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Art Garcia

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Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas haven't yet figured things out for the Wizards.
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Wizards flounder through early season adjustment period


Posted Dec 2 2009 12:42PM

Wizards coach Flip Saunders would prefer to keep the team's problems in-house. It's best that way. Trouble is, the kids already have awakened the neighbors.

Gilbert Arenas brought up "hidden agendas" not too long ago, alluding to Washington's eight soon-to-be free agents. "Agent Mil" added he's the only one on the team that has had to "sacrifice" his game. It's never easy figuring out exactly what Arenas means, but in his mind he now needs to shoot more.

Brendan Haywood offered up the bleak opinion that "our talent isn't winning over our egos." Arenas then said it's up to him and fellow captain Antawn Jamison to work out the problems. All well and good except that Arenas failed to mention Washington's third captain, Caron Butler, as part of the goodwill mission.

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Ouch.

Since then, guys have tried to smooth over the ruffled feathers. This week, though, Saunders boiled Arenas' submissive play down to a lack of confidence. Arenas agreed. The Wizards, expected by many to be the most-improved team in the Eastern Conference with the return of Arenas, are a mediocre 6-10 after Tuesday night's win at Toronto.

Saunders spoke in generalities when asked about the issues surrounding the team.

"You address the guys every day in all situations, but situations like that, a lot of those things, people are not aware of the whole situation and those are the things that a lot of times are kept inside," he said. "More than anything, you're in a situation where your team is struggling and guys want to win more than anything else. It's their competitive nature that takes hold."

Frustrations are going to boil over, especially after losses. But the practice of blaming teammates doesn't play well in the locker room. After getting blown out at San Antonio on Nov. 21, Arenas didn't mince words.

"When you start losing, everyone wants to start pointing fingers everywhere else," he said. "I converted my game to try to get people involved, but at the end of the day, to be honest, this is the same team since three years ago. We added a couple of pieces, but everybody else is basically the same player.

"I'm sitting here thinking, 'Do I have to go in attack mode like I was two years ago to get us over this hump?' I hope not. I hope we're strong enough mentally that we can get over this."

Arenas is putting up solid numbers (20.3 points and 6.4 assists) but he's also been inconsistent, struggling to find a balance between being the man and the setup man. Going to watch Arenas work out this summer, Saunders said the former All-Star point guard was back. That tune has changed some.

"When you sit out for two years, it's going to take you two years before you're going to be back to where you were," Saunders said. "He's just going through that process. He's been very coachable and he's done everything we've asked.

"Is he the Gilbert of four years ago? No. Is he a good player? Yes."

Arenas found an extra gear against the Raptors, scoring 22 points and dishing out nine assists in the 106-102 victory. For at least one night in his ever-changing world, the early season silent film star had a good time.

"I decided today I was going to be more aggressive," Arenas said. "It's fun. It relieves the pressure. It gets me off the ball and puts me back into my old mode where I just score."

Jamison is coming off offseason ankle surgery and missed the first 10 games with an injured shoulder. Butler has missed three games with a knee injury. Arenas is still working his way back from his two-year-long knee drama.

"When you have your main players going through those situations, it's an adjustment for them," Saunders said. "As you know, it's going to be a process. Any time you take something over and a team hasn't been successful, implementing a new system is going to take time. You have to be patient."

Keeping quiet might also be a good idea.

Sneaky Numbers

With respect to our numbers guru John Schuhmann, stats are sometimes misleading. One of my favorite techniques/tricks is the collection of averages to place players in a certain class. Take LeBron James and Tyreke Evans.

My buddy Darryl Arata in Kings media relations has figured out that the reigning MVP and the Western Conference rookie of the month are the only two players averaging at least 18.5 points, five rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game.

Sounds impressive, but let's take a closer look: James is putting up 29.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and eight assists. Evans is at a tidy 18.8 points, five rebounds, and 4.7 assists. So if the cutoff were, say, 19 points, or 5.5 rebounds, or five assists, King James would have no Kings with him in that group. Or anyone else.

In case you're wondering, Kobe Bryant has the points (29.2) and rebounds (5.4) but comes up short in assists (four).

This reminds me of a stat that used to be popular with the Mavericks. A string was devised that placed Erick Dampier in the same category as Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Yao Ming and other All-Star caliber big men. At least four or five averages were used in this formula, though Dampier was at the low end of just about every one, especially scoring.

This former Dallas stats master and I used to go round and round on including Dampier in such esteemed company. As he told me then, "Numbers don't lie."

But they fudge at times.

Quotable

"We'd rather see it where they've won one already. It is what it is."
-- Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki on facing the 0-17 Nets on Wednesday night

Starting 5

1. Who's the bigger bust in Memphis -- Allen Iverson or Hasheem Thabeet? The reincarnated Sixer scored 37 in his three games in Memphis, Thabeet, 39 in 14.

2. Fastest D-League call-up of all time goes to the still-unnamed Frisco, Texas club. Set to begin play next year, general manager Del Harris is off to New Jersey as Kiki Vandeweghe's top assistant. That's development.

3. Look who has the best record in the league. Yeah, you know who.

4. As everyone in Houston waits on Tracy McGrady, does anyone in Dallas notice Josh Howard is out?

5. Brandon Jennings won Eastern Conference rookie of the month. What did he do again?

Give-n-Go: Tyreke Evans

AG: You've been on a scoring surge.

TE: The difference lately has been just me going out there and playing basketball now. I was thinking too much the first few games. Now I've just gotten in the habit of going out there and playing. I've been playing the game since I was four. It's no different. Once I did that, I got the rhythm and the confidence and now I'm becoming a better player.

AG: A lot is expected of you.

TE: There were some expectations as the No. 4 pick, and I was thinking about a lot of other things and not playing basketball. Now, it's just like college, I'm just going out there and playing my game, playing with my teammates and trying to go out there and win.

AG: The Kings have been quite the surprise story.

TE: It's that we've gotten to know each other a little more. Now we're swinging the ball, we're moving the ball, we're playing the game the right way and that's the key.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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