Published January 29, 2010
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Washington coach Flip Saunders has spent the last two days trying to re-establish the routine for the Washington Wizards after the season-long suspensions of Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton by the NBA for bringing guns into the locker room.
Saunders said on Friday he believes his team has closed the book on the suspensions, but other distractions have arisen with rumored trades.
"Just because there's closure I don't think things change in 24 hours but I think over the long run you try to get some normalcy," Saunders said before the Wizards defeated the New Jersey Nets 81-79 in Washington's first game since commissioner David Stern disciplined the two players Wednesday.
"Someone asked about distractions," Saunders said. "That distraction is over but we seem to dominate with trade rumors and everything else so those are distractions from a player's standpoint that you have to deal with."
There have been plenty of trade rumors involving the Wizards, whose 15-30 record is tied for third-worst in the Eastern Conference. The Nets own the NBA's worst record at 4-41.
Center Brendan Haywood has been rumored in a trade with Portland. The Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly want forward Antawn Jamison and forward Caron Butler is coveted by a number of Western Conference teams.
The bottom line is that the rest of the season will be tough without Arenas, their Wizards' top scorer and assists leader.
Still, Saunders said his team owes it to fans to continue to play hard in what has become a very disappointing season.
"We have to understand no matter where you're at and where the record is, you're still professionals and we are entertainers when we step on the floor there are some 8 or 9 years old on the rail and this might be the only NBA game they watch, so you have an obligation as a performer to go out and play at a high level to have an impact on those individuals," Saunders said.
The coach added that teams can go big runs, and if the Wizards did they still have a shot at the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, where a .500 record can earn a postseason berth.
"We're in a unique situation we've got eight players who are free agents," Saunders said. "So every time they step on the floor they're auditioning to other teams and also to the team they're playing for. So for everybody involved it's in their best interest to go and play at a high level."
For now, Saunders wants his young players to improve and the team to be more consistent.
"From what we anticipated was going to be our lineup when we opening training camp, they've played maybe one or two games together," Saunders lamented. "That's a disappointing thing but now that we know Gilbert and Javaris aren't here, we can move forward."
Arenas and Crittenton were the first players to violate NBA rules prohibiting firearms on team property.
Stern suspended them without pay for the remainder of the season, stressing that guns in the workplace "will not be tolerated."
Arenas and Crittenton admitted bringing a gun or guns into the Wizards' locker room after a dispute stemming from a card game on a team flight.