Jared Jeffries, a lanky, 6-foot-11 starter shoehorned into the shooting guard spot, would free teammate Caron Butler from the responsibility of defending LeBron James. In Game 2, with Jeffries smothering James into a 7-for-25 shooting performance with 10 turnovers and the Wizards’ version of a big three — Butler, Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas — scoring 72 of the team’s 89 points, Washington tied the series.
“We all kind of agreed to put me on LeBron and get Caron off that so that Caron would have more freedom offensively,” Jeffries recalled. “There were situations like that where Brendan [Haywood] would see it and we’d kind of all agree on it.”
Although the Wizards, who finished the regular season 42-40, lost to the Cavaliers in six games — no defensive adjustment could stop the King for long — many from that group haven’t stopped talking about basketball — and other things. Seven of the main 15 players on the roster went on to build careers in media after their playing days, sharing their opinions and insight for broadcast corporations or on podcast platforms.
Butler split the 2019-20 season, before the NBA suspended play amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, across the basketball spectrum. He did regional television work on Los Angeles Lakers and Wizards broadcasts and national work for Turner Sports, where he teamed up again with Haywood.
Antonio Daniels provides color commentary for the New Orleans Pelicans, and Jeffries moonlights as an NBC Sports Washington analyst. He also hosts a podcast and plans to relaunch a fishing show for a streaming service.
Etan Thomas co-hosts a radio show about sports and politics, and Arenas plays up his no-filter reputation on his podcast. Before Jamison moved into the Wizards’ front office as director of pro personnel, he worked as a studio analyst for Lakers games.
That nearly half the team transformed into media fixtures does not surprise Butler.
“We’ve always had like a wealth of knowledge,” he said. “I’d say just a lot of the guys were over-informed about things.”
Their timeout huddles welcomed all voices. The halftime locker room featured animated debates about defensive adjustments. And whenever teammates sat down in front of a video projector to break down a game, they knew to get comfortable. The conversation would take a while.
“They would get into some opinionated discussions, let’s just say,” said Eddie Jordan, who coached the Wizards from 2003 to 2008.
Along with Jamison, five other players from that roster (Calvin Booth, Jarvis Hayes, Michael Ruffin, Awvee Storey and Billy Thomas) work in basketball in some capacity — from NBA front offices to coaching in the WNBA, college and high school.
Other NBA rosters have been wellsprings for successful post-playing careers. Take, for instance, the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls of “The Last Dance,” who gave rise to nine coaches, including the Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr.
But nobody is producing a documentary on the 2005-06 Wizards. Their record doesn’t even make them one of the most memorable teams in franchise history. For all of the talent on the roster — Arenas at his peak and fellow all-stars Butler and Jamison — the team, all things considered, underachieved.
“We were on [NBA TV’s ‘Hardwood Classics’] the other day, and I’m watching like: ‘Damn! We really just dropped the ball,’ ” Butler said with regret. “We didn’t maximize what we were really great at. We were so predictable.”
Even so, those who remember that season fondly believe the 2005-06 Wizards could compete intellectually with some of the greatest teams of all time.
“First and foremost, the IQ of each individual — we all had a knowledge of the game,” Jamison said last fall. “You should have seen us in huddles and the locker room, before and during timeouts. Guys knew the game of basketball.”
They also weren’t afraid to speak up. Haywood, who honed his craft at the University of North Carolina, articulated pick-and-roll coverages in a way that made it easy for teammates to understand.
“Brendan on the floor was one of the best communicators defensively. So that’s not a surprise to me that his ability to communicate translated to his ability to communicate off the floor,” Daniels said. “He was a big-time talker.”
Jeffries, who led Indiana to the NCAA tournament championship game in 2002, hailed from the cradle of basketball. Although he mostly remained quiet in that Wizards locker room, teammates respected his input when he shared it.
“He just understands the game, and he’s always been in the game,” Butler said. “So the conversation is easy to have.”
Arenas struck a paradoxical figure: The clown of the group also was one of its most thoughtful members.
“He’s one of the smartest players that I ever played with,” Jamison said, “and I played with LeBron and Kobe and Shaq and those guys. His work ethic — every one of those guys and myself have an unbelievable work ethic.”
While Jordan had the final word on every suggestion or adjustment, he said he wanted players to express themselves freely. Inspired by New York Knicks coaching legend Red Holzman, Jordan said he would start some huddles by asking the players what they had seen on the court and what they wanted to do.
“They expressed themselves very well and respectfully, and that’s where it starts,” said Jordan, who watches plenty of basketball and has noticed his former players on game broadcasts. “I would just let them talk it out.”
Now many of those players talk for a living. Their outsize personalities weren’t enough to carry them into the second round of the playoffs, but they have become media stars in the second phase of their basketball careers.
“I know all those brothers, and I mean this sincerely: They [were] just outspoken and extremely educated and informed about what they was talking about,” Butler said. “Ain’t nothing that those brothers can’t do.”
Read more on the NBA: