Even While Silent, Arenas Is the Talk of the Wizards

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Wizards had 17 players dressed in crisp white home uniforms for media day, but much of the conversation focused on one guy who wasn't around: injured guard Gilbert Arenas.

Arenas, who is expected to be out at least the first month of the season as he strengthens his knee following arthroscopic knee surgery, did not make himself available to the media and was fined $15,000 by the NBA. The Wizards were also fined $15,000 for not making Arenas available.

Even though Arenas didn't speak, his absence and how the Wizards plan to handle it was the day's top topic of discussion.

"He's going to work hard, get his knee right and come back when he's ready to come back," starting shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson said of Arenas, who was present yesterday and plans to go with the team to Richmond for training camp. "Until then, it's up to us to play good basketball, win games and keep us going. . . . We need to go out there and understand that if Gilbert's here, it's a great thing. And if not, we're just going to have to work a little bit harder."

That about sums up the mood of Coach Eddie Jordan's team as it prepares for the opening of training camp today at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Several players pointed to the presence of all-star forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, a deep roster and chemistry that was formed when Arenas missed 69 games last season as reasons why Wizards fans should feel optimistic heading into the season.

The starting unit of Stevenson, Butler, Jamison, Antonio Daniels and Brendan Haywood posted a 23-16 record during the regular season last year (including two victories over the eventual champion Boston Celtics), while key reserves like Andray Blatche, Darius Songaila and Nick Young helped the team win 43 games and make the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Roger Mason Jr. left via free agency for San Antonio but veteran center Etan Thomas is back after missing all of last season following heart surgery. Guards Juan Dixon and Dee Brown are in camp to compete for minutes as backups and second-year players Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov will try to earn spots in Jordan's rotation.

The roster is rounded out by rookie center JaVale McGee and camp invitees DerMarr Johnson, Linton Johnson and Taj McCullough.

Between today and the Oct. 29 season opener against the New Jersey Nets, the Wizards have a week of camp and seven preseason contests that will include a weeklong trip to Europe.

Jordan has said he will again place an emphasis on team defense this week and he'll use the preseason to establish a rotation, identify a backup to Butler at small forward and tweak his offense to best exploit the offensive talents of Butler and Jamison, both of whom scored more than 20 points per game last season.

"We're going to go out every night, we're going to play hard, we're going to compete," said Daniels, who started a career-high 63 games last season and will man the point guard position until Arenas returns. "We have a very good, competitive basketball team that has been together for a while and we're going to win some basketball games."

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