Thomas on Center Stage for Wizards

"It was close," Coach Eddie Jordan says of giving Etan Thomas, above, the starting job over Brendan Haywood. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The competition between Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood for the Wizards' starting center position was so tight that Coach Eddie Jordan waited until yesterday afternoon to announce his final decision: Thomas will be in the lineup for tomorrow's regular season opener at Cleveland.

"There were some good things that Etan did and there were some good things Brendan did," Jordan said. "It was close. It wasn't a landslide."

Jordan strongly hinted that he wanted to pick Thomas after last Tuesday's preseason finale at Detroit, but held off on making the choice official because he wanted to continue observing how the two players competed in practice.

Yesterday, after the Wizards engaged in a high-energy workout at Verizon Center, Jordan discussed the merits of both players and offered a candid observation about the continuing competition.

"I'm not ashamed to admit it but Brendan kicked his butt up and down the floor today," Jordan said. "That's a good thing because that was what this whole thing was about. Competition. Making each other better. And, what we saw as the preseason wound down and finished up, all of our observations as coaches and our core players, was that Etan showed a little more force, a little bit more aggressiveness and a little bit of a different look in terms of what we're looking for and that's protecting the paint."

Neither player separated himself during the eight-game preseason schedule while rotating starts. Haywood, who has made 268 regular season starts since coming to the Wizards in 2001, averaged 4.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in 17.9 minutes while Thomas, who has made 34 career starts since coming to Washington in 2001, averaged 3.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 14.7 minutes.

Jordan spoke to both players before announcing his decision. According to Jordan, Haywood expressed disappointment but will be in the right frame of mind for tomorrow's opener.

"I'm glad that Brendan was a little bit unhappy about it, I like that; but Brendan's a pro," Jordan said. "I told him that I want him to continue to compete, and he will. That spot will continue to be competitive."

Haywood was unavailable to comment, but his agent, Andy Miller, expressed concern that Haywood wasn't given a fair chance to win the job.

"My concern is that this is based on personal issues rather than professional ones," Miller said, referring to the tension that existed between Jordan and Haywood last season. "Brendan went out of his way to contact Eddie this summer and felt they cleared the air and repaired their relationship. I don't see this as being a motivational tactic to get more out of Brendan."

Miller said that Haywood is not prepared to demand a trade or otherwise act out. He also said that Haywood will "continue to prepare and perform like a professional."

Thomas is healthy after being slowed by an abdominal strain and lower back soreness last season. He looked particularly explosive in preseason games against Dallas (nine rebounds and three blocks in 18 minutes) and Detroit (four rebounds and three blocks in 12 minutes).

"One thing coach told me was that we're always going to have four scorers on the floor at all times so he wants me to concentrate on blocking shots, rebounding and help-side defense," Thomas said. "We already have scorers. I need to concentrate on those other things and that's what I've concentrated on."

Wizards Notes: The team waived forward Mike Hall yesterday. Hall, an undrafted rookie free agent from George Washington, missed the final three preseason games with a knee injury. Jordan said the team opted to keep center James Lang over Hall. Lang has bounced around basketball after being drafted out of high school by the Hornets in 2003 but impressed the coaches with his raw skills during camp and the preseason.

"James is sort of like a short-term, long-term project," Jordan said. "He gives us some things we don't have, yet we're continuing to work with his conditioning, his strength and his defensive rebounding. The offensive package is right there."


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