Day 3, Final Rundown
RICHMOND -- If anybody else had been moving on the court the way Gilbert Arenas did during the 30 minutes that reporters were allowed to watch the Washington Wizards on Thursday, then I probably wouldn't have made a big deal about it. But since Arenas has been dealing with left knee problems for most of the past two years, I was a bit thrown off when he sat out the team scrimmages for the second consecutive day -- and moved gingerly up and down the court during sprints.
Arenas certainly does have a dislocated left middle finger and he was receiving treatment on his hand when we finally were allowed to enter the gym. In my earlier post, Saunders said that Arenas's knee is fine and that he showed "no ill effects." After Thursday's practice, I talked to a few people who said that Arenas really was able to go through every drill before the full-court scrimmages and has no problems.
"There's no need to force the issue," Saunders said, when talking about Arenas's finger, which apparently began to swell after it was struck on Wednesday.
But it did seem odd that Arenas was jogging with a slight limp while his teammates were doing full out sprints. It wasn't a normal stride. Was it the result of being stiff after sitting still for almost half and hour? Possibly.
Now, Arenas appeared to be moving around fine while engaging in a shooting contest with Randy Foye after practice. So, it really could be no big deal. His personal trainer, Tim Grover, wasn't around him monitoring his leg or anything. Arenas has toyed with the media before, so he could've just been playing around with us to get some attention. Mike Jones of the Washington Times, Mike Prada of Bullets Forever and I noticed how Arenas glanced in our direction every time he completed running up and down the court.
If it is something serious or much ado about nothing, we'll know soon enough, but that sort of thing cannot be overlooked considering Arenas's past struggles with his left knee.
As for the rest of the team, I can tell you that Flip Saunders raved about the way Nick Young and Andray Blatche had focused on being consistent. He pointed out how Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison have been focusing on defense, singled out the play of Mike Miller and Foye, and gave another nod to Mike James. Yep, that Mike James.
"During these first days, at some point, everyone has had their time," Saunders said.
Foye has been spending a lot of time handling the ball and looked good in the scrimmage for the second day in a row. Dominic McGuire has been really aggressive defensively, but he turned a few heads with his offensive repertoire on Thursday. He had a nifty baseline drive and reverse layup and also hit a nice turnaround jumper over Jamison.
One of the biggest surprises of the first few days of practice really has been the play of James. Since the Wizards acquired Foye and Miller in June, James discounted as having no chance of seeing the floor for Saunders but he has been really solid this week. He's also in impeccable shape. James said he's lost 20 to 25 pounds since the end of last season, and Saunders joked, "That's why you see him taking his shirt off."
Against incredible odds, James is fighting to earn a spot in the rotation, but he credits his offseason workouts in Houston with Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach John Lucas. "He told me two things. I could either come back this year as old ... Mike James or I can come back this year as Mike James of old. I chose the second."
James is one of two Wizards with a championship ring and he made a special point to add that he is younger than the other one (Fabricio Oberto). "I will not take credit for being the oldest on the team any longer," said James, who turned 34 in June. "Fabricio Oberto, let's get the record straight, he was born in March ."
Asked if James had reminded him that he is not the oldest, Oberto smiled and said, "I think he told me already."
James was in good spirits after practice, joking that he was going to get a pedicure later in the afternoon. He has been running the offense with precision and made a decent effort on defense. "There is a saying that you can teach old dogs new tricks," James said, flipping the popular phrase to suit him. "I learned how to play dead, roll over, go fetch the bone and bring it back.
"Coach Flip, he wants to win. Even though he's won in the past, it still has haunted him that he hasn't been able to finish the way he's wanted to," James said. "But he wants to bring people along that want to win also. He's coming into this blind. He's basically like, 'Let the best man win.' I'm putting myself in a position where I want to show him that I'm one of the guys who can help him win."
After practice, I talked to Javaris Crittenton who told me that he is still playing with pain in his left ankle after hurting himself playing in the Atlanta pro am league this summer. Crittenton missed the championship game and is still smarting over it. He said that he actually suffered a bone bruise but wouldn't let it keep him out of training camp this week. "Right now, you've got to play through it," he said.
The Wizards had just one practice on Thursday, but will have another two practice sessions on Friday.
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