Frustration continues to mount for 10-20 Washington Wizards
Thursday, December 31, 2009
A large photograph of the Larry O'Brien championship trophy hangs in Antawn Jamison's locker room stall, serving as a symbol of what Jamison said is the only reason he comes to play at age 33. But as his team continues to underachieve and disappoint, that picture appears to be as close as Jamison will come to touching the trophy while wearing a Washington Wizards uniform this season.
As one of the three captains on the team, Jamison has tried to maintain a positive demeanor this season -- despite the heartbreaking and despicable losses, the occasional bickering and dissension, and the Wizards' inability to stop running and sinking in quicksand. The challenge of keeping it together is becoming more difficult for Jamison, however, with the Wizards 10-20 and Coach Flip Saunders eviscerating the squad following the 110-98 loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
Upset that his players haven't been leaving it all on the floor, Saunders left it all on the table during the postgame news conference. He said that the team needed a "different mind-set" and made jokes that his players were so bad defensively that he, at age 54, could probably take them one-on-one. Saunders has obviously been frustrated for some time.
"He's not the only one," said Jamison, who claimed before the season began that the Wizards would be championship contenders. "It hurts to know what we have on paper and to not get it done out there on the court. It's definitely disappointing, and it's getting to the point now where something really needs to happen."
Saunders tried to set the tone for the Wizards in training camp when he issued T-shirts and caps that read "Our Time." But those shirts could soon be amended by adding two more words: "Is Up." Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld resisted overtures near the trade deadline last season and last summer for Caron Butler and Jamison. But the disappointing start has added to rampant speculation that the Wizards could be active between now and the Feb. 18 trade deadline.
Grunfeld isn't under any restrictions on making moves following the death of majority owner Abe Pollin last month. Pollin believed strongly in the trio of former all-stars Gilbert Arenas, Butler and Jamison. But as one league source put it recently, with Pollin gone, so is the driving force to keep them together -- especially with the trio just 7-13 this season and unable to recapture the magic of the past. A person with knowledge of the Wizards' thinking said that no player on the roster is untouchable.
Grunfeld would not address specific trade rumors when reached by telephone on Wednesday, but when asked if he wanted to make a move, he said, "It depends on how things go and what opportunities present themselves."
The Houston Rockets are shopping Tracy McGrady and his $23 million expiring contract, but making a trade for him would make it a difficult match in salaries. ESPN.com reported that the Wizards made an exploratory call, offering Arenas for McGrady, but a league source said such a deal was "unrealistic."
The Wizards could take a number of avenues in trades. With a roster that features eight free agents, they could make some salary dumps to clear cap space for the summer of 2010. But the person with knowledge of the Wizards' thinking said the team would like to receive a promising young player in such a deal.
The person added that it could be difficult to get equal value in a trade, but that the Wizards have to do something to change the chemistry of a roster that looks talented on paper but produces eyesores on the court.
"We're disappointed with the losing and the lack of consistency," Grunfeld said. "Nobody is happy. It's going to be up to the players and all of us to pull together. It's up to the team to change the way we play. We have not done that."
The Wizards were expected to be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference during the preseason, with the additions of Saunders, a healthy Arenas and Brendan Haywood, plus Randy Foye and Mike Miller. But despite a $78.2 million payroll -- almost $9 million above the luxury tax threshold -- the Wizards are only four games better than last season, when they tied the franchise record for fewest wins in an 82-game season with 19.
"Right now, we stink. And we're showing it," Arenas said. "You can sit here and talk about it every day, every game, every loss, but until we turn it around, we stink. The last two years we've got a loser mentality."
Only one player on the Wizards made the playoffs last season: Fabrico Oberto with the San Antonio Spurs, the Wizards' opponent on Saturday. Saunders arrived in Washington with 587 career victories and could not have imagined, in any worst-case scenario, that the Wizards would have completed two months of the season and he still would be in search of his 600th victory. Grunfeld said he agreed with Saunders's cutting assessment of the team on Tuesday.
"I think anybody who watched the game would agree," Grunfeld said.
Added Jamison: "Something has to change. Either I'm going to go crazy or -- I'm not saying we need to do anything drastic. But we have to change because it's not the coaches. It's not them putting this group together. It's the guys who are in this locker room. The trust that we have in one another. The confidence we have. The energy that we bring. That's what I'm saying when something got to change. Why hasn't it changed? I have no idea. If I knew the question then believe me I would answer it and I would try to find a way to fix it."