Wizards starting with guarded optimism

Washington looking to find chemistry with Arenas, Stackhouse and Hughes

Pro Basketball

October 05, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Viewed in the context of a glass of water, there are a couple of ways to view the Washington Wizards' backcourt situation.

If you think of having newcomer Gilbert Arenas flanked with returning veteran Jerry Stackhouse as a half-full situation, then you see the Wizards as having one of the NBA's youngest and best guard tandems.

But the pessimist would ask how Arenas, who usually shot first at Golden State then passed from the point guard slot, will co-exist with Stackhouse for shots. Another question is how Larry Hughes, who started at both point and shooting guard last season, will find enough minutes or shots.

But not to worry, say the players and new Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. By season's end, there will be nothing to fear.

"The challenge is to share the ball and to help each other," said Jordan, after a recent training camp session at the College of Charleston. "Egos have to take a back seat. But we know who's got a hot hand, who has a good matchup in certain situations. It's all about cohesiveness, and I think we will [share]. I think they are open-minded to do that."

Jordan's motion offense is the object through which everyone's optimism flows. The longtime assistant coach whose Princeton style attack helped the New Jersey Nets advance to two straight NBA Finals believes there will be enough shots to keep everyone happy.

And the players believe it, too.

"The system will dictate that," Stackhouse said. "I don't think we have to do anything conscious to try to learn how to play off each other. Everybody knows how to play basketball. There will be a couple of times in a game, where you need a basket, and whoever can get it, get it. We aren't worried about that. That's one of the most crazy assumptions in basketball is will there be enough basketballs. If you're scoring every basket, then that's a big question."

Stackhouse, averaging 21.5 points last season, was Washington's leading scorer, but he often was supplanted in the scoring hierarchy by Michael Jordan, who tended to want the ball in his hands when he was in a scoring rhythm, and certainly in the fourth quarter in close situations.

The 6-foot-6 Stackhouse privately chafed at the subordinate role, as well as being forced to play small forward rather than his more comfortable shooting guard slot. But Eddie Jordan has already said that Stackhouse will be the go-to guy in the new Washington offense, and Stackhouse has said that he wouldn't mind playing up front from time to time.

"Normally, the two [shooting guard] and the three [small forward] in most NBA sets are similar and do some similar things," Stackhouse said. "In this offense, a guard is a guard and a forward is a forward. I like both of them. I like both positions. There's still a lot of opportunities to take advantage of mismatches in both places. It doesn't really matter. I can start at the three, at the two, at the four [power forward]. It doesn't matter."

It will be Arenas, the newly acquired free agent, who will have the principal duty of keeping everyone happy. The 6-3 point guard, in his first year in Washington after spending his first two seasons with the Warriors, said it will take time for him to learn how to deliver the ball to Stackhouse and the rest of the Wizards.

Once that happens, however, Arenas said he'll then look to get more shots for himself.

"You just sit back and learn from him [Stackhouse], the first half of the season," Arenas said. "The second half of the season is when I kick in my gear, but the first half of the season is when I play off of him and the veterans and let them do what they're going to do. Then, once they get a feeling that they can trust you and you can trust them, that's when you have your best ball."

Meanwhile, Hughes has the most to lose in terms of playing time and shots. The 6-5 guard started most of last season at the point, with a few starts at shooting guard when Stackhouse was out of the lineup, but he fell out of favor late in the season after former coach Doug Collins and Michael Jordan lost confidence in him.

Eddie Jordan, however, intends to use Hughes at point or at shooting guard, depending on matchups, meaning he could play with Arenas or Stackhouse or both.

"I think we can create a lot of problems for other teams using our speed and our size, which we have," Hughes said. "It's fun. I'm enjoying going out there. We're all playing hard to make each other better. That's the ultimate goal, to put the product out there and gain respect. All the guys want to get that respect that we can come out here and win games and be productive."

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