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Wizards coach Eddie Jordan is counting on the 'fourth scorer' to emerge in training camp.
AP SPORTS WRITER
WASHINGTON--Gone are the days when the Washington Wizards coach says the goal for the season is simply to make the playoffs. Eddie Jordan is aiming higher, with no fear of ridicule.
"Eastern Conference finals is the next step," he said yesterday.
And when will that happen?
"I don't know. I'd like to think it would be this year," Jordan said. "Certainly, in my mind, it's not a three-year plan. I want to get there this year. I've been there as a coach, as a player, and this team is becoming seasoned enough, becoming core enough, the chemistry is getting there, and that's the next step--not just making it to the second round. We did that two years ago."
Jordan spoke with reporters as the Wizards prepare to open training camp next week in Richmond. There have been a few changes over the summer, but the team that goes through the drills at Virginia Commonwealth University will look similar to the one that lost three one-point games to Cleveland in the first round of the NBA playoffs in the spring.
"We showed last year we can compete with anybody," president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said. "And we feel we're better this year."
Jordan and Grunfeld have transformed the Wizards from perennial doormats into a team that made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1980s. The roster has three solid stars in Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler--all in their prime.
That's good news and bad news. For two straight years, the Wizards have relied on a "Big Three" that evolved into the highest scoring trio in the league. Arenas, Jamison and Larry Hughes averaged 67.1 points two seasons ago, and Arenas (29.3), Jamison (20.5) and Butler (17.6) combined for 67.4 last season.
"We're always trying to get that fourth guy," Jordan said. "That's hard, man."
Darius Songaila could be the solution. The free agent power forward from the Chicago Bulls adds toughness, can hit the 16-foot jumper and could allow Jamison to move to small forward.
The Wizards also added free-agent guard DeShawn Stevenson from the Orlando Magic and will welcome back guard Jarvis Hayes, who appears to be healthy after two years of knee injuries. Second-year player Andray Blatche, whose rookie season was derailed when he was shot during a carjacking, showed promise in summer league games.
"The fourth scorer, I don't know who that would be," Jordan said. "Will it be one of our big guys in the paint? Will it be Darius? Will it be Jarvis? It's sort of exciting thinking here that somebody is going to be the fourth and fifth scorer for us."
Jordan said he has tweaked the offense to give centers Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas more scoring chances. Haywood and Jordan have had their differences, but the two met during the summer shortly after the coach signed a contract extension.
"It's the start of, I hope, a terrific relationship," Jordan said.
The Wizards feel they are so deep on the frontcourt that they plan to let their first-round draft pick, Oleksiy Pecherov, remain overseas with a European team for another year rather than have him sit on the end of the bench in Washington.