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Wizards/NBA

Ivan Carter and Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 2, 2008 2:15 PM

Post staff writers Ivan Carter and Michael Lee were online Wednesday, Jan. 2 at 2:15 p.m. ET to discuss the Washington Wizards this season and what stories to follow from around the NBA.

From The Post:

Wizards Coverage

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archive

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Michael Lee: Happy New Year everyone. We've finished the first two months of the season and we've already seen a couple of small trades, the surprising firing of Scott Skiles and rumors of more trades and firings to come.

It feels like forever since we last chatted. I went home to KC for the holiday, spent some time with family and didn't scour over all the NBA news like I generally do. But I've caught up the past two days and I'm ready to take on your questions. So, let's go. . .

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Ivan Carter: Hello everyone! Hope you had a happy and safe New Year's. Mine was great. Let's get to it.

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Buenos Aries, Argentina: I heard a rumor that Pech's leg was actually bitten off by a shark and the he has been injected with gecko DNA, stem sells and super glue in an attempt to regrow the limb. Is there any truth to this rumor or is there another reason he has been out for the longest 2-3 weeks in NBA history?

Ivan Carter: Good question and yes, the Pesh right ankle injury has been a bit mysterious. Here's the deal: he suffered hairline fractures to both sides of the ankle back in late October and it has been really slow to come around. He recently took off the walking boot he had been wearing and has been doing work on a stationary bike and has been cleared to do light shooting drills. On Dec. 28 in New Jersey, he told me that he was a week to two weeks away from trying to practice. I'll get an update before tonight's game.

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D.C.: What's so different about the Portland team that the Wizards beat by 19 two months ago?

Michael Lee: Well, the Portland team that came to Washington was still a bit unnerved following a loss to Philadelphia the night before when the Blazers blew a 25-point lead. I still don't know how to explain the dramatic turnaround of a team that went from 5-12 to win 13 games in a row and take a lead in the Northwest Division. That's unprecedented. And it was one of the more unlikely streaks ever, given the youth of that team -- third-youngest in NBA history.

You have to give credit to Nate McMillan for challenging his team to not make excuses for being young and not having Greg Oden. You also have to give it up for Brandon Roy, who is looking like Dwyane Wade Lite right now. The Blazers have a ton of talent and one win, just led to more confidence and more confidence led to more wins.

All that is proves is that you never know what is going to happen in this league. The Celtics lost 18 games in a row last year and now they are 26-3. I know KG and Ray Allen had a lot to do with that, but who counted on those guys being in green this season.

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Will from Rockville: Michael, can you help me out here? I'm checking the standings and I look to see the Atlanta Hawks are sitting alone as the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. Is it just me or...is it just me?

Michael Lee: What do you need help with? Are you confused that the Hawks have the fourth-best record in the East or that the rest of the conference has been quite wretched? I mean, because it's a combination of the two.

One, that after several years of lottery picks, the Hawks are starting to figure out how to finish and win games. And two, the Bulls, Cavaliers, Heat, Nets, Raptors and Wizards have all gotten off to slow (terrible, if you are fans of the Bulls, Cavs and Heat) starts.

You keep wondering when the ripples will settle and we start to see which teams are real and which ones are fake.

I think the Hawks will be in the playoff picture for most of the season. I don't see them finishing that high when all is said and done. But I also see the Bulls, Cavs, Nets and Raptors picking it up over the next few weeks. The Wizards will still be a bit up and down without Gilbert. But notice I didn't say Miami. That team is the pits. Who would've thought we'd see the day when Shaq AND D-Wade missed the playoffs? I keep expecting Pat Riley to make a trade, but he might be more likely to step down as coach than make a big move as team president at this point.

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New York, N.Y.: Before the Miami game Andray Blatche hadn't been playing too well the last couple weeks -- he's been real tentative and turnover prone -- and it has cost him minutes.

Any explanation for his lack of aggressiveness? Has Eddie commented on this? Is he practicing hard?

Andray thrives when he gets at least 25 minutes and is involved in the offense.

Ivan Carter: For the most part, Andray's energy has been there on defense and when it comes to rebounding but offensively, he clearly remains a work in progress. He's still developing some go-to post moves and that jumper of his is a serious work in progress so there really is nothing to offensively hang his hat on. I've heard that he's bringing it a lot more consistently in practice this year than last but he's also a guy who tends to bring it harder when he's playing well and dip a little bit when he's not. The Blatche we all saw in Saturday's win over Miami is the one this team needs.

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Washington, D.C.: Despite some flack from Wiz fans over the years, EJ's now the longest-tenured coach in the East. Does this say more about how he's underappreciated or how crazy it is for NBA coaches?

Ivan Carter: A little bit of both. I mean, it is crazy. It was just last spring when Scott Skiles was the toast of Chicago. They won a playoff series and pushed the Pistons pretty hard in the second round. His team was gritty, tough and filled with likable guys. Now, he's out of a job because they either quit on him or way overachieved last season (my opinion). I think Eddie has done his best coaching job this season.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey guys -- hope you had a great holiday! I know there've been rumblings about Larry Hughes being on the trading block: any teams showing interest?

Ivan Carter: I'm sure there is interest but the problem will be Cleveland's willingness (or lack thereof) to take an equally awful contract in return. Cavs GM Danny Ferry desperately wants to dump some of the bad deals he's handed out in recent years (Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones, etc.) and that is why he drove such a hard bargain with Varajeo and Pavlovic this summer.

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Washington, D.C.: Mike, D.C. barbeque is to K.C. barbeque as the Wizards are to...

Michael Lee: The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. No comparison, my friend.

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Rock City, Tenn.: How's Gil's rehab going? Is early March a reasonable timetable? And is he taking it easier this time?

Ivan Carter: The whole Gilbert rehab thing is really up in the air. I do know that he recently was cleared to stop walking with crutches. He's been working on a stationary bike and doing some work in water but so far that's it. The original three-month timetable for a possible return to basketball-related activity would seem to still be in place but Gilbert and the athletic trainers are being very cautious with it this time. The impression I got from Gilbert was that he came back to soon and too hard on it this summer and he's determined to not make the same mistake again.

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Rockville, Md.: Yesterday the NHL had a hockey game outdoors. Do you think there would be any chance of the NBA doing a blacktop game in the near future? Warm city (obviously).

Michael Lee: The Phoenix Suns have reportedly reached an agreement to play a preseason game outdoors next season. It sounds cool, but I don't know if the NBA needs to go down this route too often. Hockey needs gimmicks like this to draw attention to the league. The NBA doesn't really need that. I know just about everybody in the league made a name for himself on the blacktop, but the owners have too much money invested to risk somebody getting injured on anything but the hardwood.

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Columbia, Md.: What is the deal with Larry Hughes? I hear the Cavs are shopping him around to various teams including the Wiz. Please tell me the Wiz are not even thinking about touching this deal. I have nothing but love for Hughes but he is not worth the contract he signed with Cleveland and he has to be one of the most fragile ball players I have seen in a while. Besides, he didn't want to be here, hence his stint in Cleveland anyway.

Ivan Carter: There is a better chance of Jerry Jones becoming the next Mayor of D.C. than Ernie Grunfeld making a trade to acquire that salary Hughes is pulling down. I like Larry and think he was a far better fit for the Wizards than the Cavs and I can never blame a player for getting every nickel they can but that is a horrible contract.

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USC alum: Do you think Nick Young makes it to the rookie game at All-Star Weekend?

Ivan Carter: I think he stands a pretty good chance. He ranks ninth among rookies in scoring and he'd stand a good chance of doing well in the dunk contest so I'd expect that he'll get an invite.

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Boise, Idaho: Is it my imagination, or is Jamison playing more on the inside this year? I think that's the main reason his rebounds are up; he doesn't hang around the perimeter as much as he did last year, waiting to launch threes.

Ivan Carter: Good point. He's said that he has made a concerted effort to not "drift" to the three-point line as much, especially when he has a guy on him whom he can post up. Also, he's been very aggressive off the dribble.

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Christchurch, New Zealand: Any word on when/if Elton Brand gets on the court? Cheers.

Michael Lee: Aw, man. New Zealand. I love these far away questions, even if this is really coming from some dude's basement in Southeast. Anyway, Elton Brand has targeted February for his return from a torn Achilles. He's reportedly on schedule after a checkup last month.

He might not be coming back to much. After a hot start, the Clippers are back to being the Clippers, and I don't see them getting back into the playoff picture before this season ends. With his opt out clause, Brand might be looking to ditch sunny LA for an opportunity to actually win something next summer. It'll be interesting to see if he gets moved.

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Rockville, Md.: How is Etan doing?

Ivan Carter: We've been provided precious little information on Etan's recovery from open-heart surgery. When it happened in October, Etan requested privacy and the reporters who cover the team have provided that. I do know that the team has prepared as though he won't play this season. However, no official announcement will be made about that until Etan gives the clearance to do so. I haven't spoken with him since it all went down.

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Fairfax, Va.: Interesting to hear Antonio Daniels say, in Ivan's story on Tuesday, that he's benefited from watching the team from the bench while injured. Out of everyone on the Wizards, does Daniels seem most likely to have a career in coaching?

Ivan Carter: I'd agree with that. Daniels has the knowledge and experience to be a coach in the future but when I've asked him about it he's said that it's not a goal of his. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the media.

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Anonymous: The Wizards waived Mike Wilks, do you see them signing him or anyone else to 10-day contracts after Jan. 5?

Ivan Carter: With Daniels back tonight and Pesh (I think) set to come back soon, I don't see Ernie adding another player barring more injuries. They can start signing players to 10-days on Saturday but I don't see them doing so.

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Washington, D.C.: The Ghost of Bullets Past allows you to add one memorable name to this year's Wizards: Either Gheorghe Muresan (size), Ledell Eackles (bench scoring), or God Shammgod (handling). Who do you take?

Ivan Carter: Ledell Eackles all the way.

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Miami: Regarding the Heat, is it time for Shaq to hang 'em up? I mean the guy looks like he's going through the motions and has obviously lost quite a bit of athleticism.

Is there anyone else on the team who is untouchable other than D. Wade? This team could take awhile to get significant again.

Michael Lee: It might be time, but he has another 40 million reasons after this season to stick around. It's a shame that Shaq is no longer the dominant force he was just three or so years ago. But he's still better than most centers in the league. It's really up to Shaq how he wants to be remembered. Pistons GM Joe Dumars has a great line that goes, "Father Time is undefeated." He really is, unless you're Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and you "train really hard."

The Heat is in trouble and Pat Riley has to shoulder the blame here. He made some bold moves in the summers of 2004 and 2005 and has nothing since. He just expected Shaq and D-Wade and win rings with no help whatsoever. Riley has to be bold again for the Heat to be relevant again. Right now, he's just chilling and the Heat is getting cold.

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Rockville, Md.: I am curious about Gil's injury and rehab the first time around. Does he blame the team for pushing his return and if so, how does this impact his free agency?

Ivan Carter: He didn't blame the team at all. In fact, he made a point of saying that he himself pushed it because he wanted to get back so badly. I mean, the team certainly didn't encourage him to go out and play on the blacktop at Barry Farms and they weren't calling him up at 2 a.m. telling him to drive to the gym to put up 1,000 jumpers. That's just how Gilbert his. The dude is wired to go all out at all times and dialing it back was not in his DNA. Now that he's gone through this whole thing again, I think he's been scared into realizing that there are things you can't just push your way through. The knee needs to get right.

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Chicago: Why the peculiar timing on the Skiles axing? I mean, right before the holidays? I sense there is something more than meets the eye here or was this just something Paxson wanted to get over with before the new year?

Michael Lee: The Bulls got hammered in back-to-back games and it appeared that it wasn't going to get any better with Skiles as coach. The team needed a new voice, since they had tuned out Skiles. Reportedly, some of the Bulls thought Skiles had checked out on them, so they reciprocated. It's a tough job being a coach, which makes Utah coach Jerry Sloan's ability to hold on to the same job after almost 20 years on the bench absolutely incredible.

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Trailblazers: As an East Coast fan of the NBA, I didn't notice until New Years Day that Portland is in first place.

Is Brandon Roy really that good?

Can Portland play this well the rest of the year or do they still have a killer East Coast swing?

How is Greg Oden progressing? Wouldn't he be a fine addition to this young team?

Michael Lee: Anyone who says they saw this coming needs to be checked into an institution or should already be counting their Mega Millions from the lottery. The Trail Blazers' success is really inexplicable. Not even the people in Portland could've predicted this much success this soon. Without Oden, some people probably thought the Blazers would finish the season with 18 wins, let alone the calendar year.

I don't see Portland holding on for the rest of the year. For all of their success, only three of their 18 wins have come on the road this season -- not surprisingly, they all came during that 13-game win streak. They have lost 10 games on the road and nine of their next 11 are away from the friendly confines of Portland.

I think Denver and Utah will figure it out and battle for the top of that division when all is said and done.

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20165er: Ivan - great work reporting on the Wiz. All of us die-hards truly appreciate it. Songaila's minutes decreased by about 17 percent from November to December. What would you say is the main reason for this?

Ivan Carter: He hasn't played all that well. One thing Eddie recently made a point of saying was that Darius was drifting to the perimeter and taking too many long jumpers instead of establishing position in the post and working from down there. I do think that the ankle he rolled against Minnesota on Dec. 11 and re-injured at Miami two days later has held him back some. He doesn't have much lift or burst to begin with so any leg injury is going to be an issue.

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Washington, D.C.: Odom's numbers are down, but the rest of the Lakers' cast (Bynum, Farmar, Fisher, Ariza, Turiaf) are playing well-to-very-well. When does the story change from "Kupchak's wasting Kobe's prime" to "Kobe's got enough around him to win"?

Michael Lee: When the Lakers actually win something. They started out hot last year and still finished as the seventh seed in the West. Yes, the Lakers look like an improved team, but until Kobe gets out of the first round -- at least -- the story won't change.

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Boston: What is the right mix for a professional league to try to protect its marketable stars versus other teams' incentives to knock them off their game physically to compete? For example, the NBA has benefited from the resurgent Celtics this year but now other teams are trying to beat up the big three to slow them down or goad them into T's. Other leagues have faced similar dilemmas like the NFL with QBs or the NHL with Gretzky/Lemiuex/Crosby. Where do you guys come out on it?

Ivan Carter: Line up and play and let the competition sort it all out. I can promise you that Kevin Garnett will never whine about getting roughed up. Dude will just bring it harder. It's a good thing being the team everyone wants to beat. Keeps you sharp.

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D.C.: Has Roger Mason developed into the 3-pt perimeter threat off the bench the Wizards have been needing for some years now?

Ivan Carter: I'll say this: I wish I could quit my job and become Roger's agent because if he keeps this up, he's going to get paid next summer. What team doesn't need a steady, heady, vet who can make three's, handle the ball without turning it over and play solid defense?

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Rook: It seems that the Wizards are very close to being able to consistently compete with the elite teams in the East (Boston, Detroit) -- OH, okay, I'll include Cleveland in there too...

When Arenas gets back, do they have enough to contend for a title? Or do they need another piece (and if so, what would be needed)?

Ivan Carter: They don't have enough to win a title right now even with a healthy Gilbert, but they are moving closer. Here are the keys in my opinion: Can Brendan Haywood keep playing like he is? Will Andray Blatche do all of the things he needs to do to be a big time player in this league or, now that he has longterm contract in hand, will he settle for being a solid NBA player? What is Nick Young's ceiling? Those three playing to their potential combined with a healthy big three would suddenly make this a very dangerous team to play in the playoffs.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: Ivan and Michael,

I am in disbelief at how quickly 2008 has arrived, and more so at how close we are to another All-Star Weekend. What can we anticipate from our Wizards in terms of representation at the all star game?

Young is certainly a legitimate candidate for the Rookie game and word is he is a potential dunk contestant.

But most importantly, Antawn and Caron have gotta be shown some love this season right? Also, do you anticipate Gil making the team regardless of his injured status?

Tough Juice in '08!

Ivan Carter: Either Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison deserve to be in that game; I think that one of them will. Now, they'd really help their cause by beating a team like Detroit tonight. That would get some attention.

I'll leave it to the fans to decide who deserves it more but you could make an argument for either or both of them. Consider this about Caron: He, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the only three players in the league averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and four assists. That's stunning.

Meanwhile, Jamison is putting up a double double every night.

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Phoenix: What do you think of the Suns this year? Have they really upgraded enough (i.e. Grant Hill) to push the likes of San Antonio in the playoffs?

It seems they still have some holes to fill and Steve Nash is starting to show his age a little. This year may be their last legitimate shot?

Michael Lee: It just might be. Grant Hill has been a pleasant surprise, especially at that bargain price of about $2 million, but you have to wonder how long he can play at this level, especially at age 35.

I like the Suns, picked them to win it all, but my problem is that the owner got too cheap at the wrong time. They have been selling away draft picks, which probably cost them Rajon Rondo or any other possible backup point guard for Nash. And, they gave away Kurt Thomas for nothing and now opposing big men have just been killing them. They don't seem to have enough depth inside and Amare Stoudemire's deficiencies on the defensive end are being exposed on a daily basis.

That being said, the Suns can't let another season slip by. Nash is getting older and Shawn Marion can enter free agency in a few summers.

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Maryland: There was some speculation that Ernie might contemplate "blowing up" this current Wizards team as it has likely maxed out it's playoff potential (that is, a high powered offense team that plays poor defense and will never get past the second round).

I mean the real "big three" are the effective balance of the Celtics Pierce, Garnett and Allen whom all have skills that complement each other. Three scorers with less than stellar defense ability are too much of the same.

Do you see Ernie pulling the trigger on anything or do you think he likes this team the way it is? I tend to agree that this is only a good team (with Arenas) and don't see it getting much better.

Ivan Carter: I don't know why Ernie would blow up anything simply because the team is good but not quite great. Instead, he'll keep tweaking here and there, watch to see how the kids come along and makes moves accordingly. I had one agent tell me that once Ernie decides he wants something, he's the most aggressive guy in the league. But he doesn't just make moves to "do something." That's how you end up like the Knicks and T-Wolves -- the two worst run franchises in the NBA. I wouldn't let Isiah and McHale run a fantasy team.

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Rockville, Md.: Ivan, looking ahead, if you had to predict what will happen this summer with Gilbert, Antawn, Roger, etc., how do you think things will shake out? Will Ernie offer Gilbert a max contract? Would Gilbert accept it? Will Antawn accept a reduced contract offer from the Wiz, and how much reduced? Will Roger price himself off the team? If Antawn leaves, do you think Andray will be ready to step in as a starter next year at the 4 spot?

Ivan Carter: Too early for me to responsibly speculate on all of that. Gilbert's situation will obviously be determined by his knee and his frame of mind going forward. Every other move will fall in line based on his situation.

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Washington, D.C.: The Wizards seem to have one of the most "likeable" rosters in the league-- just a room full of good guys, at least from an outsider's perspective. Is this representative of a changing NBA or are the Wizards a bit of an anomaly in their overall team character?

Ivan Carter: Just based on what other reporters have told me, it's the most unique, fun-loving lockeroom in the league. Almost every game a reporter from another team asks me about a Wiz player: "Does he talk? Is he approachable?" The answer is always: "Yes." It's a team of good dudes, no doubt.

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Ivan Carter: Thanks for coming in folks. Have to run and get ready for tonight's game. Enjoy.

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Woodbridge, Va.: With the holidays over, now the NBA really comes into focus. With All-Star break around the corner, what is some of the scuttlebutt you guys have heard? Trade rumors, coaching hot seats, draft and free agent plans, etc?

Michael Lee: Let me try to break it down some.

Trade rumors: The Sixers aren't shopping Andre Miller, but new GM Ed Stefanski is definitely listening, since he's shown with that recent Giricek-Korver deal that he wants to get further under the cap and remake the team quick fast in a hurry. The Heat would love to trade Smush Parker if they could find a taker. The Golden State Warriors might be looking to get another point guard with Troy Hudson's potentially career-ending hip injury. Memphis will likely have to explore Pau Gasol's trade value again with the Grizzlies stinking up the joint. And, the Knicks might be looking to move the disappointing Eddy Curry since he and Zach Randolph are not working out.

Coaching hot seat: Lawrence Frank in New Jersey. Pat Riley in Miami (I'm surprised he hasn't fired himself yet). Mike Dunleavy. Isiah Thomas has proclaimed himself safe, but I don't think he's out of the water by any stretch; the Knicks can actually get worse.

Free agent plans: The Sixers look like the team that will have busiest offseason, since they could more than $10 million in cap space to sign free agents. The 2004 draft class will enter restricted free agent territory, Gilbert Arenas, Elton Brand, Ron Artest and Corey Maggette have opt out clauses. It could get interesting.

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Michael Lee: That's it? I guess everybody is still experiencing a hangover from the New Year. We didn't get too many questions this week. Oh well. I hope things pick up next week. Have a blessed weekend, everybody. Peace.

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