Being a consummate entertainer, Gilbert Arenas slowed his dribble on Sunday night so he could leave a behind-the-back pass for a trailing teammate at MCI Center.

Except that hideous pass wound up in the hands of a defender. A layup became a no-look turnover before a smattering of groaning fans.

Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan smiled and said he hoped to wean Arenas off "Streetball" afterward. With the NBA season opener in Memphis a week away, it seemed late in the preseason for such a gaffe from the team's starting point guard. But considering where this franchise has been, maybe it's best to look on the bright side:

Hey, Arenas is sharing the ball. With everyone.

Washington's woebegone basketball team is about to embark on another season full of potential. The Wizards have enough talent and young legs to potentially win 40 or more games. They also have enough baggage and defensive holes to potentially lose 50 or more.

Somewhere in between lies a litany of questions about who they are and how good they can be:

Is Arenas the next Isiah Thomas or is he going to be one of those tremendously talented players who never got it done, like Rod Strickland?

Arenas is only 22, so it may be early for the Isiah comparisons. But he is so quick and gifted, there is no angle from which he cannot score. His main problem is the league's main problem: He wants to learn the tricks of the trade before he learns the trade. At some juncture, he may realize that nothing -- not scoring 40 or throwing down the nastiest of dunks -- equals a win on the road against a superior team. Until then, a team that was last in the NBA in assists and first in turnovers waits for its floor leader to grow and take care of the basketball.

Can Rucker League players conform to an Ivy League offense?

It's an ongoing, ideological battle between Jordan and his team. Jordan has had more than a year to implement Pete Carril's Princeton offense, albeit with a changing cast of characters. He wants them to cut, pass and move without the ball like the Sacramento Kings. The Wizards' most potent scorers, in turn, often want to make sneaker commercials. It is a tough sell, because in Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Larry Hughes and Jarvis Hayes, the Wizards have some great one-on-one scorers. How do you tell a skilled, young player -- constantly hearing "Coach is keepin' you down" from friends and family -- to hone their games within the framework of a team-oriented offense? He's not the only coach waging that war, but Jordan's job is tougher because of such keen individual talents.

Is Jamison going to make that much of a difference?

Yes, and it's not because he can score in bunches, either. Jamison's smile and charisma are infectious and, with all due respect to Jerry Stackhouse, he will buy into Jordan's system much more than the player for whom he was traded (Stackhouse). If he fills the leadership void, he'll be a godsend.

Will Shaquille O'Neal score 35 or 50 on the Wizards in their home opener next Saturday?

Shaq will get 35 before Brendan Haywood and Michael Ruffin foul out. Dwyane Wade also might get 35.

Are you saying the Wizards aren't tough?

Depends on what kind of tough you mean. Etan Thomas is hanging-on-the-rim, pound-the-chest-after-a-dunk tough. But does he or any of his teammates have a real ornery streak in them, a drive that enables them to take the ball away from Ben Wallace in the crucible of a tight game? Outside of Anthony Peeler, the veteran guard acquired over the summer, it's tough to find that kind of player on this roster.

Can Eddie Jordan and Ernie Grunfeld coexist for another season?

Yes, if they win. Because Jordan was hired before Grunfeld, the coach and president of basketball operations were forced into a shotgun marriage. If the Wizards struggle out of the gate, NBA logic says the coach would be the first to go. And given his history in New York, Grunfeld is not afraid to make a bold move if he believes it can save the season. But the idea that Jordan is not Grunfeld's "guy" or that Grunfeld has a coach-in-waiting to take over, just in case, does not carry weight. Both men have been around long enough to know that divergent camps kill organizations. If the Wizards are healthy and show marked improvement, the management-coach bond will grow and no one will have to worry about their job.

What's up with Kwame Brown? He seems angry.

Nothing, really, except the kid is more scarred by the Doug Collins-Michael Jordan experiment than we'll ever know. Brown went off in The Post last Saturday, candidly wondering why the world is picking on him and not Darko Milicic, Detroit's top pick last season, No. 2 overall, who happens to be white. He came across sounding like the persecuted young black man in a world of haters. The truth? Brown made a poor analogy to make a great point: People have not given the Wizards' No. 1 pick a fair chance to grow. He gets skewered like some 10-year vet who missed a free throw in Game 7 of the finals instead of a young man still trying to find his niche in a league of more experienced big men. Let him be until he's at least 23.

Finally, should the Wizards be talking playoffs?

No. They need to show people they can be a winning team first. This is not to say this team is not talented enough to sneak in as a seventh or eighth seed. But only one starter has been in the rotation of a playoff team -- Jamison. Peeler is the only player over 30; seven Wizards were born in the 1980s. Every player has upside. And though it's preseason, the chemistry and the camaraderie seem real and genuine. Now, whether they can coalesce and win together, that's the real question.