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DMA 7-22 Sports


August 27, 2009 11:38 PM

When the Wizards (Bullets) Were Really Good …

Wizards China Trip Announcement
Wes Unseld, right; Caron Butler, third from right.
Photo: NBA.com

The Washington Wizards are going to China -- again!

The team announced that some former and current players, including NBA Hall of Famer Wes Unseld, Romanian giant Gheorghe Muresan and contemporary stars Caron Butler and Randy Foye, will be making the 10-day journey Sept. 5 for a series of clinics and other goodwill activities in Beijing and Shanghai, promoting USA balling to a hoop-crazy populace.

The peg for the trip: the franchise is following up on a historic tour 30 years ago – as the Washington Bullets (nee Baltimore Bullets) – the first NBA team to visit the communist nation following the renewing of diplomatic relationships with the United States.

Besides time and distance, a China trip is not the big deal maybe it once was (2008 Summer Olympics). But the news of the tour is a nice reminder that another NBA season is around the corner – and that maybe the Wizards might be good this year. They won just 19 games last season, suffering season-long injuries to starters Agent Zero Gilbert Arenas and center Brendan Haywood. A panel of sportswriters voting on the The NBA On ESPN.com gives them the nod (over Oklahoma and the Clippers) as likely the league’s most improved team.

If Arenas is healthy after two years of knee issues, he’ll average 30-plus points again, taking his usual place again alongside LeBron, Kobe and D-Wade as the league’s most prolific scorers. But good enough in the East to get past Cleveland -- now with Shaq? Once-removed NBA champion Boston? Dwight Howard and the Magic? Maybe, just maybe. Seven-footer Haywood gives the defensive hedge against Howard, Shaq and Garnett in the middle. Foye and sharpshooter Mike Miller arrived in that draft-day deal with Minnesota with added depth. Then there is still Jamison (a pro’s pro mentioned way down in this paragraph), Butler, Stevenson and the rest of a pretty nice crew of young players in Andray Blatche, 7-0 JaVale McGee, Javaris Crittenton and Nick Young. Maybe the Wizards are going to be good after all – a group that reflects the new prototype NBA team of interchangeable parts at the 2, 3 and 4 positions with some long height in the lane.

New Coach Flip Saunders is a top NBA coach who has tutored many top players. You can bet Saunders is looking to cement his personal NBA legacy with a title, just like Doc Rivers did with Boston and what George Karl yearns for with Denver.

Thirty years ago there was also a nice group in Washington, NBA champions in 1978 and the runner-up in 1979. Unseld simply could go get the ball off the board better than anybody. And the "Big E" Elvin Hayes, another Hall of Famer, defined the power forward position in his era. Add Bobby Dandridge and the point, Tommy Henderson, along with Grevey, Kupchak and Greg Ballard, not to mention smooth Larry Wright and pesky Charles Johnson.

The new season starts Oct. 27. Maybe the Wizards (Bullets) get really good on 30-year cycles.

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