Whether this is a good omen or bad karma, who knows? But the operative word at Wizards media day yesterday afternoon was "slapped."
As in, did Gilbert Arenas want to "slap" former teammate Kwame Brown? (Brown wildly accused Arenas and his agent of conspiring to undermine Brown's bang-up NBA career, among other transgressions. He was also quoted in a taped interview saying he wanted to "slap the [bejabbers] out of" Arenas.) Arenas deferred when asked if he wished to slap Brown.
Antawn Jamison called it "a slap in the face" for anyone to imply that the Wizards are nothing now that Larry Hughes has left to play with LeBron James.
Lastly, the Wizards promised to "slap" somebody upside the head before giving up another 180 points to Charlotte, New Orleans or the Clippers.
In summary, Arenas is continuing to mature. A delusional and jettisoned-to-L.A. Kwame still wants his mommy. Like Michael Jordan, Jamison is not above inventing motivation. And the organization has pledged to embrace a foreign concept: defense. Or, in NBA parlance, the ability not to let the other team's sixth man hang 50 on your sorry behind.
As training camp begins, here are 10 questions confronting the District's suddenly respectable pro basketball team:
1. Why couldn't President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld accomplish the team's No. 1 priority of the offseason (signing Hughes)?
Economics. When Cleveland offered Hughes a deal worth a guaranteed $12 million per season -- $14 million, if you include incentive clauses -- the Wizards were competitively toast. It's a shame they lost their most disruptive off-the-ball defender and Arenas's back-court mate for nothing. But then, signing and trading Hughes would have prevented the team from signing and trading Brown for Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins. Yes, Hughes would often rather pull up from 18 feet rather than feed a big man for a two-foot layup. But his steadiness and professionalism will be missed.
2. After blaming mankind for his career woes, Brown now leads the NBA in deflections. Can we trust anything he says anymore?
No, except when he says, "It's not my fault; it's Kobe's."
3.Will Jamison's offseason knee surgery inhibit his game?
No, because his game is more about skill than athleticism. Jamison's knee is almost completely healed.
4. Will the loss of Juan Dixon and Steve Blake hurt?
No. Dixon was not content being somebody's Vinnie Johnson, the Microwave who made Detroit's Bad Boys flammable. He wanted to start. Blake also was on the outs, especially with the summer development of rookie guard Donell Taylor and the acquisition of Atkins. Wish the Terps well in Portland and move on.
5. What Wizard should I know about that I've never heard of?
Taylor, the other half of Alabama-Birmingham's Taylor twins. Remember the two stop-and-pop guards that shocked Tubby Smith's Kentucky team in the 2004 NCAA tournament? Ronell is now playing in Slovenia and running up his phone bill wishing his brother well in D.C. Donell led the Wizards' summer-league team in scoring and steals. Watch, he'll make the team, earn minutes and become one of the NBA's best stories.
6. The Wizards keep talking about playing D, but won't that affect their fuel-injected offense?
Yes. In Eddie Jordan's dream sequence, the points created off turnovers will lead to some of the most enthralling, open-court play the Eastern Conference has ever seen. Envisioning the offensive firepower of this team, think of the old, run-and-shoot Chris Webber Kings -- on steroids. That's if they become a decent defensive team.
7. Will Shaquille O'Neal stuff Brendan Haywood through the rim when the Heat hosts the Wizards Dec. 11, or is Washington more masculine than the club swept in four games by Miami last May?
Butler is tough. Atkins is tough. Etan Thomas is rough. And Michael Ruffin is rough and tough. There are no Charles Oakleys or Rick Mahorns on the roster, but the Wizards can bang a little better than last year.
8. What's the real key to the Wizards' playing deep into May?
Whether Arenas can offensively trust his teammates, new and old, enough to make life easier on himself. As Arenas goes -- physically and psychologically -- so goes the franchise.
9. Was Peter John Ramos in the car when the rookie Andray Blatche was shot last week?
They don't call him "Party John" for nothing. Seriously, it turns out Ramos, Mr. Youthful Indiscretion, was in the car with Blatche and another friend during the attempted carjacking in Alexandria. Ramos is not allowed to speak about the incident because it's still under investigation. But suffice it to say hanging out at 6:13 a.m. with the new draftee should not be part of rookie orientation.
10. Be honest, do they have what it takes to play in the Eastern Conference finals against either Miami or Detroit?
"On paper, we look better," Haywood said. "But paper don't mean nothin'. The Lakers looked like a great team on paper a couple of years ago. And you saw what happened to them."
Detroit slapped Shaq, Kobe and Phil upside the head. That seems as good a cautionary tale as any as the Wizards head to training camp, no longer woeful.