Washington Wizards Coach Gar Heard won't predict a playoff berth or utter any other grandiose pronouncements typically spewed by coaches and players around the NBA on the eve of training camp. It is his first time doing this, so he is being cautious.
"The first thing we have to emphasize in training camp is we have to be competitive," Heard said. "We also have to have the right mind-set to play this game. When we leave this training camp, guys are going to have to know what we want done. Every guy that I've talked to has come in with a positive attitude. That's all we're expecting from them at this point."
With his team set to begin a week's worth of twice-daily workouts at Shepherd College on Tuesday, all Heard would say is that he wants improvement from a team that finished 18-32 in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.
Postseason? If it happens, it happens, Heard said. There is no reason to proclaim as much and put more pressure on himself or his players at this juncture, he said. He would prefer Washington earn its laurels, especially since it doesn't have any to rest on.
"On paper, we're just as competitive as any team in the league," Heard said.
Heard takes over a team that management seemingly upgraded over the summer by trading for center Ike Austin and acquiring power forwards Aaron Williams and Michael Smith through free agency.
By adding first-round draft pick Richard Hamilton and inviting job-hungry guards Reggie Jordan, James Collins and Laron Profit to camp, the Wizards might have bolstered their depth.
However, this is a franchise that has been disappointing for years, largely for failing to play up to its potential.
"We're not thinking about what's happened in the past," Heard said. "For the guys that want to buy into the program, I think things will be great. There's always going to be guys who want to wait and see what's going to happen. They're going to get left behind."
For starters Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland, today's gathering at the team hotel was one of the few times in months they encountered most of their teammates--old and new. Strickland spent much of the summer between Washington and New York, while Howard was in his home town of Chicago.
Howard was the only player not to participate in summer workouts with teammates at MCI Center, but he said his mother was hospitalized for part of the offseason and he decided to remain at home.
Like Howard, Strickland kept an eye on the Wizards' personnel transactions this summer.
Both were skeptical when the team did not make changes right away.
Now that everything is done, they've championed management's moves and said they are eager to get things under way.
"Obviously, [General Manager] Wes Unseld had something up his sleeve that none of us knew about," Howard said.
Strickland added: "We needed a big guy and Ike can provide some inside play for us. I hate giving up Ben Wallace [in the trade to Orlando for Austin], but you've got to give up something. That was a great move. Getting Michael Smith, Aaron Williams, Richard Hamilton--all those were real good moves."
The most important, though, was re-signing back-court mate Mitch Richmond--for on- and off-court reasons, Strickland said.
"That was the key," he said. "If you don't sign Mitch, you're pretty much saying you're not trying to win. You trade [Chris Webber] for Mitch. How can you not sign Mitch? Mitch is one of the top shooting guards in the league. If Mitch wasn't here, people would look at this place a whole lot differently."
Even with the additions, some skeptics expect the same results. Nearly every player said he has heard or read that the Wizards are projected to miss the postseason again.
That is why players say they are eager to begin their second training camp of the calendar year. Their first camp came in early February, after a labor dispute that resulted in the lockout that trimmed nearly three months off the regular season.
When an agreement was reached between players and owners, players had roughly two weeks to get in shape, and to learn their team's system and the styles of newly acquired teammates. None of those elements came to fruition in Washington.
Strickland reported the day before the season began because of a contract dispute. He and Richmond did not mesh until late in the season. By that time, Howard was out with a sprained ankle and teams loaded up on defending Washington's back court. Couple that with the turmoil that followed coach Bernie Bickerstaff's firing, and "last season was not cool at all," forward Tracy Murray said.
Added Richmond: "We just didn't play well as a unit and we didn't play well individually. You look at our roster and seven or eight guys didn't do the things they did in the past. Half the credit for that goes to guys not having familiarity with each other."
To make sure that doesn't happen again, Heard said his starters will log more minutes than they usually would during preseason games so they can gel. The bench rotation likely will be the same during those games as well, Heard said.
That means that players trying to make the team will have to shine in practice.
"I don't cut guys," Heard said. "They cut themselves."
Every player except forward Lorenzo Williams (knee surgery) enters camp healthy. Williams's return remains uncertain, although he could be ready by the time the regular season starts Nov. 2.
Heard said he will mix a heavy dose of conditioning with equal doses of rebounding and team defense during training camp. With a bevy of scorers, the offense will take care of itself, he added.
"It's going to be a very competitive camp," Heard said. "Everybody is going to be challenged. Every position on this team is going to be challenged. I can't wait to get going."
WIZARDS TRAINING CAMP
When: Through Sunday.
Where: Butcher Athletic Center, Shepherd College, Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Availability: Practices are closed to the public. An intrasquad scrimmage on Oct. 15 at MCI Center will be open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.
Preseason: Tickets for the only preseason game in the area, Oct. 23 against Cleveland at Baltimore Arena, are available at the arena's box office and all other Ticketmaster outlets. Tickets are $10, $15, $20 and $50.
Regular season: Single-game tickets for November games will go on sale Oct. 16 at 10 a.m. at Ticketmaster outlets, PhoneCharge and the MCI Center box office. On Oct. 15 only, single-game tickets for all 41 home games will be on sale from 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Wizards preseason schedule
Oct. 12 vs. Los Angeles Lakers in Little Rock, 8:30
Oct. 13 vs. Los Angeles Lakers in Kansas City, Mo., 8:30
Oct. 21 at Cleveland Cavaliers, 7:30
Oct. 23 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers at Baltimore Arena, 7
Oct. 25 vs. New York Knicks in Albany, N.Y., 7:30
Oct. 27 at Boston Celtics, 7
Oct. 28 vs. Boston Celtics in Springfield, Mass., 7
No. Player Pos. Ht./Wt./Age/Exp.
8 Isaac Austin C 6-10/270/30/5
0 Calvin Booth C 6-11/230/23/R
14 James Collins G 6-4/198/26/2
33 Derek Grimm F 6-10/228/25/1
Richard Hamilton G 6-6/185/21/R
5 Juwan Howard F 6-9/250/26/5
50 Randell Jackson F 6-11/215/25/1
10 Reggie Jordan G 6-4/195/31/4
52 Jonathan Kerner C 6-11/245/25/1
54 Gerard King F 6-9/250/26/1
53 Jason Lawson C/F 6-11/240/25/1
35 Tracy Murray F 6-7/228/28/7
Laron Profit G 6-5/204/22/R
2 Mitch Richmond G 6-5/220/34/11
Michael Smith F 6-8/230/27/5
1 Rod Strickland G 6-3/185/33/11
55 Jahidi White F 6-9/290/23/1
12 Chris Whitney G 6-0/175/28/6
Aaron Williams F 6-9/225/28/5
43 Lorenzo Williams C 6-9/230/30/7
Head coach: Gar Heard
Assistant coaches: Mike Bratz, Butch Beard, Tree Rollins