Washington Wizards guard Antonio Daniels sat on a podium and compared his training camp destination, Richmond, with that of former teammate Tim Duncan.
"Tim and the Spurs are going to the Virgin Islands," Daniels said. "Tim said he had nothing to do with it. Yeah right, he just happens to be from the islands. But hey, Richmond will be just fine. We're there to work anyway."
All-star point guard Gilbert Arenas declared that he is ready to become a better defensive player and bragged that he lost seven pounds over the summer.
"I put myself on a diet," Arenas said. "I wanted to get quicker."
Jarvis Hayes, who missed the second half of last season with a fractured kneecap, bounced around the room like a little kid and was still sporting his white home uniform long after he completed his interview responsibilities.
"It just feels so good to be back playing basketball again," Hayes said. "You have no idea. I can't wait to get started."
Good feelings permeated the proceedings yesterday as the 2005-06 Wizards gathered at MCI Center for media day. The team then took a bus to Richmond, where training camp opens today on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Daniels and fellow newcomers Caron Butler, Chucky Atkins and Calvin Booth talked about fitting in with their new teammates and helping the Wizards maintain the momentum created by last season's 45-37 record.
Veterans such as Arenas, all-star forward Antawn Jamison and center Brendan Haywood talked about building chemistry and digging in and improving on defense.
Still, the subject that seemed to weave in and out of most conversation yesterday involved a former Wizard who has taken his silky smooth game to Cleveland.
"Can this team overcome the loss of Larry?" a reporter asked.
"I don't know," Haywood replied. "Only time will tell. Larry was a big part of what we did last year, a big part of the success of this team, me and everybody else. At the same time, we did bring in good players in Caron Butler, Chucky Atkins and Antonio Daniels. If those guys combined can give us what Larry gave us, we'll be all right."
Hughes, who averaged a career-high 22 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.89 steals per game, signed with the Cavaliers as a free agent. His departure created a void that must be filled in order for the Wizards to compete in a souped-up Eastern Conference.
The player most affected by the departure of Hughes could be Arenas, who was voted to his first all-star game and averaged a career-high 25.5 points per game while shooting a solid 43.1 percent last season.
"I was hurt because that's who I can talk to, that's my partner, that was who I was with since I came in the league," Arenas said of his reaction to hearing that Hughes was going to sign with Cleveland. "It has hard, but at the end of the day, it was a business decision by himself. In this league, you are not going to stay together forever."
When the Wizards take to the practice court for the first time this morning, three players will be ensured starting spots: Arenas, Haywood and Jamison. Daniels, who averaged a career-high 11.2 points with Seattle last season, and Hayes, who started at shooting guard when Hughes was out with a broken thumb last season, are the favorites to replace Hughes.
Butler is also a possibility, though he also will play small forward. The 6-foot-7, 217-pound Butler is the best pure scorer among those vying to replace Hughes and averaged 21.9 points over his final 15 games with the Lakers last season.
"I'm not trying to replace Larry Hughes in any way, shape or form," Butler said. "I have to be Caron Butler. I'm going to do whatever it takes, all the little things to help us win games. That's how I'm looking at it."
Also competing for playing time at forward will be Jared Jeffries, who averaged 6.8 points and 4.9 rebounds and made 71 starts last season.
"Competition will be at a high level during camp because there is not an etched-in-stone starting lineup," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We have four guys who will be competing for two open spots. The lineup we go with will be determined by how guys perform."
Wizards Notes: Arenas addressed a Washington Post story published Sunday in which former teammate Kwame Brown made several accusations against him, including that Arenas told Jordan not to play Brown during Game 3 of last season's playoff series against the Chicago Bulls. Arenas said Brown called him Sunday night and said "everything was misconstrued" in the story. "I accepted it," Arenas said. In an interview recorded on tape by a Post reporter, Brown twice said he was tempted to slap Arenas, and that was one of the reasons why he did not show up for a practice prior to Game 4. Brown was then suspended for the remainder of the playoffs . . .
The Wizards expanded their training camp roster to 17 by signing forward Awvee Storey. Storey appeared in nine games with New Jersey last season. The team signed shooting guard Billy Thomas over the weekend.