The prospect of a month or two _ or who knows how long? _ without Gilbert Arenas has not dimmed the expectations of the men who run the Washington Wizards.
Sitting side by side Tuesday, president Ernie Grunfeld and coach Eddie Jordan made clear they expect their team to make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. Grunfeld's stated goal is to earn home-court advantage for the first round.
Last season's trip to the postseason despite only 13 regular-season games from Arenas makes the duo optimistic about how the Wizards will fare while the All-Star point guard recovers from a third operation on his left knee in the past 1 1/2 years.
"We feel very confident in the players that we have and the way we played last year, the way we shared the ball, moved the ball, played defense and made the playoffs," Jordan said.
He paused, then added: "But certainly you need a Gilbert Arenas to get to where we want to go _ we certainly want to win an NBA championship."
It's uncertain when Arenas will be healthy.
Or, for that matter, when he'll start practicing, when he'll play in a game, when he'll be a 30-point scorer and when he'll be a buzzer-beating MVP candidate again.
"We don't have a time frame for when he's going to be back," Grunfeld said. "It's a process. We expect him to be back and be an outstanding player in this league. This, for us, is not a two- or three-month proposition. We're looking at the long term here. He's only 26."
In other words, while the sooner Arenas is back, the better, the Wizards are going to be patient, knowing they signed the player to a six-year, $111 million contract in July.
"He's the straw that stirs the drink," said Jordan, whose contract option for 2009-10 was picked up Monday by Grunfeld, "and certainly we are optimistic that he is going to recover and be a star for us again."
Last week, Arenas wrote on his blog under the heading "My Return Date": "I know time frames are dicey, but they said anywhere from mid December to January 1, I'll be back by then at 100 percent. I should be, if everything goes well."
Jordan doesn't want to look too far ahead.
He'll begin figuring out exactly how to work Arenas into the rotation when Arenas is ready. As it is, even before Arenas had last week's surgery, Jordan figured he wasn't going to have his top scorer at 100 percent to start the season.
"I've got 14 guys in that locker room that have to prepare themselves for training camp and preseason and November. And we know Gil's not going to be around for training camp, preseason, November. That's an easy walk for me," Jordan said. "When the process takes care of itself, that's when we start to analyze when we have to ramp up his rehab or get him on the basketball court. And we know that's not going to be any time before December. So I don't worry so much about what happens after December."
Arenas is expected to be with the Wizards during training camp, which opens Saturday in Richmond, Va. While Arenas won't be on the court, center Etan Thomas will, having been given the full go-ahead after missing all of last season because of open-heart surgery.
"From a physical standpoint, a conditioning standpoint, he looks very good," Grunfeld said. "It's going to take him some time to get his timing."
Noting that Brendan Haywood is coming off "a career year," Jordan said Haywood enters preseason as the starting center, with Thomas as a reserve. Theirs was a contentious rivalry in the past, including more than one fight.
Grunfeld and Jordan touched on a variety of other topics:
_ Jordan was caught off-guard by the timing of Grunfeld's decision to exercise the contract option, calling it "a total shock." Said Grunfeld: "Eddie's done an outstanding job for us, a big part of what we're about here. There was no urgency, really, but we wanted to get it done before the season stated and put it behind us. It's something that he earned."
_ The team added depth at guard by signing former Wizards and Maryland player Juan Dixon on Tuesday. "He's a proven NBA player," Grunfeld said. "He's a tough, hard-nosed competitor."
_ Oleksiy Pecherov (ankle) played 5-on-5 Monday for the first time since the end of the season and is ready for camp. So is Darius Songaila (back).
_ The Wizards will head to Germany and Spain next month for two exhibition games against the New Orleans Hornets. "It's almost like having a West Coast trip," Grunfeld said.
_ In what's become an annual preseason mantra, Jordan spoke about emphasizing defense. "When you're missing a guy like Gilbert, you really have to lock down _ even with Gilbert, who I though really bought into the defense when he did play," Jordan said. "Certainly that was big for us. And our guys liked it."