Washington Wizards & North Carolina Tar Heels
As Wizards/Bullets fans should be well aware, the DC NBA franchise has had many connections with former UNC Tar Heels. Currently, Brendan Haywood, Antawn Jamison, and associate head coach, Mike O’Koren (who also played for the Bullets in 86-87) represent the University of North Carolina connection.
Past members of the Wiz-Heel club include (years with Wiz/Bullets in parens): Rasheed Wallace (95-96), Jerry Stackhouse (02-04), Hubert Davis (00-02), Mitch Kupchak (76-81), Dudley Bradley (84-86), Jeff McInnis (98-99), and of course, Michael Jordan (01-03).
So, when the good folks at The Fifth Corner, a UNC Tar Heel blog, asked me to answer some questions about the Wizards and the current Tar Heels with the team, I gladly obliged. My answers are below, the Pradamaster of Bullets Forever got interviewed by The Fifth Corner as well.
Question #1: Being a Washington Wizards blogger, did you believe that the team was going to re-sign Antawn Jamison all along, or did you believe he might leave for another team?
I believed that Antwan Jamison would be back all along. First of all, Gilbert Arenas announced that the re-signing of Jamison was a prerequisite to him coming back. So, Wizards GM, Ernie Grunfeld would have been a fool to let both walk for nothing. I’m personally glad to have Jamison’s veteran presence back, I hope he retires as a Wizard.
Four years and $50 million for a 32-year old forward does seem like a lot to me. I initially thought that a 3-year $32 million or 4-year $40 million contract for Jamison would do the trick. But now, I’m fine with what AJ got; his leadership and intangibles make him well worth the money.
Jamison is a great rebounder for his size…..there aren’t too many 20-10 guys in the NBA (oh yea, there are only four, Carlos Boozer, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, and Antawn Jamison — Tim Duncan just missed the cut in 07-08). AJ is also a 3-point threat, he’s made 405 for the Wizards over the past three seasons. And I can’t go on without mentioning Jamison’s knack for the trick shot. I’ve never seen a guy his size hit more floaters, scoops, and an array of shots that would otherwise be reserved for the loosest of pickup games, all while making them look like he meant to take them….and he does. Gentleman Jamison (that’s my nickname for him) also brings the aforementioned leadership….hopefully he will continue to be vocal in the future like he did here, and here, when some of the Wizards were involved in a lot of unnecessary talking during their ’08 playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
You know, I haven’t always been a fan of Brendan Todd Haywood. In the past, he’s been a robotic softy with stone hands….ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a tad. But in 07-07, Haywood made vast strides on the hardwood and has instilled confidence in him, from me, that I never thought I was capable of before. Now, I feel that he is one of the top centers in the Eastern Conference and that he’s ready to be the man for the Wiz at the center spot for years to come. Of course, he has a pretty friendly contract with two-years and $11.5 million left. If he continues this latest trend, he’ll be commanding much more. I recently did an evaluation of Haywood here on my Wizards blog.
Question #5: But, these two players aren’t the only Tar Heels in Washington. Mike O`Koren, the lead assistant coach of the team is also from Chapel Hill. After years at the New Jersey Nets and now four years in Washington, do you think that we can see O`Koren as a head coach one day?
O’Koren’s official title is ‘Associate Head Coach.’ The title alone would imply some elevated status in terms of becoming a head coach in the NBA. Yet, his name usually isn’t dropped in job opening circles….at least from what I’ve read. Seems like names of old, retread coaches are usually at the forefront. I did hear that O’Koren was under consideration for the Knicks opening at one point. If the Wiz keep making the playoffs, I think it’s only a matter of time until he is given a chance to run the show somewhere.
Speaking of Mike O’Koren, I ran across an interesting tid-bit about him the other day…..he almost didn’t go to UNC because of Frank Sinatra, of all people.
Question #7: Of course, how can we ask some questions about a team and not ask what you see them doing in the next season? Give us the record and where they will finish in the division and what seed in the playoffs.
For the most part, I’m cut from a cloth of optimism. It’s easy to have high hopes for a good team of assembled players who, for the most part, have been together during this four-year playoff run. However, ‘health’ is the keyword that you will hear out the mouths of Wizards fans and members of the franchise al
ike in the upcoming 08-09 season (All-Stars Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas missed a combined 83 games in 07-08….and both were also injured for the Wizards playoff run in 06-07).
The fact is that there are no dominant teams in the East, even the Celtics (I mean, the Wizards did beat the Champs 3 out of 4 times last season). Philadelphia and Toronto have vastly improved. The Celts, Cavs, Pistons, and Magic will also be in the midst of the playoff conversation. Including the Wizards among those seven teams, the 8th seed in the East may be up for grabs among the rest.
Prediction: The Wizards will win the Southeast Division. Orlando won the division with a nine game lead last year, but I didn’t find them to be that impressive. And with the division crown, the Wizards will finally get home-court advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs and will make it past the 2nd round. I’m thinking a 50+ win season…..of course predicated on that ‘health‘ word.
Wizards fans will certainly be keeping their eyes on Ty Lawson this upcoming season. He was considered draftable with our 18th pick in 2008 before deciding to return to school. The Wiz have Illinois’ Dee Brown now at the 3rd string PG (I’m a big SEC fan myself, but was definitely going for the Heels when they took down Brown & Co. in 2005), but he may not last and current second stringer, Antonio Daniels, is not getting younger. I’ve been really impressed by Lawson in the past and he could potentially provide a great change of pace off the bench for a running team such as the Wizards.
Finally, I will ask about nicknames for Antawn Jamison….he doesn’t really have one, but he really should. I’ve personally dubbed him Antawn ‘The Gentleman‘ Jamison……but I’m not sure if that will stick. Did he have any at UNC? I’d be curious to know.