Today’s concluding media session at Wizards practice, which was held on the main Verizon Center court because it happened to be set up, didn’t have as somber of a mood in the air as I expected.
Then again, the shellacking in San Antonio came way back on Saturday … plenty of time for the players to look forward and put the bad loss behind them, as professional athletes are so apt at doing.
I only got to talk with two players today (not that many talked in the first place; to my knowledge, I only missed comments from Andray Blatche), and had to leave before Flip Saunders finally made himself available. The two players: Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas.
And get this, Arenas actually wanted to talk to the media. The days of him walking by after practice and saying, “They told me I didn’t have to talk to you guys today, only on game nights,” could be a distant memory. Then again, Agent Funeral could also be back at any time.
As the scrum surrounded Jamison, Gilbert stopped for a minute to listen on his way to the locker room (Antawn immediately threw a wadded up paper cup at him in jest).
The funny thing was that as Arenas stood there, his chin was literally inches away from my left shoulder as I filmed Jamison with my Flip Camera. I thought, ‘What is this cat doing? Should I just turn the camera around to film Arenas, whose breath I could literally feel on my neck, and see if he had anything to add?’
Instead, I paid respect to Jamison’s comments by continuing to aim the camera at him. Eventually, Sam Cassell walked by and said something to the effect of, ‘You don’t need to be out here talking,’ and jokingly prodded Gilbert into walking back to the locker room.
Not to worry, minutes later Arenas reemerged, walked down the corridor with an ice pack on his surgically repaired knee, and plopped his bag right down in the middle of awaiting reporters (and bloggers) … who were not so much waiting for Gilbert. Rather, Randy Foye and Flip Saunders were the persons of interest. But if Gilbert wants to volunteer his talking services, no one will ever turn him down.
First, a little background on the locker room “rift” that seemed to develop in San Antonio. From what was written (via the on-site reporting of Michael Lee of the WaPost, Mike Jones of the WaTimes, and Tim Price of NBA.com), many came away with the impression that the so-called rift was between Arenas and Brendan Haywood … but it still wasn’t quite clear.
Here are some quotes:
Haywood talked about how “ego” is standing in the way of the Wizards’ success this season. He didn’t single out anyone, but he spoke of the need for the players to humble themselves, stop worrying about statistics and glory and play basketball. “Check your ego at the door. Let’s try and win,” Haywood said.
But immediately after Haywood was done talking to reporters, Arenas emerged from the shower and basically said that he was going to start going for his if the situation doesn’t get better. It was a rather bizarre because Haywood intentionally yelled his answers so that everyone in the room could hear them. Arenas actually walked in from the shower while Haywood was talking, then returned until Haywood was finished.
Arenas then began talking as if he was going to save the team and that the individual agendas of the Wizards’ eight free agents have been the reason for the team’s failures.
“Before, I would’ve taken 27 shots on a night like this to keep us in the game. But I’m not trying to revert to that. Before, I’d look at Eddie and he’d say, take over the game. But I’ve got trust in these guys that eventually Randy’s going to start hitting shots. He’s coming off of injury. That Caron’s going to start catching and shooting, that we’ll start getting production out of Dray again. But it’s only so many nights, so many games before I’m going to have to start doing what I do,” said Arenas.
Arenas laid the blame at the feet of other players.
“Hidden agendas,” he said. “You can’t win like that. I have no idea why. I’ve never been on a team where you have eight free agents next year. I’ve never played on a team like that. I’ve never seen it turn out well. Sometimes it works out for the best because everybody’s hungry and everybody’s fighting. Sometimes it works out for the worst when everybody’s out for their own.”
“The NBA’s a ship. It’s going to keep moving. Teams are not waiting for us,” Arenas said. “As the captain, I’ve got to steer my ship. If I’ve got to steer it to land until everybody wants to jump on, then I’m going to do it. . . . And we’ll see who comes and follows. If nobody wants to follow, then the boat’s just going to keep moving.”
Of course, it could very well sink. As Arenas spoke, Haywood walked past him to get something to drink and started singing “Ego,” a song by R&B diva Beyoncé: “I’ve got a big ego-o-o,” Haywood sang, offering a musical take on comments he made a few minutes earlier.
When asked about sacrificing his game in order for the team to win, Arenas replied, “I think the only person who actually had to sacrifice is me. Everybody else can just play their game.”
That’s not sitting well with at least one player. Wizards center Brendan Haywood said players need to “check their ego at the door.”
“It’s very frustrating because our talent isn’t winning over our egos,” Haywood said. “If you normally score 20 and you don’t get your 20 but the team wins, who cares? Let’s try and win.
Judging by these quotes, and especially how I have them laid out, it’s perhaps easy to infer a schism developing between Haywood and Arenas, especially in the manner which Price’s article was written. But other signs indicate that this is not the case. Rather, Haywood and Arenas are more in on the same “joke”, if you will, and not at odds. So don’t worry folks, Arenas is not taking the place of Etan Thomas as the proverbial sparring partner of Haywood and vice versa.
But it’s still not known which player (or players) is potentially causing problems, or at least who is the target of choice comments from Arenas and Haywood. As could be expected, many of the issues surrounding this 3-9 team are muddy, and the purported ego trip of whomever is no exception.
Arenas specifically mentioned that for the most part, everyone on the team gets along, saying, “There’s about 15 players on the team … 14 get along.” I later asked on who’s shoulders is it to get all 15 players on the same page instead of 14 out of 15. Arenas answered, “Uhh, me and Antawn.” I followed up by asking if Caron was in the picture since he’s one of the three captains. Gilbert gave an initial, “Come again,” and then a coy, “Yea,” when asked the question again.
Check the video. Arenas also talks about differences between the offenses of Eddie Jordan and Flip Saunders and how he struggles to adjust.
Now, it seems easy to deduce that there’s a rift between Gil and Caron and/or Caron and the rest of the team. But in reality, all of these cryptic statements could amount to nothing.
That’s the Washington Wizards for you … always keeping people captivated by their self-maintained stage for dramatic flair.
A lot of bumps and bruises arise when a team is in dire straights. But if this squad is somehow able to turn things around, all of the perceived feuding will be a distant memory.
The key word (or question), of course, being “somehow” … and I’m not sure who ultimately has that answer.
My curiosity is why would Haywood incite locker room tension with a Beyoncé song? But then I remember that he’s “heavy on Drake” … so it made a little more since. Personally, if I’m signing a song in reference to someone’s ego, I’m going with De La Soul’s “Ego Trippin’ (Part 2)” … but that’s just me.
Other Reads: Mike Jones, Michael Lee, Craig Stouffer and Mike Prada also attended practice to report on the events, which also included Caron Butler’s injury, Nick Young’s starting gig, and Butler’s response to Gilbert’s words (via Jones).