Washington The Washington Wizards, a feel-good team for much of the NBA season's first half, have hit the skids big time.
Antawn Jamison, the team captain, is injured. Coach Eddie Jordan kept Gilbert Arenas after class for a one-on-one lesson. And the backup center was suspended for fighting with the starting center.
Meantime, with Jamison out, the team has lost four of five games while trying to figure out how to replace him.
"It's time for guys just to be ready to take that challenge and continue to have the boat float until I get back," Jamison said after a practice and players-only meeting Monday. "It's not sinking yet, but they're throwing rocks on it. It's getting heavy. We've just got to continue to stay positive and have fun. Right now, we're not having fun."
Arenas surely isn't. Not only did the impulsive point guard fail to score his promised 50 points against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday (he finished with only nine), he also took a swipe at his coach following the 94-73 loss.
Arenas criticized Jordan for overemphasizing defense in the game. Arenas said he was playing "like a robot" for fear of being sat down for a defensive mistake.
Jamison, the team's unquestioned locker room leader, wasted no time handling Arenas. Arenas has one of the most colorful personalities in the league and often speaks his mind, but this was going too far.
"I talked to him," Jamison said. "He's like a little brother you've got to spank every once in a while. I put him in the closet and whooped his (butt) last night."
It wasn't over for Arenas. Monday morning, Jordan took him through a one-on-one film session, giving him a play-by-play of why the Wizards are struggling without Jamison and what needs to be done to correct it.
"What's important is that Gil and I got together and talked, and things are very, very positive," Jordan said.
The chapter didn't close Monday, however, because Arenas chose not to set the record straight on his own behalf. He declined requests for interviews after practice, leaving others to speak for him.
"He's just frustrated of late," Jamison said. "He knows he made some mistakes, and he's going to do everything possible to patch things up and go out there and do something on the court. ... He's got to understand that he's one of the well-known basketball players in the NBA, so no matter what is said and done, he's definitely under a microscope, and he just has to be more cautious and choose what comes out of his mouth. He realizes that."
Meanwhile, Jordan reflected on the "real good high" the Wizards were riding less than two weeks ago - until the knee injury that will sideline Jamison for three to six weeks. Then center Etan Thomas was suspended two games and banned from practice for punching Brendan Haywood during practice on Friday. Add in the latest Arenas saga and it's no surprise there was the 30-minute players meeting Monday - the first since training camp.
"You're going to have disagreements in the household," Caron Butler said. "I disagree with my brother all the time. You have to know how to make everything work, and that's what we're doing now."
Getting everyone back on the same page might be the easy part. What's hard is finding a way to win without Jamison, who was averaging 19 points.
That's why Jordan was stressing defense on Sunday, something he's tried to do for three years with little success. The Wizards have been winning with their offensive prowess, but that's harder to do without the floor leadership and points production from their captain.
"I was just a little more impatient with having to see people make mistakes over and over again," said Jordan, who shuffled players in and out frequently during the first half.