As the Wizards' big three try to mesh again, past is not present

Antawn Jamison and the Wizards have struggled to find the success they had with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.
Antawn Jamison and the Wizards have struggled to find the success they had with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Mike Wise
Saturday, December 12, 2009

When a trio of NBA geezers, all past 32 years of age, are again thought to be contenders the moment their main star returns from injury, it's fair to ask Doc Rivers an obvious question or two, no?

Why is Boston's Big Three -- Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen -- stratospheres removed from the Big Three in Washington?

How have three aging veterans managed to come together to win a championship and keep their window for another open? Conversely, how come the Wizards' window for just one deep playoff run, despite their obvious upside of youth and talent, looks closer to slamming shut?

"They're different players," the Celtics coach said of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

Rivers spoke prior to Boston staving off Flip Saunders's 7-13 outfit at Verizon Center on Thursday night, where he got an assist from Arenas at the foul line. "Us, the fit is perfect, obviously," he added. "But they've had injuries. That's the biggest reason."

Well, yes, there is that. The Gil, Caron and 'Twan Show has yet to capture the magic from its original run two years ago, about the same time Arenas was lost to a bum knee.

Gil 2.0 can still thrill and spot up from Anacostia. But those fearless forays to the rim don't happen as often as the three-time all-star gradually gets used to playing with a thrice-operated-on left leg. His movements don't look fluid or quite natural yet, and that doesn't even get into the on-court chemistry with teammates he's learning to play with all over again.

Whether it's the injury, Saunders's new offense or just being away from the game for two years, Arenas doesn't look completely comfortable.

The same goes for Caron Butler, who's basically gone from franchise player in waiting to the reluctant all-star. He's got to be wondering why he's isn't more valued as a go-to guy anymore; it's obvious in his body language. And let's be clear -- anyone who backpacked an organization through tough times, while Ernie Grunfeld's $111 million man convalesced from injury, would wonder when or if his own contract extension might happen. But it shouldn't get in the way of his play or his aggressive mind-set.

Jamison, at 33, can still be the glue in many ways and throw up those crazy, off-the-wrong-foot runners that go in. But when all anyone at Verizon Center talks about is, "Things will be better when Mike Miller gets back from injury," and Mike Miller wasn't here last season, well, it's tough to keep up the Big Three illusion.

What we have in Washington at the moment is not merely a pro basketball team trying to find its identity, but also three players trying to individually recapture their own.

"I thought they were on their way to being really good," Rivers said. "But it's going to take time to find out if it's going to work. And as well as [Gilbert] is playing, he's been up and down -- and he was out for two years. So that's just gonna take time. I don't think anybody's going to be patient anymore to wait. But I think they're going to have to."

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