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Thursday, January 5, 2012
Wizards hold players-only meeting

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards don't have enough wins. Don't have any, in fact. They're the last NBA team with the big ugly "0" sitting in the "W" column.

What they have too much of, at least according to veteran Maurice Evans, is ego.

Having sat and watched the Wizards train-wreck their way through an 0-6 start -- not just losing, but embarrassing themselves along the way -- Evans decided to take action Thursday. Even though he's yet to play this season because of an ailing right knee, he called a players-only meeting just before practice.

Evans We have to be real with ourselves. The sense of entitlement that's here sometimes, I've never seen before.

-- Maurice Evans

"We have to be real with ourselves," Evans said. "The sense of entitlement that's here sometimes, I've never seen before."

So the players hashed things out for 15-20 minutes or so, discussing leadership and players' roles. Evans, who has seen a lot playing for seven teams over nine NBA seasons, felt teammates needed to be reminded that playing time is earned, not given.

"I almost got a sense of relief from the players that it was finally said," Evans said. "It was almost like something that was taboo or Pandora's box and no one's never really touching or addressing the issue. It was just enough dancing around the issues, enough of going through the motions.

"You could tell just in our actions that the guys are competing and they want to get better and they want to win ... but one thing goes wrong and we're so fragile at that point that we're not on the same page."

One thing is for sure: Something had to be done.

The Wizards have been playing as if they want to draft Andrew Luck. They've lost three games by 18 points or more. They started 0 for 12 from the field in a thoroughly noncompetitive 103-85 loss to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. Their on-court body language has been telling the story of a team that's already out of ideas just two weeks into the season.

"It comes to a lot of situations where we're down and each guy wants to be that guy who gets us over the hump," forward Andray Blatche said. "That's when we start playing selfish ball."

The Wizards had a 21-point lead against the New Jersey Nets on opening night, and it's been downhill ever since. The Nets rallied, of course, for what has turned out to be their only win in a 1-6 start.

After that game, Blatche complained about his role on offense then took to Twitter the next day to tell his critics to "shut up." A few days later he tweeted that he was in a "funk." On Wednesday, he committed an unfathomable violation destined for bloopers glory -- goaltending a missed Magic free throw even though no one was contesting him for the rebound.

Blatche said he was called out by his teammates in the meeting.

"Something they said about me, as far as I asked for the ball in the post and sometimes I take lazy jump shots," Blatche said. "They can't have that. I took that as: 'You're right.' If my teammates are saying that, then I have no reason but to agree with them and work to get better."

But it's not all been Blatche. Face-of-the-franchise John Wall is shooting 33 percent and is averaging 6.5 assists and 3.7 turnovers, not a good ratio at all for a highly-touted point guard. Wall had five assists on Wednesday, while the other four starters combined for two. Washington's 89 assists are the fewest in the league.

Then there are other gaffes. Roger Mason was tossed out of a game against the Milwaukee Bucks because he wasn't on the list of active players given to officials before tipoff. Coach Flip Saunders took responsibility for that error then got himself ejected for arguing a call in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Losing has become the Wizards' way. This is a franchise which has won only one playoff series in 20 years and started last season 0-25 on the road. If history is any guide, the franchise-worst 0-6 start to this season could be just a warm-up for what's to come.

For his part, Saunders said the sense of entitlement among his players comes from some of them getting extended playing time at a young age. He thinks the players' meeting will help change that attitude.

"They understand it's important now not what you've done in the past but what we're going to do as far as moving forward," Saunders said. "And that the accountability has to do with: If you don't play hard and don't play the right way, then your opportunity to play's going to be cut down."

Also watching it all has been the Wizards' No. 6 overall pick, Jan Vesely, who has yet to play because of a hip injury. Vesely practiced Thursday and might make his debut Friday against the New York Knicks, but he warned that he alone can't reverse the team's struggles.

"I'm not sure that I am the guy that can make some miracles," Vesely said. "I just want to start playing."