It’s hard to believe it’s been over a decade since the Wizards’ core of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison hit their peak in Washington. While that core may not have enjoyed the same playoff success as the current era, they played a key role in shaping the fanhood of many fans in the D.C. area who had been waiting so long to see Washington have a relevant NBA team.
Recently DeShawn Stevenson, who is now playing in The Big 3, talked about what made that Washington group so special on a podcast with Oliver Maroney and Josh Eberley:
I just like that era because I felt like everybody had their own style and different swag. You had Gilbert, that had his own online blog, You had Caron, but we just had so many people with so many different characters, and we were really going out there and really balling. We had a lot of guys who were talking smack, but then we would go out there and play like All-Stars.
I feel like if Gilbert didn’t ever injure his knee, we would’ve won a championship. Like, I really feel that. Obviously, in Dallas we had Dirk seven feet tall, could make every shot, but Gilbert was like Stephen Curry. He could shoot it from anywhere on the court and dribble like crazy. So if he never gets hurt - you know, he tore his knee, and he could never get back from that. And people don’t understand that. He’d be in for a couple games and then he’d be out getting another surgery. Being a part of that, it was crazy.
DeShawn’s assertion that the Wiz could have won a title isn’t completely crazy. It’s easy to forget now, but there was a point during that 2006-07 season when the Wizards had the best record in the Eastern Conference and Gilbert Arenas was getting MVP consideration.
It all started to unravel late in January when Antawn Jamison got hurt in a win over the Detroit Pistons. Washington would lose four of their next five, and went 4-9 before Jamison finally returned to action on March 2. By then, Washington has lost all their momentum. They had fallen from first to fourth in the East and were struggling to keep pace with the conference’s elite.
All throughout March, the Wizards tried to find their stride again, but it just wasn’t the same. Then, in a one-week span Washington was dealt three cruel blows. First, they were on the wrong end of a ridiculous Morris Peterson buzzer-beater, then Caron Butler was knocked out for the season after hurting his wrist, and finally Gilbert Arenas suffered the knee injury that sank the season and his career.
All that said, was that team good enough to win it all? Not unless they made some more moves. Like last season’s Wizards, the defense struggled at times, and the team was very top-heavy. They probably would have worn down much like this year’s squad. Plus, as we’d learn later, the young core of Nick Young, Andray Blatche, Oleksiy Pecherov, and JaVale McGee wouldn’t have done much to lighten the load in the coming years. Perhaps in different circumstances, they could have been flipped for better win-now assets that could have taken them to the next level in future years, but we’ll never know.
Regardless of whether or not you think that team could have fought for a title, we can all agree that it’s a shame we never got to see how far they could go.