By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Brendan Haywood is still a member of the Washington Wizards and Eddie Jordan is still the team's coach.
What happens when training camp opens in Richmond on Tuesday is anyone's guess.
The relationship between player and coach appeared to be shattered beyond repair following the Wizards' season-ending loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. After failing to get off the bench, Haywood stalked to the locker room, ripped off the nameplate above his locker and left Verizon Center without comment.
Later, according to multiple league sources, Haywood considered demanding a trade. However, such a deal never materialized as team president Ernie Grunfeld concentrated on re-signing free agents DeShawn Stevenson and Andray Blatche rather than making a drastic change to his team's roster.
That left Haywood and Jordan stuck together.
Star guard Gilbert Arenas, who is one of Haywood's best friends on the team, said Haywood recently joined teammates in Washington for informal workouts following a clear-the-air meeting with Jordan and new assistant coach Randy Ayers. The meeting took place near Haywood's offseason home in North Carolina earlier this month.
"Eddie went down there to talk to Brendan because at first, Brendan was like, 'I'm not coming to' " Washington for pre-camp workouts, Arenas said. "But they talked and Brendan's been here for the last two weeks. Whatever they talked about, it brought Brendan back."
While addressing the media yesterday, Jordan wouldn't reveal details of the conversation but said he's ready for a fresh start and expects Haywood and Etan Thomas to once again compete for the starting center position during camp and the preseason.
"It's the same as last season," Jordan said about the competition, which has included at least three altercations on the practice court or in the locker room. "Nothing's been decided."
Now, as the Wizards prepare for what could be a make-or-break season -- Arenas intends to opt out of his contract next summer and forward Antawn Jamison is also in the final year of his deal -- the Haywood-Thomas competition will be one of several issues facing Jordan and his staff.
Jordan will also monitor the wear and tear on Arenas's knee and blend in rookies Nick Young, Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov. The Wizards open the regular season on Oct. 31 at Indiana, but Jordan said he's not going to look too far ahead on anything.
"It's like I told Brendan: When you are playing golf, it's all about the shot that's right in front of you," Jordan said.
"Not what happened before and not what you think can happen on the putting green. It's the shot right in front of you that means everything to you.
"When I met with him it was about that meeting. It wasn't about training camp or expectations. And the next time I see him, it's going to be about that day and that's how we're going to take it.
"There are no promises, there are no motivating things, we just have to get on the same page and say: 'Today is a great day.' "
Seeing Arenas and fellow all-star Caron Butler go down with season-ending injuries last April forced Jordan out of the goal-setting business. Before camp opened last season, Jordan said he expected his team to take "the next step" by advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.
Those dreams were damaged when Butler fractured his right hand at Milwaukee on April 1 and ruined when Charlotte's Gerald Wallace accidentally crashed into the side of Arenas's left knee three days later.
"I'm not really making predictions this year," Jordan said. "I want each day to be that day, to get better. It's a roller coaster of a season emotionally, physically and mentally, and I just don't want the highs to be too high and the lows too low. I want to pretty much stay even. We'll see."
Apart from adding Young and McGuire through this year's draft and signing Pecherov, who was the team's 2006 first-round pick, the Wizards will essentially be the same team that jumped out to an Eastern Conference best mark of 27-17 last January.
"Continuity will be our biggest ally this year," Jordan said. "We don't have to relearn something or break somebody in except for the rookies. Our guys believe that chemistry is important."