By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 23, 2009
Only 12 games into the season, the Washington Wizards are already a frustrated and fractured team. Stumbling clumsily through a season meant to be about redemption, the Wizards (3-9) began pointing fingers in the immediate aftermath of their most lopsided loss of the season, Saturday's 106-84 defeat in San Antonio -- and the schism could be heard both loudly and subtly.
A few minutes after Brendan Haywood blamed hubris, not lack of effort or execution, for the Wizards' underachievement, Gilbert Arenas said "hidden agendas" are causing the team to splinter and proclaimed that if the team continues to slide, he might have to rescue it before the season is lost.
"The NBA's a ship. It's going to keep moving. Teams are not waiting for us," Arenas said. "As the captain, I've got to steer my ship. If I've got to steer it to land until everybody wants to jump on, then I'm going to do it. . . . And we'll see who comes and follows. If nobody wants to follow, then the boat's just going to keep moving."
Of course, it could very well sink. As Arenas spoke, Haywood walked past him to get something to drink and started singing "Ego," a song by R&B diva Beyoncé: "I've got a big ego-o-o," Haywood sang, offering a musical take on comments he made a few minutes earlier when asked how frustrating it is for the Wizards to be only one game better than they were this time last season, when they finished 19-63.
Despite the return of Arenas, the additions of Mike Miller, Randy Foye and Fabricio Oberto and the hiring of Coach Flip Saunders, the Wizards are tied for the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
"It's very frustrating because our talent is not winning out over our egos," he said. "If you want to win, you have to check your ego at the door. Bottom line. If you normally score 20 and you don't get your 20 but the team is winning, who cares?
"We're 3-9, and we're still doing the same things we did the first couple games of the season -- that's ego!" he said, shouting. "And it's not just one person; it's everybody."
Arenas was walking out of shower while Haywood spoke. He immediately walked back into the shower until Haywood finished.
The Wizards have lost eight of their last nine games, and seven of their nine defeats this season are by at least 10 points, which is the same number of double-digit losses as the 0-13 New Jersey Nets. With each loss, the players are drifting further apart, while some are griping over playing time, and Saunders is becoming more impatient.
After losing their past two games in Oklahoma City and San Antonio by a combined 41 points, Saunders said: "We're very much in a bad situation right now. There are a lot of guys right now that are frustrated, including me, but we have to work through it."
The task became more difficult in San Antonio when Miller, the starting shooting guard, strained his right calf setting a screen for Arenas in the first quarter. Arenas later fell on Miller while driving toward the basket. Saunders said Miller, who had been playing the past three games with a left shoulder injury, could miss the next four to five weeks.
The Wizards have been able to recover from poor starts in the past, but the challenge of turning around the season is greater if the players cannot agree on how to do it. Arenas said it could be difficult to get everyone on the same page when eight of the 15 players on the Wizards' roster will be unrestricted or restricted free agents next season. "Everyone's got their own individual goals, I guess. Hidden agendas," said Arenas, who is signed through 2014. "You can't win like that."
The last time he played almost a full season, in 2006-07, Arenas was able to carry the Wizards out of a 4-9 hole and to the best record in the Eastern Conference by late January. "I'm sitting here thinking, 'Do I have to go into attack mode like I was [three] years ago to get us over the hump?' " he said. "I hope not. It's only so many nights, so many games before I'm going to have to start doing what I do."
The question is whether Arenas is still capable of such heroics while he struggles to regain the form that made him a three-time all-star after a hiatus of almost two seasons because of a bothersome left knee. Arenas said he is the only player on the team who has had to sacrifice his game, but he has been the leading scorer in eight of the 12 games, has taken 64 more shots than anyone on the team, and is shooting just 39 percent. He also leads the league in turnovers per game (4.0).
And, while Arenas prepares himself for a possible takeover, fellow co-captain Antawn Jamison said the days of individual heroics are no longer necessary.
"I think a lot of guys, when you get down and things aren't going well, you try to put everything on your back," Jamison said. "We always had three prolific guys that can get the job done, but now you have to understand we got other guys that can get it done as well. I think it is time for guys to realize that the things you want to accomplish have to be team-oriented."