A Lot on the Wizards' Plate
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Center Brendan Haywood, whose playing time dwindled to almost nothing despite the absence of the Washington Wizards' top players, said yesterday he will not demand a trade and will instead "let the chips fall where they may."
One of the final images of the Washington Wizards' season-ending Game 4 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night was that of Haywood leaving the bench area as the seconds ticked off the clock and walking to the locker room with a towel draped over his head.
After taking down the nameplate that hangs above his stall and tossing it into the locker, Haywood was one of the first players out of the building.
Haywood's actions suggest that he wants out of Washington, and according to two sources close to Haywood, he has said he would consider demanding a trade if Eddie Jordan returns to coach next season. However, Haywood declined to directly address the issue yesterday.
"You know, that's for [President of Basketball Operations] Ernie Grunfeld, management and my agent to sit down and decide," Haywood said when asked yesterday about his future. "I'm a player. I can't force a trade. I'm not going to say in the paper whether I want out of here or not. All I know is I'm going to be a professional, I'm going to work hard and I'm going to let the chips fall where they may."
Haywood, who has three years and $16.5 million remaining on his contract, averaged 6.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 22.6 minutes this season. He was replaced as a starter by Etan Thomas on April 1 and did not get off the bench Monday after playing sparingly over the season's final month.
The team could try to move Haywood, or Thomas, who has three seasons and $20.5 million left on his deal, if the right the offer comes along. But one thing is certain: The relationship between Haywood and Jordan isn't healthy and hasn't been for a while.
According to team sources, Grunfeld went to Jordan after the Wizards lost Game 1 of the playoff series and encouraged him to use the 7-foot Haywood more against Cleveland's 7-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
After playing five minutes in Game 1, Haywood was effective during a 19-minute stint in Game 2, scoring 13 points and grabbing four rebounds. However, after Haywood did not register a point or rebound in 10 minutes during Game 3, Jordan did not play him at all on Monday.
"The fact that I didn't play, that's just Eddie Jordan's decision as a coach and I can respect that," Haywood said yesterday.
Wizards players are well aware of the friction that has existed between Haywood and Jordan since last season.
"It's a distraction we can't afford to have next year," forward Antawn Jamison said. "And it was a distraction. With Brendan on this team, we have a great chance to win, so hopefully things can work out. I believe we can have a working environment."
Jordan did not meet individually with players yesterday but Haywood was present when he addressed the squad as a whole.
"That's something we'll talk about," Jordan said when asked about Haywood's future. "I'm not making any decisions. He's a contract player and if he's in our locker room October 2, then we'll coach him."
The Haywood situation will be one of several issues facing the Wizards this offseason.
Coming off three straight trips to the playoffs and with Jamison and all-stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler under contract through next season, Grunfeld might not alter the roster's core this summer. However, the team does have eight free agents, including starting shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, veteran guard-forward Jarvis Hayes and promising second-year forward Andray Blatche, who is a restricted free agent (the Wizards can match any offer made to him by another team).
Arenas and Butler, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries in early April, are expected to recover long before training camp opens in October. And forward Darius Songaila, who missed the first 45 games after undergoing back surgery, is looking forward to having a full summer to rebuild strength in his back and legs.
The team's core players, including Jamison, Arenas, Butler and guard Antonio Daniels, have lobbied to keep the nucleus together and make another run next season. Before injuries struck Jamison, Arenas and Butler, the Wizards went 22-9 during December and January and rose to the top of the Eastern Conference.
"Without the injuries and everything, this was a 50-win team," Jamison said. "But until we actually get to 50 wins and the Eastern Conference finals, it's just talk. If we have another season like we had this year, you can start all over and try to build that way."
Jordan said he plans on retaining his coaching staff. However, assistants Mike O'Koren, Tom Young and Phil Hubbard, who have been with Jordan since he arrived before the 2003-04 season, did not receive contract extensions when Jordan signed his three-year extension last summer. Jordan said he expects his assistants to receive extensions before summer league play begins in early July.
Jamison said he will not train or play with the U.S. men's national team this summer as it attempts to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.
"I'm tired," Jamison said. "For myself it's about resting and being focused on this organization for next year and spending some time with my family this summer."
Songaila, who injured his back while playing with the Lithuanian national team last August and did not make his Wizards debut until Feb. 3, wants to play with Lithuania in the European Championships this August. Jordan doesn't share his enthusiasm.
"In my mind it's a major concern, especially after what he experienced last summer," Jordan said. "But, I'm not going to stop a guy from playing for his country, I'm certainly not going to do that."