Aaron Williams has enough potential to enter training camp as the Washington Wizards' starting forward, Coach Gar Heard said. First-round draft pick Richard Hamilton was enough of a collegiate superstar to warrant backing up guard Mitch Richmond on the first day of workouts at Shepherd College next Tuesday, Heard added.
If they don't live up to projections, though, they'll move to the back of the line.
"There's one thing these guys have got to remember," said Heard, in his first season coaching the Wizards. "I'm the new coach in town and guys have got to earn the right to play. We've got guys penciled in but we don't have anybody's name in ink."
There is little chance Heard will open the season without Richmond, Rod Strickland, Juwan Howard and center Ike Austin -- and their combined $40 million in salaries -- in the starting lineup. From there, though, everything is up for grabs.
The player most on the spot may be Williams, a muscle-bound leaper with just 12 career starts. Williams is being compared by some of his new teammates to rising talent Ben Wallace, who was dealt to Orlando this summer for Austin.
Like Wallace, Heard thinks the 6-foot-9 Williams will flourish with extended playing time, which is partly why Washington did not heavily pursue San Antonio-bound Chuckie Brown, who is more suited to play small forward.
"Aaron is one of the stronger guys in the league," Heard said. "He's going to surprise people with some of the things he can do. I think Aaron has found a home here. He's been looking real good in workouts."
Heard hopes that oft-injured forward Lorenzo Williams can provide some help at power forward but Washington's coaching staff won't get a chance to evaluate him until midway through the preseason -- at the earliest -- because Williams is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. There also is the possibility the Wizards may acquire forward Michael Smith or ex-Wizard Terry Davis from Orlando. Smith was waived last night and Orlando still will have to trim its roster before training camp opens next week.
But if no move is made, that leaves a grand opportunity for camp invitees Andre Riddick, Gerard King, Jonathan Kerner, Derek Grimm and Jason Lawson to earn a roster spot. Most specialize in blocking shots and rebounding, areas Heard is trying to fortify, particularly off the bench.
"There's going to be some battles going on to make the team," Heard said. "That also will make the guys ahead of them better because the other guys are going to be working so hard in practice to get our attention. Nothing is impossible. If a guy knocks your socks off, there is no way you can say you can't play the guy."
Aaron Williams is among 17 regulars who have been playing, lifting and running at MCI Center every weekday for the past few weeks. Austin and Richmond have not missed a day and Strickland has played in several pickup games.
Point guard Chris Whitney, center Jahidi White and small forward Randell Jackson have been frequent visitors as well. Hamilton has been back and forth and second-round pick Calvin Booth has been working with coaches for most of the summer.
Howard and Tracy Murray, the number one and number two small forwards, are the only players who have not made an appearance so far, Heard acknowledged.
"I hope they're here by [today] so we can all go into camp next week ready to go," Heard said.
The large pre-camp turnout has Washington's brass and some players optimistic of a drastic turnaround from last season's 18-32 finish. This type of player commitment has not been one of the Wizards' strengths in the past, said a member of Washington's front office.
"From what I've been seeing in the games we've been playing this summer and the amount of guys who've been coming in, I think everybody here has a different outlook than last year," Richmond said.
Recently acquired players Laron Profit, Reggie Jordan and James Collins have already begun their showdown for the fifth guard spot by humbling some of the more established players, one of those established players -- Richmond -- said yesterday.
"It could be one of the more competitive camps Washington has had in a long time," Richmond said. "Gar's put together a competitive camp. It's going to be a lot of guys fighting for minutes and that's what you want from a team."