Washington Wizards Truth About It 08-09 Season Preview
Team Name: The Washington Bullets/Wizards
Last Years Record: 43-39
Key Losses: Roger Mason, Jr. (free agency to Spurs)
Key Additions: Dee Brown, Juan Dixon (free-agents), and JaVale McGee (drafted out of Nevada)
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
The Wizards re-signed both Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison to big contracts……controversial among some, but I was more than happy to have them back at whatever the cost. I’d rather take my chances on hope with them than dealing with a greater uncertainty without them.
Gone is hometown hero, Roger Mason Junior, who played his way to a nice contract with the Spurs in filling in for an injured Gilbert Arenas last season. Many fans, myself included, wanted to keep him, but the Wizards just couldn’t afford 2-years and $7.3 million while staying out of luxury tax territory.
Added is Juan Dixon, who is supposed to fill in for an injured Arenas this year, quick PG Dee Brown all the way from Turkey, and young JaVale McGee, “The Choppa”, via the NBA draft. I’m hoping that Dixon and Brown, as a two-headed monster, will better replace what the Wizards lost in Mason. I’ll admit that I wasn’t exactly thrilled when Ernie Grunfeld took McGee on draft night (I wanted Mario Chalmers), but I’ve flipped a 180 due to McGee’s preseason play….another reason to trust Grunfeld, The Closer.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
I wouldn’t say that Eddie Jordan is “much maligned,” but there certainly is a contingent of unsatisfied skeptics. My defense of Jordan has been relatively staunch, but at the same time, he needs to prove he’s capable of getting the Wizards to the next level. Of course, he’ll get somewhat of a pass this year because of injuries….essentially the reason why I believe that after Arenas had yet another knee surgery, the Wizards picked up the option on Jordan’s contract, extending him through ’09-10.
This I know about Eddie Jordan, he’s respected around the league. The Washington Post’s Ivan Carter seems to believe, according to his NBA sources, that if Jordan were on the open market, he wouldn’t be out of a job for long. A recent survey of NBA GM’s indicate that Jordan is seen as one of the better in-game adjusters in the NBA.
In the end, I refuse to discount the fact that Jordan has kept the team competitive through injuries, and has helped the franchise shed the “Clippers of the East” stigma by getting into the playoffs for four straight seasons.
These players know each other, and seem to genuinely be friends in the locker room (aside from that Etan Thomas-Brendan Haywood thing a couple years ago….which they’ve since put behind them). But going into this season, there are 32 years of experience with the team among 11 players. Take away the three sophomores and you have 29 years among eight players. Sure, leadership is a very key factor in being a championship contender, but a team’s familiarity with each other provides the best chance to succeed as a cohesive unit.
Vets & Youngins
GM Ernie Grunfeld has done well to combine veteran leaders, such as Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, and Antonio Daniels, with talented and promising youth in Andray Blatche (although I’m beginning to waiver on him…somewhat), Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, and JaVale McGee. Gilbert Arenas is a wildcard, and Brendan Haywood used to be known as ‘Brenda’ (not anymore), but both are aspiring leaders as I’ve seen the maturity level rise in different ways for each. The veterans provide the Wizards a chance to compete, and the youngins provide a bright outlook for the future……is there a better way to build continuity for a franchise?
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
As evident from preseason performances, the Wizards are still struggling with fundamentals and running the defensive system of assistant coach Randy Ayers like a well-oiled machine. Part of the problem is lack of a defensive stopper who is guaranteed to make trouble for the opposition’s best player. The ‘Big Three’ of Jamison, Butler, and Arenas are all what I would consider to be below average defenders. Antonio Daniels is too old and lacking the agility to keep up with quicker point guards. The best paint protector, Brendan Haywood, is out for 4-6 months. And the youth is obviously a work in progress on D.
DeShawn Stevenson is considered the best defender on the Wizards, but even he is susceptible to lapses in judgement. Ayers is in his second season of implementing his match-up zone, Wizards fans can only hope that the team will continue to learn on the job. For success on any level to be a reality, the Wizards don’t have a choice but to learn quickly.
Without someone like Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards will have to focus on team offense (something they should be doing with Arenas anyway). The team is set up well to deal with this issue because of Eddie Jordan’s pro-style Princeton offense. However, this is the NBA….to win games, a sniper is a must.
Maybe Jamison and Stevenson will continue to hit open threes. And maybe Caron Butler diversifies his offensive game. And maybe Nick Young and Juan Dixon can provide a needed spark off the bench. But all those ‘maybes’ won’t cut it for the duration of the season. If Arenas doesn’t come back some time in December, as is currently, tentatively, scheduled, then it’s not looking good for the Wizards to win more than 35 games.
4. What are the goals for this team?
All things considered, the goal is to make the playoffs. The team is a proven injury survivor. Knowing you can do it is a huge part of the needed mentality to take on such a challenge.
Of course the “ifs” are big….but if the team proves they can stay above water, it will most likely indicate that the inexperienced players have made vast strides. If the team can gain confidence, and if Gilbert comes back at full strength, and if Haywood’s time out falls on the shorter end of 4-6 months, and if the team can sneak into the 7th or 8th playoff spot….then maybe, just maybe, the Wizards can surprise in the playoffs and get to the Eastern Conference finals. I know, I know….a huge IF.
5. Can Andray Blatche Step Up?
His summer league play and added strength at one time pointed to yes. His foul rate and preseason play points to a resounding nope.
There’s been a lot of talk from Andray Blatche this off-season about being serious and gaining maturity. To Antawn Jamison, all that talk doesn’t matter, Andray has to prove he can be about it. To “be about it,” Blatche must display a consistent, hustling effort night in and night out.
With his dismal performance against the Cavaliers last night, where all Eddie Jordan needed to see was 3:49 of Blatche’s piss-poor effort in the first half before benching him for the rest of the game, I’m beginning the question if the kid will ever want
I’m not giving up on the guy, but the potential success of the Wizards in the early going really rests on Andray’s shoulders. It may be a lot for a 22-year old, but considering that this is Blatche’s fourth year in the league, the time is now.
A week ago, before hearing that Arenas might be ahead of schedule, I would’ve guessed 34 wins. Today, I was all set to predict a 40-42 record, but that’s what the Pradamaster said in his preview on Bullets Forever. So, my inner optimist is going to one-up Prada with a prediction of .500 ball and the 8th seed in the East.
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