Wizards Assess Progress, Seek More

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 9, 2006

The Washington Wizards officially said goodbye to the 2005-06 season yesterday as players took turns sitting down for meetings with Coach Eddie Jordan and President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld.

After finishing the regular season with a 42-40 record and losing a first-round playoff series to the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games, the Wizards face crucial decisions this offseason.

Consecutive winning seasons, back-to-back playoff appearances and the continued growth of all-star guard Gilbert Arenas have given Wizards fans hope after years of losing and controversy, but that contentment could turn to frustration if the Wizards don't take the next step by advancing deeper in the playoffs.

One of the key issues this summer will be the status of Jordan, who has one season remaining on the four-year contract he signed in June 2003.

Jordan, who has posted a regular season record of 112-134 in three seasons while leading the Wizards to consecutive playoff berths for the first time since 1988, is seeking a contract extension.

His current contract was handled by owner Abe Pollin. Grunfeld, who was hired shortly after Jordan, has yet to speak with Jordan about an extension.

"I'm not nervous," Jordan said. "I had a four-year contract to deal with and that's what I'm working on. It's going to be up to Mr. Pollin and Ernie after that."

Jordan expressed a desire to see the team retain guard-forward Jared Jeffries, who will be a restricted free agent, and Jordan stressed how important this summer will be for the team's two rookies, forward Andray Blatche and guard Donell Taylor.

After missing training camp and the preseason with wounds he suffered in a Sept. 25 shooting, Blatche appeared in 29 games. The 6-foot-11 Blatche averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 6.1 minutes.

Blatche occasionally flashed the tremendous ballhandling, shooting and scoring skills that allowed him to go to the NBA after one season at a prep school, but was unable to carve out a place in Jordan's rotation.

"First of all, it's strength and conditioning," Jordan said. "Getting his body in shape because he does have a high skill level; but that skill level drops like a rock in a pond if he doesn't maintain some kind of endurance and get stronger. We want him to continue working at being a pro, knowing that this is the most crucial time of his career."

The team's "core players," as Jordan calls them, are under contract for next season. Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler formed the league's highest-scoring trio, and Antonio Daniels developed into a key player off the bench. Still, the Wizards lacked consistent inside scoring, ranked 21st in the league in scoring defense and had limited depth.

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