By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Washington Wizards centers Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas were involved in a fight during practice yesterday, marking at least the third time over the last two seasons that the two have traded punches.
Late last evening, the team suspended Thomas two games for "conduct detrimental to the team."
Haywood and Thomas, who have been sharing a starting role and minutes all season, also clashed following practice on Nov. 2. And Haywood was benched one game for throwing a punch at Thomas during a practice last season.
According to one source with knowledge of the incident, yesterday's fight interrupted an otherwise normal practice and occurred in front of members of the Wizards' front office, including President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld.
The two were jostling for position near the basket at one end of the court, the source said, when one of Haywood's elbows connected with Thomas. Play then went to the other end where Thomas, who believed the elbow was intentional, shouted at Haywood and threw a punch. Haywood responded with punches of his own and the two continued to trade blows until coaches and teammates broke them up.
Haywood was not available for comment, and Coach Eddie Jordan declined to comment when reached by phone.
"This is a team matter which has been handled internally," Grunfeld said in a statement. "Etan will miss the next two games and return after the all-star break. We will have no further comment on this issue."
According to a team source, Thomas was warned after the Nov. 2 fight that he'd be suspended if it happened again. When told that details of yesterday's incident were out, Thomas acknowledged it and provided his version of what happened.
"The entire situation doesn't make sense," said Thomas, whose minutes have fluctuated since he returned after missing 13 games with a sprained ankle. "I am trying to find my rhythm after missing a month with this ankle injury, trying to put together some decent games, feeling good to be a part of everything that the team is accomplishing, and this cat decides to hit me with a cheap shot during practice and I reacted. I could have turned the other cheek. I guess I didn't."
According to Thomas, Haywood was not happy following Wednesday's 110-83 loss to the San Antonio Spurs because he played only 21 minutes 12 seconds. Thomas, who is averaging six points and 5.6 rebounds in 19.2 minutes per game, played 22:31 against the Spurs.
"San Antonio just beat us by what seemed like a hundred but I guess all that matters to him is he didn't get the minutes he thinks he deserves, so he's mad, which results in a displacement of anger," Thomas said. "What does he think, that throwing a cheap shot at me is going to keep him on the floor? Bottom line, I'm not putting up with any garbage from Brendan Todd Haywood, but at the same time, I do feel bad and upset with myself for allowing him to bait me."
Thomas said he hoped that he and Haywood could put the latest incident behind them and focus on helping the Wizards. Wednesday's loss to the Spurs was one of the worst of the season, and the team has lost three out of four since forward Antawn Jamison went down with a sprained left knee.
The Wizards host Portland tomorrow and play at Philadelphia on Wednesday before the all-star break. Thomas will miss both games.
"Hopefully he's gotten the message and we can continue this season peacefully," Thomas said. "We can be competitive without being enemies, it just doesn't have to be like this."