For the Wizards, a Family That Plays Together Stays Together
A 7-foot basketball player wearing a headband proceeded slowly down the stairs toward the practice court yesterday, a player who looked unmistakably like Brendan Haywood.
Crazy enough, it was Haywood. In a Wizards uniform. On picture day!
"You're still here?" I asked, tactfully.
A half-smile crossed Haywood's face. He put his palms out, as if to say, "Who knew, huh?" He acknowledged what a huge upset it was for him to be reporting to training camp today in Richmond.
To recap, this was the player who tore off his nameplate above his cubicle in the locker room after the last game of Washington's season -- the same guy who walked off the court before Cleveland's playoff sweep was complete, who traded blows and insults with teammate Etan Thomas, whose inconsistency and lack of fire irked Coach Eddie Jordan to no end and who was thought in most quarters to be gone in a summer trading frenzy that would significantly change the makeup of a roster that appeared to need a makeover.
And now he's back. Almost as strange, they're all back.
Same coach. Same offense. Most of the same players. In fact, the more you looked around Verizon Center yesterday afternoon, the more they should just steal a biblical passage for their 2007-08 motto:
"This Too Shall Pass." After a summer of small, cosmetic change, they're quickly becoming the "All Wounds Heal Over Time" Wizards.
Whatever calamity was supposed to undo their aspirations, whatever damaged relationships were supposed to detonate their postseasons to come, they dealt with them internally and refused to buckle to public opinion.
Ernie Grunfeld, the architect, did not back up the truck after all. He gambled not on the unknown quantities of free agency but on the people he knew. Character and playing flaws included. Rather than look to a quick fix with a trade, it's as if the front office, coaching staff and roster spent the offseason at a therapeutic day spa, detoxifying all the bad blood from their systems.
Jordan visited Haywood at his home in North Carolina, reaching out as best he could given the mutual professional dislike for each other. That was just the tip of the iceberg, though.
Unbeknownst to many, Gilbert Arenas had a lot of anger stored up against Jordan, whom he felt contributed mightily to his knee injury last season by not starting Arenas in the game in which he was hurt. The more he confided in people about his resentment, it sounded like the recipe for a season gone awry.