Head coach Eddie Jordan is personable, smart, a sharp dresser and coached the Eastern Conference All-Stars last February. His three top soldiers are All-Stars, too, paced by one of the league's most popular players, incomparable point guard Gilbert Arenas.
They play an exciting high-octane brand of basketball in the nation's capital, a hoops hotbed.
|Gilbert Arenas' Wiz are fun, but harmless. (Getty Images)|
The answer is simple, cold and harsh. The Wizards haven't forced anyone to take them seriously. They haven't won. They're fun, but harmless.
Under Jordan they've finished .500 or better three straight years, reaching the playoffs each time, but they've been unable to make a significant dent. Miami swept them out of the second round in 2005. The next season, LeBron James whispered in Arenas' ear at the line late in Game 6, he missed two free throws, and Cleveland ousted the Wiz from the first round. The Cavs swept Washington last year, but that doesn't mean much since Arenas and Caron Butler were injured and unable to play.
Before both went down to season-ending injuries, the Wizards were in the mix for the Southeast Division title, so it's impossible to tell whether they could've made that jump last season. At full strength, they had just as good a chance of getting to the NBA Finals as Cleveland did. There's no point on dwelling on what's done, though.
Washington has to look forward to picking up where they left off before the attrition sets in. Etan Thomas will miss the season after undergoing open-heart surgery, so the Wizards are down a man at a position where they were already weak.
Brendan Haywood, who Jordan basically gave up on in April, will be counted on to produce at center. So will be Darius Songaila, ineffective last season due to back problems, and possibly Oleksiy Pecherov, a raw 7-foot Ukrainian taken with the No. 18 pick in 2006. In a division where Shaquille O'Neal, Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor loom, that doesn't put the Wizards in a promising position.
To succeed Washington is going to have to flip the script and get out in transition whenever possible, which is going to hinge on Arenas' ability to rebound from a knee injury. The guy is a gym rat, so there's no doubting his work ethic, but even he knows he has to prove it on the court. As is his custom he's using everything from side bets to slights to drive him towards his goal, knowing the Wizards' fortunes are tied directly to him. If CBS Sports' preseason player rankings help him attain that goal, we're more than happy to oblige.
"Duncan's No. 1, Kobe's No. 2. Then they've got all them bums in front of me," Arenas told reporters during training camp in Richmond. "I'm 20; I feel I'm in the top five. There's motivation right there."
Further motivation is that Arenas plans on opting out of his contract after the season to secure a long-term deal, possessing an even clearer understanding of just how vital financial security is in a profession where your body can betray you at any moment. His level of play is undoubtedly worthy of maximum dollars, but he has to make it through the season without incident to secure that payday.
Guiding the Wizards to their first NBA Finals since 1978 wouldn't hurt his cause either. If the franchise wants to be taken seriously, they're going to have to do a little more than just entertain.
|Power Ranking Rank: 15th|
|Projected Record: 44-38, 2nd Southeast|
|Best case scenario: Arenas, Butler and Antawn Jamison are able to play in at least 75 games together, like they managed to two seasons ago. If that happens, they've established enough chemistry where they should win 50 games and win the Southeast easily.|
|Worst case scenario: Haywood fails to provide resistance inside and the Wizards find themselves playing way too many track meets. Considering how much better the Eastern Conference is, a significant injury to anyone of their big three could result in missing the playoffs.|
|X-factor: Andray Blatche has a world of potential, and the Wizards signed him to a lucrative extension to ensure he grows under their watch. Since they can badly use the help up front, it would be nice if that happens this season.|
|Early season schedule: On opening night, Arenas hopes to settle a score with new Pacers coach Jim O'Brien for calling him immature and causing him to slip out of the first round in the 2001 Draft. He's also already guaranteed he's spoiling Boston's season opener on Nov. 2, so as you can tell, his verbal jousting is in midseason form. The Wizards open their home schedule against Orlando on Nov. 3.|
|2007-08 NBA Team Previews|
|Boston Celtics||Chicago Bulls||Atlanta Hawks|
|New Jersey Nets||Cleveland Cavaliers||Charlotte Bobcats|
|New York Knicks||Detroit Pistons||Miami Heat|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Indiana Pacers||Orlando Magic|
|Toronto Raptors||Milwaukee Bucks||Washington Wizards|
|Denver Nuggets||Dallas Mavericks||Golden State Warriors|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||Houston Rockets||Los Angeles Clippers|
|Portland Trail Blazers||Memphis Grizzlies||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Seattle Supersonics||New Orleans Hornets||Phoenix Suns|
|Utah Jazz||San Antonio Spurs||Sacramento Kings|