The Blake Beat
Washington Wizards gain respect through smart choices, great talentThursday, October 27, 2005 By Aaron Kraut
Coming into the 2005-2006 NBA season, the Washington Wizards finally have something that the franchise has not had for decades: respect. Whether respect earns the Wizards a single victory over the Miami Heat is another question. But gone are the days of head-scratching personnel moves like trading Chris Webber to Sacramento for Mitch Richmond or sending Richard Hamilton to Detroit for, yes its painful to think about but I’ll say it, Jerry Stackhouse. With the leadership of Coach Eddie Jordan and GM Ernie Grunfeld the franchise is finally on solid ground. That was exhibited this off-season when Grunfeld refused to re-sign and overpay Larry Hughes, a player who has never been healthy an entire season, yet excelled in a contract year, never an indicator of consistent success. Instead, the Wizards replaced Hughes by trading Kwame “the-whole-world’s against-me” Brown for Caron Butler, as well as signing free agent Antonio Daniels. With Gilbert Arenas running the show surrounded by tons of backcourt depth, including third year guard Jarvis Hayes, the Wizards will earn their second consecutive playoff berth and challenge Miami for first place in the Southeast Division. The Heat are naturally the most glamorous story in the NBA because of Shaquille O’Neal. But don’t believe the hype. It’s clear that Shaq is breaking down, that newly acquired point guard Jason Williams will take offensive opportunities away from stud Dwayne Wade, and that GM Pat Riley is licking his lips for an opportunity to fire Coach Stan Van Gundy so he can return to the bench. In terms of other stories throughout the league, it all starts with Phil Jackson coaching the Lakers and Larry Brown with the Knicks. The Lakers will not win more than 30 games this year because of Kobe Bryant’s selfishness. The Knicks have an outside shot at winning this year because their division is horrible. In the Eastern Conference the Indiana Pacers, with the return of Ron Artest and the addition of former Terp Sarunas Jasikevicius, will take the crown from the Detroit Pistons. The Heat will follow along with New Jersey and Washington as Cleveland, another over hyped team, will struggle. In the West, look for Houston and Denver to make strides, for Phoenix to decline without Amare Stoudemire, and for San Antonio to repeat as Conference and NBA champs.