When the Wizards had Arenas, Jamison, and Butler

Published August 3, 2023, 5:00 PMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

In the mid-2000s, the Wizards made some noise behind their star trio of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Caron Butler.

For most of their existence, the Washington Wizards have not been a cool team. Sure, they’re one of the two NBA teams that Michael Jordan played for but that run by the GOAT with the Wizards should be erased from basketball history. It was a forgettable epilogue that shouldn’t have happened.

However, for a couple of years in the mid-2000s, the Wizards were pretty cool. They were led by a high-scoring guard in Gilbert Arenas, who was flanked by no-nonsense talent in Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. Washington had a pretty good core and for the first time in a long time, its fans had a reason to feel good about its team.

State of the NBA

From 2004 to 2008, four different teams won the NBA championship, with only the San Antonio Spurs winning two during that span. This was the window after Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant broke up and before Kobe found another running mate in Pau Gasol. 

At the time, there was no one dominant, unstoppable team. Powerhouse contenders like the Spurs or Detroit Pistons were always in the running but they would have easily gotten knocked off by a surprise contender like the Dallas Mavericks or Miami Heat. 

If the chips fell right and a team played their cards right, they could go deep into the playoffs where anything could happen. That was the perfect set-up for a team like the Wizards. They were able to collect underrated but undeniably talented players leading up to the 2005 season. After the Jordan debacle which ended in 2003, it was time for a new era.

The lineup

The MJ-led Wizards were a team with a clear disconnect. They had older, more established players like Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner, and Charles Oakley along with young prospects like Kwame Brown and Juan Dixon.

Related: The time Michael Jordan played for the Washington Wizards

After Jordan retired for the final time, the Wizards franchise needed a new face. The management wasn’t going to give it to one of the older guys, and at the same time, the younger players on the roster just weren’t ready. That’s why they swung for the fences by signing Arenas.

Arenas was a breakout star in his final year with the Golden State Warriors. He averaged 18.3 points and 6.3 assists in his second year in the league. That was enough to win the Most Improved Player award and net him a rich contract with the Wizards in 2003.

The Wizards believed they had their next superstar in Arenas. That’s why they continued to make moves to surround him with complementary pieces.

In 2004, they gave up the fifth pick in the draft along with Stackhouse and Laettner to acquire another award-winning player, Antawn Jamison. The efficient forward won the Sixth Man of the Year award the previous season after averaging a 14-6 line off the bench for the Dallas Mavericks.

In the following offseason, the Wizards made a move to get an underutilized two-way forward, Caron Butler through a trade.

In three years, the Wizards were able to collect a group of players that would all go on to be All-Stars during their time with the team. Arenas was a three-time All-Star whose peak with the Wizards was in 2005, where he averaged 29.3 points and 6.1 assists. Jamison was named an All-Star during his first year in Washington when he put up 19.6 points and 7.6 boards a game. Butler was a two-time All-Star from 2006 to 2008 where he was a nightly 20-point threat.

With this core, the Wizards must have destroyed the league back then, right?

The aftermath


The most this group won in a single season together was 43 games. And that was the 2007-2008 season when Arenas was coming back from a major knee injury and only played 13 games. In the two previous seasons that they played together, they managed to win 42 and 41 games, respectively.

Even with this group of All-Stars, this was a deeply flawed team. 

Beyond Arenas, Jamison, and Butler, there wasn’t much meat left on the bone. They didn’t have enough talent to really be a well-rounded team that could handle the loss of one of their three All-Stars. In 2005, Antonio Daniels was the fourth-leading scorer of the team who scored 9.6 points per game. In 2006, that was Deshawn Stevenson who averaged 11.2 a night.

The Wizards could score, no doubt about it. But they also couldn’t prevent the opposing team from scoring. From 2005 to 2007, they were one of the six best teams in the league in terms of offensive rating. In the 2005 season they were the 22nd-ranked defensive team, in terms of defensive rating. In 2006, that slipped to 28th in the league.

The Arenas-Jamison-Butler Wizards are romanticized because that era feels like the best thing that’s happened to Washington fans in the past 30 years. They were relevant once again. 

The reality of it, though, is that those Wizards are no different from the other iterations of the franchise. As cool as the Arenas-Jamison-Butler Wizards were, they were really just like any other Washington Wizards team: mediocre.