As camp opens, Whitney, Lue get to the point

2 Wizards may vie for 1 job alongside Dixon, Hughes

Pro Basketball

October 02, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- It doesn't take a mathematician to see that the numbers may not crunch for Chris Whitney and Tyronn Lue of the Washington Wizards.

In the offseason, the Wizards attempted to upgrade their roster, but no more obviously than at point guard, drafting former Maryland star Juan Dixon and signing Larry Hughes, a free agent from Golden State.

For Lue and Whitney, the incumbent point guards, that can mean probably just one thing: One or both of them may be gone when the season opens in Toronto at the end of the month.

The bookend pair, each listed at 6 feet and a shade under 180 pounds, who shared an interview table at the Wizards' Media Day on Monday, sounded a similar theme: Neither plans to go out without a fight.

"It doesn't seem like [there are enough point guard minutes to go around] or at least not at the moment," Lue said. "But I've had to prove myself every year I've been in the league. I'm confident in what I can do. I worked very hard this summer. I'm just confident and whatever happens, happens."

Asked if there were enough minutes to share, Whitney said, "I don't know. It's not for me to say. I don't worry myself about those things. I just go out there and try to play the game the right way, and let whatever happens, happens."

The competition between Whitney, a nine-year NBA veteran, seven of those in Washington, and Lue, in his second season with the Wizards after playing the first three years of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, promises to be one of the most spirited contests at the team's training camp, which opened yesterday in Wilmington, N.C.

For now, coach Doug Collins says that there is no competition, that there is a place for both Lue and Whitney, particularly if Whitney, who was 20th in the NBA last season in three-point percentage, can see time at shooting guard.

"I don't want to get into roster spots right now," Collins said Monday. "That's what training camp is for. I'd much rather have to make a decision on too many guys. Last year, we had two very small point guards. I'd like to be able to use Chris Whitney as a shooter more this year. T-Lue can handle the ball. So, we've got some different looks from some different people. Then it will be up to the coaches and I through training camp to get a feel on how it's going to go."

In Collins' mind, the Wizards will be a substantially improved defensive team, forcing turnovers off pressure and converting them into easy baskets.

In that sense, any of his perimeter players, including newly acquired guard Jerry Stackhouse and forward Bryon Russell, and Michael Jordan, should be able to push the ball in uptempo situations, thus freeing the need to rely on a conventional point guard.

But if Hughes, a 6-foot-5 veteran, who played point in Golden State and Philadelphia, can run the offense in halfcourt sets, and if Dixon, who primarily played off-guard at Maryland, can adapt to the exacting role of NBA playmaker, the Wizards will have decisions to make.

"We have competition now," Collins said. "I don't play with a pure point guard system, where one guy has to dribble and handle the ball all the time. So, we don't have one guy waiting back for the ball so we can get out and go with it. I want the closest guy to get it and tell the guys to go up the floor and we can go."

Lue, 25, who was signed as a free agent before last season after playing exceptional defense on Philadelphia's Allen Iverson in the 2000 Finals while with the Lakers, has an edge on Whitney in age and quickness. He averaged 7.8 points and 3.5 assists a game last season.

But Whitney, who will turn 31 Saturday, is the current Wizard with the longest tenure with the club, averaging a career-high 10.2 points a game and hitting 88 percent of his free throws, seventh best in the league.

By virtue of his willingness to play with pain and his durability -- he has played in all 82 games four of his seven years with the Bullets/Wizards franchise -- he is also a respected veteran. That's a commodity in short supply in the Washington locker room since power forward Popeye Jones signed with the Dallas Mavericks last month.

Oddly enough, Whitney, the only remaining Washington player from when the team last reached the postseason in the 1996-97 season, says this squad has the most preseason talent he has seen since he got here.

"We've had some really talented teams here and it didn't translate into wins," Whitney said. "We still have a lot of talent. This is by far the most talent we've had here to start the year. We have a little bit of everything that you might need to make the playoffs."

Including, apparently, a surplus of point guards.

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