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The Washington Wizards

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Michael Lee and Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 21, 2007; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writers Michael Lee and Ivan Carter was online Wednesday, March 21, at 2 p.m. ET to field your questions and comments about the Wizards and all the latest NBA news.

The transcript follows.

From The Post: Wizards Coverage

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Washington: Ivan (if you're there) did Gilbert even care that the Wizards lost last night?

Ivan Carter: I'm here. Lovely day here in Portland. Not so lovely in Wiz land. I was in the locker room after the game last night and believe, Gilbert cared. However, he knew he had to face the music with the media (it was me from Washington and several reporters and several Portland area cameras waiting around his locker as he dressed). I give him credit: he faced the music, acknowledged the booing in classic goofy Gilbert style, gave the Blazers credit and explained what happened. As a reporter, that's all you can ask for. Now his coach? Eddie answered three questions in a very professional manner but that was it. He was clearly ticked off. So was just about everyone in that locker room. That was a brutal defeat.

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Michael Lee: Sorry I'm late. I won't bore you with the intro. I know people here are upset after last night. Let's go. . .

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Washington: Players the Wiz made look like All-Stars: PG -- Allan Ray; SG -- Brandon Roy (10 rebounds); SF -- Ryan Gomes; PF -- Ruben Patterson; C -- Zaza Pachulia; 6th -- Bostjan Nachbar; 7th -- washed-up Stevie Franchise; 8th -- Earl Boykins.

Michael Lee: Are you saying you couldn't win with that squad?

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Lexington, Va.: Eddie Jordan made some comments about taking minutes away from guys who aren't playing good defense. Who's on Jordan's shortlist for losing time?

Ivan Carter: It was hard to get a read on just who he was mad at but my guess is that Roger Mason earned himself some more burn last night. After that, it's hard to guess because I didn't think anyone was all that impressive. Andray Blatche played some nice position defense early. He was active and really got into LaMarcus Aldridge but he didn't score and clearly hasn't earned the trust of the vets in the fourth quarter. Songaila came in for the second half after not playing in the first, knocked down some opens shots and grabbed four boards but looked really slow against a young, super athletic front line. Antonio Daniels had seven assists but missed all four of his shots and was hurt defensively, Gilbert sometimes looked totally lost on defense (screens kill him) and Jarvis Hayes gave you four points and four boards in 23 minutes.

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Washington: Man, when will Gil cease with the trash-talking comments? I am referring to the comments before yesterday's game. I know he does it for fun and all, but I thought he learned his lesson after the previous losses.

Ivan Carter: It certainly backfired against Portland in two games. Then again, that's Gilbert being Gilbert. He's always going to keep it interesting. He's had hideous shooting games when he didn't make crazy predictions and he'll have them in the future. Sometimes the hibachi grill is on low. He was coming off three strong games in my opinion and I wouldn't be shocked if he bounced back with a good one tonight at Seattle.

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Just Wondering: Ivan, what's the mood of the team right now? What about particular players (especially Gilbert after last night's showing and the missed shot)? Just wondering how they're feeling morale-wise and how that will affect the team's chances for the rest of the trip.

Ivan Carter: I'm a little curious about that myself and here's why: Eddie took longer than usual before coming out and addressing the media after the game and he was as ticked off as he's been all season. I got the feeling that he may have torn into his team a little bit in the post-game meeting. We couldn't hear anything from the hallway but I got the sense from observing the players that he gave it to them a little bit. Will that be good or bad going into tonight? I have no idea.

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Falls Church, Va.: Do you guys believe in the Andray Blatche hype? Some people think the guy will be the truth; I still see a lost kid out there that can jump but has no jump shot.

Ivan Carter: He's a basketball puppy. 20-years old. Two years out of prep school. Been playing organized ball since the ninth grade. What we're seeing is the expected maturation process of what is, in my opinion, going to be damn good player. Here's what I like and I watched him closely early on last night: his defensive fundamentals are light years ahead of where they were in the preseason when he was getting big minutes. He moves his feet so much better, closes out on his man and does not fall for pump fakes like he did and recovers and helps his teammates very well, which is key because a guy with his wing span can really be a terror. I also like the competitiveness I saw last night against Aldridge, who is physically very similar. The offensive part remains a work in progress. His J needs work, the kind of work that comes with 5 hours spent in a lonely gym every single day this summer. He says he's going to do that. We'll see. All in all, considering the shooting and the fact that he basically missed his rookie season and has been on a veteran laden playoff-type team, I would say that he's on schedule.

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Pressure point: Gentlemen, did you have a problem with what Dirk Nowitzki said about tensing up in critical moments, and is that something he should even admit to? Follow up: Can you give me your Top 10 NBA players performing as of now? I'm wondering if you have Ray Allen on that list, perhaps at No. 10.

Michael Lee: I asked Dirk if he gets tense during pressure situations thinking that he would be honest with me and say that he does, but I still was surprised to hear a professional athlete admit to something like that. So many guys walk around with this fake bravado, like they never get nervous or they don't get scared, but the reality is that most do -- even if they refuse to admit it. It was actually refreshing to hear somebody say that. But he added that he wants the ball in those situations anyway. I especially like to hear a guy accept the responsibility. Dirk is usually pretty honest, though. He won't feed you bull. You've got to respect him for that.
But you want the top 10 performers as of now? That's pretty broad. I don't know if you mean this week, month or the entire season, but I'm going to go with the season.
1. Dirk
2. Nash
3. LeBron
4. Kobe
5. Tim Duncan
6. T-Mac
7. Gilbert
8. Chris Bosh
9. Carmelo
10. Kevin Garnett/Shaq

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Guys -- I know that this is premature, but I'm interested in how the team will approach this offseason. Although we don't know how things will end this year, the team's strengths and weaknesses are there for all to see. Do you see any trades in the summer? What kinds of players do you see them going after in the draft? I'm a GW guy, so do you see Mike Hall getting a contract for next year with the Wizards?

Ivan Carter: Three keys: The team is over the salary cap and not very far under the luxury tax which, like most owners, Abe Pollin won't touch. Ernie will do his best to dump Etan's contract if he can find a taker which will be difficult. Jarvis Hayes is up, Calvin Booth is up, DeShawn Stevenson can opt out (and will) and Andray Blatche is restricted. Unless Ernie can clear space by moving Etan or otherwise moving a bigger salary, he'll have the mid-level exception (a little over $5 million) to split up between DeShawn and Andray or use to go get someone else. Not really sure what DeShawn will command but I can't see some team giving him the entire mid-level. We'll see. I know for a fact that Ernie wants to keep Andray and, you can expect last year's first round pick, Oleksiy Pecherov, to come over from the Ukraine.

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Seattle: Argh! Portland, Portland! Now I can go watch us play down to the Sonics tonight. Oh well, can't complain too much, right -- at least we have winning records these days...

Michael Lee: You should really only be concerned if Seattle Coach Bob Hill decides to sit Ray Allen. Then, the Wizards will really be in trouble. Don Nelson should rest Baron Davis. Mike Dunleavy should sit Elton Brand and Jerry Sloan should rest Deron Williams. Take away a team's best player and the Wizards turn to silly putty. I still cannot believe that they lost to the Blazers without Zach Randolph, the Hawks without Joe Johnson, the Grizzlies without Pau Gasol and the Nuggets without Carmelo. In my best Cee-Lo from Gnarls Barkley falsetto, that is "Cra-zy!"

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Charlottesville, Va.: My location gives away my bias, but as long as Caron is down can we continue to expect Mason to get a chance to contribute like he did last night? And uh, is there any way he can take Jarvis' minutes or something like that?

Ivan Carter: Reading Eddie's mind when it comes to that rotation can be dangerous but I have to think that Roger has earned a larger role with way he's shot the ball and played good defense. Also, I liked seeing him put the ball on the floor and take it to the cup last night. He missed one point-blank layup but made another and has the ability to be more than just a spot-up shooter. He doesn't give you the larger body and rebounding that Jarvis does but he's a better shooter than either Jarvis or Antonio Daniels.

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Silver Spring, Md.: As Gilbert is headed back to Golden State on Friday, should we be expecting him to make a total fool of himself -- then have a positive post-game mood because he got booed?

Ivan Carter: Ouch.

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Reston, Va.: Ugh! Another terrible loss ... that I stayed up and watched. What is the Wizards defensive philosophy? I thought it was defend the rim and let them beat you with jumpers (wide open jumpers by the way). I know DeShawn was expecting help on Roy's drive, but if you look at the replay he was not even looking at Roy when he made his break to the basket. Why not square up in front of him and force a jumper? Even my 5-year-old yells at the TV to "cover your own man!"

Ivan Carter: That was horrendous. No way you can allow a guy to drive down the middle of the paint the way Roy did on that one and get two easy ones. I looked over at Eddie after that happened and thought his head was going to explode.

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Washington: Jarvis seems like a good guy, but his play down the stretch last night was horrible. The rebound he lost at the 1:20 mark was crucial, and his lack of help defense immediately thereafter was the clincher. As a reporter, is it out of bounds to flat out ask Eddie why Jarvis plays so much in crunch time?

Ivan Carter: I'll ask him tonight before the Seattle game and run Eddie's response on my blog.

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Alexandria, Va.: Well, the crucial five game road trip got off to an inauspicious start, getting swept by lowly Portland. Winning two or three of five is needed to keep pace with Miami and Chicago for home court advantage. Gilbert seems to be struggling a little lately -- do you think it's that the burden of having to carry the team is starting to weigh on him?

Ivan Carter: As I said before, he'd played pretty well before last night. His 30 point, 11 assist, 2 turnover game in the win over Chris Paul and the Hornets was one of his most solid efforts of the season. I wouldn't read too much into last night's debacle. Was it a bad, bad loss? Yes. But they still have four games left on this trip and the one thing about Gilbert is this: he shakes things off very quickly. He's probably playing some video game right now in his hotel room in Seattle not even thinking about last night. You think Luke Ridnour isn't a little bit nervous about trying to stay in front of that cat tonight?

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Falls Church, Va.: I hear a lot of people talk about a consistent lineup, but how can Eddie have one when the bench is terrible? C'mon Etan and Jarvis.

Ivan Carter: That's been a point I've made all season. Who on that bench was played consistently enough to warrant a set-in-stone role? I believe Songaila has recently as he's slowly rounded into game shape after missing 45 games with a back injury. Etan has been okay. Antonio has been all over the place (last night: seven dimes but 0-4 from the field), Blatche is a work-in-progress, Hayes has struggled to consistently makes shots but has played pretty good defense and rebounded well (though he was beaten for a big board down the stretch last night), Booth has been okay in spots and Mason hasn't played enough to accurately judge.

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Concord, Mass.: Ivan, I'm curious. If you were EJ, how would you approach tonight's game against Seattle so as not to have a repeat episode of the thrashing in Portland?

Ivan Carter: That was a real spanking.

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Grasonville, Md.: The Miami Heat has been playing great basketball without their splendid guard, Dwyane Wade. Shaquille O'Neal has played with the heart of a lion. Udonis Haslem and Jason Williams (who often is very passive with Wade in the lineup) have stepped up their offensive games. James Posey is playing his best basketball of the season. Until he was injured, Jason Kapono was playing the best ball of his career. Alonzo Mourning is the best backup center in basketball -- and maybe the best since Bill Walton with the '80s Celtics. How do you explain it? Can the Heat get to the finals without Wade? And, to step out on a shaky limb, are they a better "team" without Wade?

Michael Lee: Okay, to answer your last question: Capital N.O. NO! The Heat is not better without Wade. This is just a scenario where the Heat players - especially Shaq - have too much pride to go out like chumps. This is a veteran team with a legendary coach/brilliant motivator. They heard people, like myself, clown them about how old they are, how washed up they are, how they couldn't make the playoffs without Wade and they decided to shut us up.
I apologize profusely for doubting Shaq. He truly is a great player (understatement) and it speaks to his greatness that the Heat was only a .500 team with Wade playing out of this world, but they won nine a row with Shaq on the floor. He does so much to get guys open looks and spread the floor. And, it's amazing to me that teams still refuse to double him. He must feel like he's in heaven.
I don't think the Heat can go all the way without Wade. It's hard for me to see them getting past Detroit without the man who demolished them in the playoffs last year.

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Bowie, Md.: Were the basketball weenies in Princeton not smart enough to devise a Princeton Defense, just an offense?

Ivan Carter: That's a good one.

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Tampa, Fla.: To add to the blogger from Arlington's comment about offseason moves and the teams cap approaching the luxury tax, Gil once stated he'd restructure if it would mean putting better talent on the floor. Can an NBA team do this like the Skins do annually to bring in free agents, and if so what's the likelihood?

Ivan Carter: Gil said he'd take a little less on his next deal if it would guarantee getting more help. You'll never seen NBA players restructure their deals the way NFL Players do because the union would never allow it. NBA contracts are guaranteed. NFL contracts are not. Basically, NFL Players get the shaft because they can't ask for a raise if they outperform their contract (the team says: you signed your deal, honor it) but, if they get hurt or play poorly or just happen to be over the barrel, the team will think nothing of coming to them and saying: restructure or we'll cut you and you'll get less in the end. Total different business models.

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Washington: Rashard Lewis is back tonight, as he was out the last time they played. Two words: "ohhhh lawdddddddd!" Who on this team can guard this cat?

Ivan Carter: I'd start with Andray Blatche on him. Like I said earlier, the kid has come a long ways defensively and he really caused Portland some problems with his length and activity lat night. Jamison will get some as will Songaila and Ruffin.

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Falls Church, Va.: What's up with Gilbert's shot? Last night he forgoes an attempt at a game winning three in favor of a short floater to tie, which misses the rim by what looked like 2 feet. It seems like ever since his coming-out birthday party he really hasn't shot well at all. There are a few games here and there and he gets his points with all his free throws and 20 attempts, but still, he's off. Any explanation?

Ivan Carter: Not really. As you said, he's had his moments but the hibachi has basically been chillin' since that party. He had that shoulder issue for awhile but says it's better. Maybe getting Caron back healthy will spark something in this team before it's too late.

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Lexington, Va.: Are the Nuggets beginning to gel, or are they just finding a soft part of their schedule?

Michael Lee: It's hard to say. They've beaten one quality team (Phoenix) during this recent five-game winning streak, but they've have similar runs this season. The Nuggets problem has been consistency. They're up and down like the Wizards.
I was in New Jersey last night and George Karl said his team still isn't out of the woods just yet. This current East coast trip has some tough matchups against four playoff teams (Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland and Detroit) then they have to go home to play Seattle and go back on the road to get Phoenix to end the month.
If they can get through that stretch with 3, 4 wins then I'll be ready to say they've gotten it together. But it's too early for that. The good news for Denver is that the schedule gets a little lighter in April.

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Washington: Gents, there were some great shots of the Wizards huddle during the timeouts during the end of last night's game. In the huddle, though, the team looked like they had about as much chemistry as Kevin Durant's mother and Danny Ainge -- everyone was staring in six different directions (symbolic of what they were doing on the floor), including several blank stares at some abstract spot on the floor. Gil looked constipated and Eddie waited until about 10 seconds left in each timeout to snap out of his Art Shell face and came up with something to say. Isn't Eddie's job to know what to say, get everyone loose, take control, draw up a play, slap some guys on the back, get everyone on the same page, etc.? I know you can't be too critical of him, but does Eddie have the respect that he needs from his guys?

Ivan Carter: I believe he does but I also think players have the usual resentment over the dispersal of minutes. Basically, everyone thinks they should be on the floor but again, who has earned that with their play? Brendan hates coming out but c'mon, he's not a dominant center. Solid, but not dominant. Everyone else has been up-and-down or has major holes in one aspect of their game (Daniels can't shoot, Ruffin can't score, etc.)

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Michael Lee: Anybody here give a hoot about Dallas? Or the Lakers? Or the Pistons?

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Silver Spring, Md.: What is this team honestly going to do to get better? The GM is overhyped to me because he hasn't built a championship caliber team anywhere he's been -- and don't tell me the Knicks, because back in those times it was easy to build around a legit 7-footer in Ewing. But this team, it's an untraditional-style team that's actually not that physically talented, and what I mean by that is they say we are the Phoenix Suns of the East but we're not. Phoenix has athletic players to fit their style with a real point guard. Here, we have non-traditional guys at positions, such as Arenas and Jamison, and don't make up for it athletically. Hope you understand where I'm getting at with this statement.

Michael Lee: I see where you're going. I agree with you about Phoenix but you're wrong about Ernie and the job he did in New York. It wasn't that easy building around Ewing, but he made some bold moves, like signing Allan Houston (not to that monstrous contract but a reasonable one before that) and trading for Larry Johnson. He built the team that advanced to the NBA Finals in 1999 - mostly without Ewing. That team had Sprewell and Camby, two players that Grunfeld acquired by dealing popular Knicks John Starks and Charles Oakley. He was fired before that team got it together and made that incredible run to the Finals (with Ewing mostly injured), but you have to give him credit.

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Tampa, Fla.: Why do the Wizards look so awful against the pick-and-roll? And what will it take to get them to rotate better and close out on shooters after the extra pass is made against them? I think the Bulls are best in the league at this.

Ivan Carter: Much of it starts with Gilbert. Sometimes he's just a flat-out horrible defender. He'll either gamble and go for a steal which leads to a dribble drive breakdown of the defense, or he'll become so fixated on the ball, his man will move to the open spot and get an easy shot/layup or, he'll smack right into a screen and his man will slide down the lane and hurt the defense that way. It's been pointed out before: Gilbert has serious problems reading and getting over or around screens. It's uncanny. Like a fast wide receiver who can't get off of bump-and-run coverage.

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Washington: "Maybe getting Caron back healthy will spark something in this team before it's too late." Can you define "too late"? Do you mean lottery?

Michael Lee: Take your hand off the panic button. The Wizards are going to the playoffs. They have 36 wins and based on the futility of the other teams in the race - Indiana, New York, New Jersey and Orlando - the Wizards could probably lose the last 17 and still get in. The East is that bad.
Too late is before Miami runs away with the division.

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Woodbridge, Va.: At Michael: No one cares about those teams, man. There used to be a time when people in this town cared about teams other than the Bullets/Wizards.

Michael Lee: Oh. Okay. Thanks for letting me know. Carry on.

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Washington: Ivan, do you think last night's "spanking" would have been a win if Caron had been out there? Besides his incredible good looks, to me he is the heart and soul of the Wiz, and they are destined to have a metaphorical storm cloud over their heads until he is back in...

Ivan Carter: This team clearly misses a healthy Tough Juice. I say healthy because he wasn't playing well after the All-Star break and they lost with him because he wasn't himself. Assuming he comes back for the Philly game (next Wednesday) and is his normal self, this team will get a much needed boost. Remember, he gets points the rough and dirty way: steals and fast break dunks, offensive rebounds and putbacks and just plain old grimy drives to the bucket, plus, he gets to the free throw line and makes 'em. By the way, I'm sure Mrs. Tough Juice will appreciate your appreciation for her man.

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Washington: The Wizards are playing with no sense of urgency. Do you think that they got too pleased with themselves after a good first half?

Michael Lee: It's pretty obvious that they did. You can just see how they are cruising through the second half, like they know they can't catch Cleveland and they can't avoid Miami in the first round, no matter what they do. The top two teams in the East are pulling away and the bottom two teams in the playoff picture are dragging, so the Wizards are assured no better than third and no worse than sixth. The Wizards really blew a chance to distance themselves from the Heat and unfortunately, they are beginning to realize that they don't have a magical switch to turn it back on. It's going to be a grind the rest of the way because at some point they let up on the gas.

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Did you really want a Lakers question?: We're in the second year of PJ's three-year deal. The squad's decent and he's done some phenomenal work with Walton, Evans and Kwame, but the team isn't close to being a real Finals contender. Do you think he re-ups after next season?

Michael Lee: If they make some serious talent upgrades and he still wants to coach, I think he does. Kobe has about four or five more years to play at his current level and I think Phil would like to guide him through that. Plus, after one more year, Kwame will either be improved or gone, Bynum will be a little closer to the legal drinking age, Steve Nash and Tim Duncan will be really old, so the Lakers might be set to roll.

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Ivan Carter: Thanks for coming in. I have to run and catch a flight to Seattle for tonight's game.

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I give a hoot: Don't sleep on the Lakers -- barring anymore injuries, they are a scary team to play. Just ask the top teams in the West.

Michael Lee: Thanks for giving a hoot.

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Michael Lee: Okay guys. I sure hope the Wizards get a win before our next chat. These people want blood. And, thanks for letting me know that nobody cares about anything other than the Wizards here. That's good to know. I have to go, though. It was short but fun. Peace.

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