WASHINGTON - After all those years of striving for relevance, the Washington Wizards face a new kind of challenge.
When training camp opens next week, the returning Wizards could not be blamed if they arrive with some swagger after finally having won a playoff series. Then again, coach Eddie Jordan isn't so sure that would be a good thing.
"There are pitfalls - overconfidence and thinking that maybe the regular season isn't as important. Sometimes that happens," Jordan said Thursday. "I'm not going to say that's going to happen to us, but there are pitfalls."
In 2004-05, Washington put together just its third winning record in 17 seasons (45-37), made the postseason for the first time since 1997, and won a playoff series for the first time since the Bullets did it in 1982.
A major reason for the step forward, Jordan said, was continuity, as the Big Three of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Larry Hughes meshed and gained a greater understanding of the coach's take on the Princeton offense.
In the offseason, though, the Wizards lost Hughes, who signed as a free agent with Cleveland.
Which means there's some adjusting to do with the offense and the lineup. With Arenas at one guard spot, Jamison at one forward spot, and Brendan Haywood at center, there are two starting positions left. Jordan said they'll be filled by two of these players: Antonio Daniels, Caron Butler, Jarvis Hayes and Jared Jeffries.
Hayes, limited to 54 games last season by a fractured kneecap, and Jeffries return. Daniels left the SuperSonics to sign a $30 million, five-year contract, and Butler came over from the Lakers along with Chucky Atkins in the Kwame Brown trade.
"It's going to be a good challenge," Jordan said. "The competition with them at training camp is going to be at a high level because there is not an etched-in-stone starting lineup."
After all of the injury problems Washington had last season - Hughes, Brown and Etan Thomas all missed at least 20 games, and Jamison was hampered down the stretch by right knee tendinitis that led to arthroscopic surgery in May, Jordan is pleased that there is little of that heading into Tuesday's start of camp in Richmond, Va.
Hayes, who was sore after some informal offseason workouts, will be watched closely, and rookie Andray Blatche will miss training camp while he recovers from gunshot wounds from an attempted carjacking.
Jordan would not say exactly what his goals are heading into his third season as the Wizards' head coach. But he knows perceptions of his club are changing, from owner Abe Pollin to the players to the fans to other teams.
"Well, Mr. Pollin expected us to be in the playoffs last year, after the first year of development and patience. As coaches you always you expect to be in the playoffs - that's what you're aiming for," he said. "With everyone else getting better in the Eastern Conference, people know that we're for real - that we were for real, anyway - and that we're not going to be overlooked."
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