington Wizards had gone down, but nothing was confirmed and nothing could be proven.
Then, Saunders came back and was asked who would be in his starting lineup.
“Don’t know yet. More than likely we’ll probably start our young veteran guys that we’ve had. We’ll put Nick [Young] into the lineup to take Caron’s[Butler] spot and Dray [Blatche] will take the center spot (in place of Haywood),” Saunders said calmly.
When asked if Antawn would be starting, Saunders responded quickly and ominously, “Right now, yes.”
At the conclusion of Saunders’ press conference, I left the court, and made a beeline back to the media room, so that I could enjoy one of their fine pre-game meals. Yet again, signs that something big was going to happen were all around me. Instead of the usual group of bloggers and writers, I saw the local television stations from the three major networks, I saw Michael Wilbon, and there were an increased amount of cameras around. Everyone was glued to their computers and their phones trying to hear what the latest was on Wizards forward Antawn Jamison being traded, and although there rumors on Twitter, Yahoo, and other sites, there was still nothing official.
The first sign that something was definitely about to happen, was when the Wizards finally ran out on the court. Blatche was there, Young and McGee were there, and newly acquired players Josh Howard, Quinton Ross and James Singleton could also be seen making their way on the court. But Jamison was nowhere to be found.
I then ran into Kyle (founder of Truth About It) and Chris Miller (from CSN Washington), and they both said that Jamison had been traded, but nothing was official. I immediately went up to my laptop, and after several erroneous reports, I finally found out the correct details of the trade:
- The Wizards were to receive Al Thornton from the Los Angeles Clippers, Zydrunas Ilgauskas from the Cleveland Cavaliers, draft rights to Emir Preldzic of Slovenia also from the Cavs and a 2010 first round draft pick.
- The Cleveland Cavaliers were to get Antawn Jamison from the Wizards and Sebastian Telfair from the Clippers.
- The Clippers were to receive Drew Gooden.
Not long after this trade was unofficially announced (it has since been made official) Jamison’s name was replaced on the giant scoreboard with JaVale McGee’s and a slight buzz went through the relatively empty crowd. But the trade was so new, that Jamison’s face and image were not removed from the pre-game video.
Even when the game started, and the new-look Wizards finally took to the court, most of the writers/bloggers were still in the media room getting final details on the trade. Fans were not really paying attention to the game either, and the entire Verizon Center had a weird vibe to it. As Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post so eloquently tweeted, “of the four players featured on the 6th St. Verizon Center banner in 2010 (Arenas, Butler, Jamison and Haywood), three are gone and one has been suspended for the year.”
And then, something peculiar started to happen.
Blatche channeled his inner Jamison and scored 33 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. McGee shook off what had been a severely disappointing season, and scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a starting role. And Mike Miller continued the hot shooting he started prior to the All-Star break and scored 17 points (nine in the fourth quarter, all from three point land). The newly acquired Howard chimed in with 14 points and aggressive defense. When the clock read 0.0, the Wizards had 108 points and the Minnesota Timberwolves had 99.
The crowd, who acted as if they’d witnessed a funeral in the first quarter, gradually warmed up throughout the game, and by the end, they were on their feet and cheering as if Arenas, Jamison, Butler and Haywood had walked back through that door.
After the game, everyone seemed to be energized by the transformation.
“I’m just happy that I get a chance to make the most of this opportunity and prove that I should be starting,” the low-key McGee said after the game in front of his locker.
“I can’t remember the last time I played 36 minutes and took 22 shots, ” an enthusiastic Blatche said while getting dressed.
“Our younger guys are standing up. Nick and those guys are different right now,” Coach Saunders said during his post game press conference. “Whether they are finally realizing that this is a business, or that if you don’t perform at a certain level things can happen no matter who you are and that you have obligations to live up to, those guys have had a different sense of urgency as far as on the court. They know there’s not a comfort level.”
I can readily admit I was worried about the post game locker room atmosphere prior to getting those quotes. Jamison, Haywood and to a lesser extent Butler were absolute quote machines. They took the time to give thoughtful responses to questions, the peppered in a little humor every now and then, and they rarely let their emotions interfere with the post game reactions.
Younger players like Blatche, Young and McGee rarely spoke, and Saunders said, “they used the older players as crutch.”
But on this odd day, everyone contributed, everyone spoke, and it seemed to all fit. I’m not naive enough to believe that everyday will have this Utopian feel to it, but I’m also not cynical enough to simply dismiss it. A win is a win. But a win after losing your best players is an even bigger win.
Before I left the locker room, I ran into Josh Howard who was laughing at the crowd around the newly acquired James Singleton. Howard was laughing with the Wizards PR staff about how Singleton had never had that many cameras and writers around him before.
“Please don’t let this go to his head,” Howard said while laughing hysterically.
I chuckled to myself as I left the locker room, hoping that Howard, his teammates, the writers and even the fans would take heed.