Wizards' three all-stars are not in harmony this season

Guard Gilbert Arenas has been frustrated at times this season.
Guard Gilbert Arenas has been frustrated at times this season. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The anticipation of getting Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler healthy at the same time has far exceeded what they have been able to accomplish so far this season. They have impressive individual résumés, seven combined all-star game appearances and reputations for clutch performances, but the Washington Wizards are still waiting for them to form a potent trio that is capable of consistently leading the team to wins.

The Wizards are 4-5 in the nine games that Arenas, Jamison and Butler have played together this season; they're 3-7 when one or more has been out. The threesome will combine to make more than $37 million this season, nearly 48 percent of the payroll. But the player who has been most dependable in the fourth quarter is Earl Boykins, a 5-foot-5 player on a non-guaranteed contract worth about $1.2 million.

"It's time for us to step up," Jamison said Sunday after the Wizards lost to the Pistons. "When things are going great, we get the credit. And now, in the fourth quarter, nobody is stepping up, so it has to be on us."

Coach Flip Saunders gave an exasperated chuckle when asked why none of his three former all-stars has been able to take over games in the final period.

"We're putting the ball in those guys' hands, and they're not making plays," Saunders said of the trio, which averages a combined 57.1 points. "Earl doesn't necessarily want to be the guy, but sometimes those other guys don't have it and so he ends up being the guy."

In the Wizards' past two losses to Toronto and Detroit, Arenas and Butler took their respective turns to try to lead the team to victory, but were unable to finish.

Arenas scored a season-high 34 points in a 109-107 overtime loss to the Raptors and forced overtime with a jumper, but he missed a layup with two seconds left in the extra session. After not attempting a field goal in the fourth quarters of their previous two games, Butler scored 13 points in the final period of the Wizards' 98-94 loss to the Pistons, helping to rally the team from a nine-point deficit. But with an opportunity to help the Wizards take the lead late, Butler dribbled the ball off the back of his leg for a turnover.

Jamison was a combined 1 for 9 in the fourth quarter and overtime in those losses.

"Our teammates rely on us to make plays in the fourth quarter," Jamison said. "It's time, for not only just one of us, but pretty much all three of us collectively. And not only in the fourth quarter but throughout the 48 minutes. We got to play better basketball. It's our fault."

The trio has yet to win a playoff series, but from Jan. 26, 2007 to Feb. 2, 2007, the Wizards owned the best record in the Eastern Conference. But after Butler broke his right hand on April 1, 2007 and Arenas suffered a left knee injury three days later, the three started just 10 games together over the next two seasons.

With Arenas mostly testing his surgically repaired knee, they were 4-6 in those games. The Wizards were 63-42 when they started together through the end of the 2006-07 season.

When Arenas returned healthy this season, Jamison was forced to miss the first nine games because of a right shoulder subluxation, and Butler missed another because of a sore right ankle. With Saunders's new offensive scheme, which is a stark contrast to the Princeton offense each had grown accustomed to, the reunion has failed to launch.

"It's going to happen. It's not going to happen overnight," Butler said. "A lot of people keep forgetting. They think it's supposed to gel immediately. Gil's been away two years. Roles changed; everything changed. Everybody is trying to adjust to a new situation and circumstance."

Arenas had cemented his status as the Wizards' go-to-guy before his knee troubles, but Jamison and Butler established themselves in his absence, making his return more complicated.

After going 0 for 3 in the fourth quarter against the Pistons, Arenas said he wasn't concerned about whom Saunders and the coaching staff decides to give the ball with the game on the line.

"I'll let them figure it out," Arenas said. "Before, the whole building knew who was going to shoot the last four minutes. In this case, we have enough scorers. Sometimes, I won't shoot in the fourth quarter; I won't shoot in the last four minutes. I don't even think about it. I just go with the flow now. I don't want to get on anybody's bad side. I'm trying to play my role until all that weeds itself out."

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