By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The Washington Wizards held their first players-only meeting of the season yesterday and Coach Eddie Jordan met separately with guard Gilbert Arenas to clear the air as the team sought to regroup in the aftermath of a humiliating 21-point loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that ended with Jordan and his star guard criticizing each other through the media.
Injured forward Antawn Jamison, who has missed five games with a left knee sprain, said he took Arenas aside Sunday and rebuked him for remarks in which he blamed the loss on Jordan's pregame emphasis on defense.
"Oh, I talked to him," Jamison said yesterday. "It's like a little brother. Every now and then you have to spank 'em on the [rear]. I put him in the closet and gave him a whipping last night."
Jamison, the team captain who has watched the Wizards lose four of five games since he was injured, said Arenas told him he had spoken out of frustration. Arenas finished the game with nine points after predicting he would score 50.
"It didn't have anything to do with him not scoring a bunch of points, it's just the losing and lately we haven't been playing the way we're capable of playing with me out," Jamison said. "He made some mistakes and he's going to do everything possible to patch things up and go out there and start producing on the court."
Arenas told reporters immediately after the Trail Blazers' game that Jordan had pulled players off the court too quickly when they were beaten defensively and that the Wizards had lost their "identity." Told of the remarks, Jordan called the criticism "ludicrous" and criticized Arenas's leadership skills.
Arenas, who will be making his first start in the NBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas on Sunday, declined requests to talk to the media yesterday, team officials said.
Jordan said he met with Arenas privately and the two viewed tape of Sunday's loss so that Jordan could illustrate the points he wanted to make about why the Wizards had struggled.
"It was important that Gil and I get together and talk and things are very, very positive," Jordan said. "Gil and I have been together for a long time and we've had some ups and downs. Mostly, the downs were early in his career here. We've been very much on the same page until you guys got him riled up last night."
The team also has been forced to handle the distraction caused by a fight at practice on Friday between centers Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas. Thomas received a two-game suspension for the fight, the third known clash between the two in the past two seasons.
Jordan addressed the leadership issue again yesterday and said he did not regret the comments he made Sunday. "No, I stand by it," Jordan said. "Absolutely. Leadership is very special, whether you are the president of the United States or the captain of a basketball team or the CEO of company. It takes a very special person to be that. I know I am the coach but certainly for every team, you need a team leader. Antawn possesses all of those qualities. He keeps people together."
Togetherness was the main issue discussed during yesterday's players-only meeting, according to several players. Forward Caron Butler said he stressed the need to get back to "having fun" and guard Antonio Daniels said he talked about the need for players to "be fans of one another."
"All we need to do as a team is look at ourselves first," Daniels said. "If we can point the finger at ourselves and worry about what we can do to improve ourselves individually, it will make our team a lot better."
Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld attended yesterday's practice and said Sunday's events were the product of frustration that has built up through losing.
"In the heat of the moment, a lot of things get said," Grunfeld said. "It's always frustrating when the team is not playing as well as you'd like it to play, but Gil's won a lot of games for us and he'll continue to win a lot of games for us. "
Jamison, who was in Golden State when Arenas was a rookie with the team in 2001, insisted that his "younger brother" hasn't slipped back into a pattern of immature behavior that made him a mercurial figure with the Warriors.
"No, I wouldn't say that," Jamison said. "The guy's taken too many steps forward to say that it was a step back to those days. Not at all. He just has to understand that no matter what he says or what he does, he's one of the most well-known basketball players in the NBA. And no matter what is said and done, he's under a microscope and he has to be more cautious and definitely choose what comes out of his mouth. "