When the Washington Wizards held an open scrimmage at MCI Center last October, a rash of injuries meant that Coach Eddie Jordan had to struggle to suit up 12 healthy players.
Jordan will have no such problems Saturday night when his team takes the court at Siegel Center on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University for the first open scrimmage of the preseason.
The Wizards have mostly avoided injury after a full week of practice, and 16 players are expected to participate. This development pleases Jordan on several levels.
For starters, Jordan and his coaching staff have been able to evaluate newcomers Caron Butler, Antonio Daniels, Chucky Atkins and Calvin Booth as well as rookie guard Donell Taylor. Also, the team's health has let Jordan experiment with a variety of lineups.
Only all-stars Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison and center Brendan Haywood are locked in as starters. In addition to figuring out the team's starting lineup, Jordan is deciding what kind of rotation he wants to establish for the preseason, which starts Monday night at MCI Center against Cleveland.
"I like to look at it and see guys just competing against each other," Jordan said. "I could be wrong, but I don't necessarily see guys trying to win a starting spot. We have a group of 10 guys and who know they are going to play. We'll see as we move along into the preseason what fits, which core guys fit together. It's not about beating somebody out for a job. It's complementing somebody better."
During Saturday night's intra-squad scrimmage, which will run for about an hour, fans will get a chance to see the variety of lineups -- some traditional, others exotic -- that Jordan has put on the floor throughout the week.
Jordan's basketball philosophy isn't married to the concept of having a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward, a power forward and a center, with each of those players fitting neatly into a pre-determined role.
"I like skilled players who can do a variety of things," Jordan said. "I want guards that can come off a pick-and-roll and make a jumper, but I also want guards that can post up. I want forwards that can post up but can also step out and take their man off the dribble. We have a lot of guys who can do those kinds of things. I like the flexibility we have with this team."
At different times, Arenas has been joined in the back court by the 6-foot-11 Jared Jeffries, Jarvis Hayes (6-8), Butler (6-7), Daniels (6-4) or Atkins (5-11).
Hayes, who sat out of Friday's practice to rest his knee but is expected to play Saturday, has played shooting guard and small forward. Jamison has played small forward and power forward. Jeffries and Butler have played guard and both forward positions.
About the only thing Jordan hasn't done is put the 7-foot Haywood at point guard.
"Brendan's a center," Jordan said, conceding something to convention. "We know that."
According to Jamison, who has been free of pain and looking good after recovering from offseason knee surgery, the depth and the competition for roles has been a positive.
"Last year, a couple of guys kind of got comfortable because we pretty much had set positions," Jamison said. "Now, we have two, three guys at every position and that's also a good sign because, if Lord forbid, we had injuries, we'll always have backups. It's a luxury to have that kind of depth. We didn't have that last year."
The competition has manifested itself in players hustling through every drill all week and paying close attention to the instructions given by Jordan and his staff. Jamison expects that players will take a similar approach to the scrimmage and Monday's preseason game.
"It makes you compete harder," Jordan said. "It makes you not want to mess up when you are in the game because you know there is another guy there behind you."
Wizards Notes: Saturday's scrimmage, which is free and open to the public, tips off at 7 p.m. Jordan planned to meet with his coaches Friday night to determine how he would run the scrimmage.
"We'll split the team and try to keep it as balanced as we can," Jordan said. "We may mix and match some guys between teams as the scrimmage goes along."
The team will go through a two-hour practice at Siegel Center on Sunday morning before breaking camp.