Thursday, June 10, 2010

On the Clock: Washington Wizards


The Wizards were arguably the NBA's most disappointing team in 2009-2010. The return of an All-NBA caliber player (Gilbert Arenas) and the signing of a new coach (Flip Saunders) was supposed to vault Washington back into Eastern Conference playoff contention. Instead, Arenas' inconsistent play and lack of subordination lead the two to bump heads, especially after Arenas' 12 turnover performance on November 11th.

Six weeks later, Arenas brought four unloaded handguns into the Wizards' locker room in what he called a "misguided prank". Arenas was subsequently suspended for the remainder of the season and sentenced to 2 years probation and 30 days in a halfway house.

Finding themselves without their marquee superstar for a large portion of the third straight season, Washington decided it was time to blow up their core and start over. On February 13th, they traded Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson to the Dallas Mavericks. Three days later, they traded Antawn Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Over the past 12 months, the Wizards acquired Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, Quinton Ross, James Livingston, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Al Thornton, and Cleveland's #30 overall pick for Butler, Haywood, Stevenson, Jamison, and their #5 pick in 2009 (Ricky Rubio). Now, assuming they decline Josh Howard's $11.8 M team option, they'll have only Foye ($4.8 M qualifying offer), Ross ($1.1 M player option), and Thornton ($2.8 M team option) to show for it all next season.

Things certainly look bleak, but all is not lost in Washington. Andray Blatche showed real promise as the Wizards go-to guy down the stretch last season, and while inconsistent, Javale McGee showed signs as well. Washington will definitely have some choices to make this summer, as they have only 7 players under contract for next season (not including Howard), but the easiest call should come on June 24th, when the Wizards hold the #1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

John Wall will almost assuredly be the pick at that spot, and he and Arenas should prove to be a formidable pair in the backcourt, if Arenas can stay on the court. Washington will likely be looking at a small forward or a center with the Cavs' pick, as Darington Hobson, Stanley Robinson, and Devin Ebanks project to be available at that spot.

Washington is on the hook for about $34 M in salary for next season, plus their two guaranteed draft picks, which leaves the with around $19 M to offer in free agency. Depth is their biggest need, especially in the frontcourt. Whether or not the Wizards pursue a big name like Amare or Carlos Boozer will likely be an indication of their plans with Blatche moving forward, but I think filling the roster with role players is more likely.

Best Case Roster for 2010-2011:

PG- John Wall (#1), Randy Foye, Earl Boykins (FA)

SG- Gilbert Arenas, Nick Young, Quinton Ross

SF- Al Thornton, Quincy Pondexter (#30)

PF- Andray Blatche, Hakim Warrick (FA)

C- Jermaine O'Neal (FA), Javale McGee

2010-2011 Projection:

29-53 (12th in the Eastern Conference)

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