Three days into training camp, the competition between Aaron Williams and Michael Smith for the Washington Wizards' starting power forward spot has yet to materialize.
Instead, each player has battled with himself.
Williams is trying to blend in with his new teammates without making waves; Smith is dealing with new rule and officiating changes that may curb his physical and aggressive style of play.
"With the new rules we've got to teach Michael how to play a little more under control," Coach Gar Heard said. "Aaron has shown moments. . . . But I have not been disappointed at all."
Williams, who has 12 career NBA starts, has been working with the first unit of guards Rod Strickland and Mitch Richmond, center Ike Austin and forward Juwan Howard. That could change if Smith outperforms Williams in the coming days, though.
With Heard's emphasis on defense, conditioning and speeding up the tempo of Washington's offense, Williams and Smith have not been put in situations where their rebounding and shot-blocking skills have been emphasized.
Each of Washington's main offseason free agent signees has performed to his strengths--Williams has run the floor and provided interior skills, Smith has displayed toughness--but neither has distanced himself from the other.
That may not be such a bad thing, Williams said.
"Since we have those different styles, it makes us a more versatile team," Williams said. "We'll need different styles for all the different type of teams we'll play against."
Smith, a 6-foot-8 banger who played in Sacramento and Vancouver before being dealt to Orlando this summer, has a reputation of roughing up foes to grab a rebound or corral a loose ball. With the NBA forcing officials to crack down on physical play, Smith may have to tinker with his style, coaches say. However, the Wizards do not plan to temper his aggressiveness.
Williams, at 6-9, is a better leaper and is quicker than Smith. He may be the best athlete on the team but sources in Seattle, where he spent the past two seasons primarily as a reserve, said he tended to back down when played physically. Heard thinks that will change with increased minutes.
"I'd like to see [Williams] get more aggressive but I think right now he's just trying to fit in," Heard said.
With a plethora of offense-oriented players around them, Washington's power forwards are being asked to do nothing more than get rebounds and play defense. The role seems perfect for Smith and Williams.
"I've always been a role player and I don't think either one of us is looking to be in the spotlight," Williams said.
Said Smith: "I'm the type of guy who prides himself on doing all the little things."
Interestingly, Smith and Williams said that together, they will provide Washington with the same qualities provided by former Wizard Ben Wallace--except with six additional fouls. Wallace, a tough low-post player viewed as one of the league's up-and-comers, was dealt to Orlando as part of the five-player trade that brought Austin to the Wizards.
"We're kind of similar to Ben Wallace," said Williams, whose muscular physique is almost identical to that of Wallace. "We'll bring a lot of energy, rebounding and defense. Even though Michael Smith plays the same position, when I saw he was available I figured he would be a good addition to our team. I'm glad we got him."
Smith, a Dunbar High product, signed a two-year, $4.2 million contract shortly before training camp. Williams, who is on his sixth NBA team in five years, signed a two-year, $2.3 million contract in mid-August after being aggressively pursued by the Wizards.
The bigger contract won't translate into a bigger role. Heard has made it clear that whomever will help the team win will play.
"I've competed for playing time every year," said Smith, who has started most of his five-year career, racking up 2,300 rebounds. "I'm just coming in to play ball and do what I do."
For now, Williams and Smith are the only power forwards Heard plans to keep on the active roster. Howard can move over from small forward if needed, Heard said.
The Wizards hope oft-injured Lorenzo Williams, who is recovering from offseason knee surgery, can be a factor as a reserve at small forward once he is healthy. With the possibility of Williams starting the season on the injured list, there is a chance that Gerard King, who spent last season with San Antonio, or Jonathan Kerner, who played in the CBA after a brief stint with Orlando, could make the roster.
"I'm looking at having two [power forwards] but if somebody comes in and looks good I'll keep three," Heard said. "Once we start playing games we'll find out who can play. There's no pressure in practice. Once you have to perform in games, things tend to change."
CAPTION: Newly acquired Aaron Williams, left, and Jason Lawson give the Wizards lots to work with on the front line in early stages of camp at Shepherd College.