And that's good news for the Wizards. Because for all of Washington's offseason changes -- center-forward Fabricio Oberto, introduced at a news conference Wednesday, should be the final addition -- whatever turnaround will be made from last season's 19-win disaster figures to hinge on Arenas' health and production.
"There's no question, a player of his talent, when he's playing, he puts us from a team that's competing for the playoffs to a team that's an elite team in the playoffs. When you walk in the gym right now, you wouldn't think that he's hurt," Saunders said. "If he's at that ability when our season starts, we're going to be an elite team in this league."
Coming off three knee operations in 1½ years, Arenas played in only two games late last season.
But Saunders traveled to Chicago last week and watched Arenas lift weights and play.
"He gets to wherever he wants to get on the court. His quickness is back," the coach said. "He's getting his scoring touch back, and he's getting his confidence back. He's excited about where he's at. He looks good. His weight is lower than it's been in the last few years. ... He feels he's got some things to prove."
Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld saw Arenas work out at Washington's arena Monday and said the three-time All-Star "was making shots, too. He was getting to the basket."
After making the playoffs four consecutive seasons, Washington took a step back in 2008-09, when starters Arenas, center Brendan Haywood (appeared in six games) and guard DeShawn Stevenson (32 games) all missed significant time.
While leaving his core intact -- the above trio and All-Stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler are still around -- Grunfeld brought in scoring guards Mike Miller and Randy Foye, along with frontcourt backup Oberto. Washington traded away the No. 5 overall pick in June's draft and reserve forwards Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov and let guard Juan Dixon go as a free agent.
The club probably will bring in an extra two or three players for training camp, Grunfeld said, but he added that the 14 players now under contract "in all likelihood" will be Washington's roster when the season begins.
"We feel we're a very versatile team. We have two or three players, at least, at every position," Grunfeld said. "We have a good blend of veteran players, young enthusiastic players, players that are in their prime who can carry you on a daily basis."
The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Oberto provides some frontcourt depth, defensive ability, toughness and experience. He averaged 3.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in four seasons with San Antonio. The Spurs traded Oberto to Detroit this summer as part of a five-player deal; the Pistons then waived Oberto.
Oberto helped the Spurs win the 2007 NBA title and Argentina win a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics.
"I like to see what is missing with the team and help that part," he said. "If I've got to play 'D' and not take a shot for 10 games, I'll do it."
Oberto, who is 34, had surgery this year aimed at correcting an irregular heartbeat.
"He's doing very well. He had his physicals this week; he passed everything," Grunfeld said. "We spoke to his doctors in Texas, and they feel very good about everything."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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