ESPN’s John Hollinger and Chad Ford recently completed the latest edition of their ‘Future Power Rankings.’ (Found here, requires ESPN Insider). Like previous versions, they begin their rankings with the following introduction:
The Future Power Rankings are ESPN Insider’s projection of the on-court success expected for each team during the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.
Each of the NBA’s 30 teams received an overall Future Power Rating of 0 to 1,000, based on how well we expect each team to perform in the three seasons following this season.
In determining the Future Power Rating, Hollinger and Ford rated each team in five categories. The sum of those ratings = a team’s Future Power Rating. From the article, here is an explanation of each category:
PLAYERS (0 to 400 points): Current players and their potential for the future, factoring in expected departures.
MANAGEMENT (0 to 200 points): Quality and stability of front office, ownership, coaching.
MONEY (0 to 200 points): Projected salary-cap situation; ability and willingness to exceed cap and pay luxury tax
MARKET (0 to 100 points): Appeal to future acquisitions based on team quality, franchise reputation, city’s desirability as a destination, market size, taxes, business and entertainment opportunities, arena quality, fans
DRAFT (0 to 100 points): Future draft picks; draft positioning.
In the previous edition of their Future Power Rankings, Hollinger and Ford ranked the Wizards 29th. Here are some highlights of that piece, in partial quote form: 1) “league’s worst roster;” 2) “a questionable knee, a massive contract and a frayed relationship with the team and the public;” 3) “bumbling GM Ernie Grunfeld, who at this point must be wondering what he has to do to get fired.” Things were pretty bleak in March, and the rankings reflected the team’s rapid decline.
Wizards’ Power Rating points and league ranking, as of March 2, 2010:
- Players – 30 pts (30th)
- Management – 40 pts (28th)
- Money – 132 pts (7th)
- Market – 46 pts (17th)
- Draft – 74 pts (6th)
However, when all hope seemed lost, the basketball gods utilized their infinite grace and bestowed upon Washington the first pick in the draft (and thus ensuring a few more years of GRUNFELD). Let’s see how the rankings have changed since March, approximately a month and a half before the end of the regular season.
Wizards’ Power Rating points and league ranking, as of August 3, 2010:
- Players – 152 pts (23rd)
- Management – 59 pts (22nd)
- Money – 119 pts (9th)
- Market – 48 pts (15th)
- Draft – 74 pts (7th)
The two biggest improvements came in the Players and Management rankings. Obviously, the drafting of John Wall was huge — the Wizards now have an actual point guard, someone who can be a Creator/Handler/Scorer rather than just a Handler/Scorer a la Gilbert Arenas. Speaking of Arenas, Hollinger and Ford seem bearish on the prospect of Agent Zero remaining with the team through next season, as the latest Future Power Rankings refer only to Gil’s ”toxic” contract clogging Washington’s salary cap rather than any talk about his future on-court production.
An interesting change-of-tune comes from Hollinger and Ford’s treatment of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, and Nick Young. Prior to the season, Hollinger and Ford listed Blatche, Young Young, and McGee as the Wizards’ “promising young players” who had not yet “gone beyond showing flashes.” In December, Hollinger and Ford asserted that Young and McGee “still have no clue how to play.” Now, in August, Hollinger and Ford refer to Blatche and McGee as “two decent frontcourt pieces” that should make the Wizards “reasonably competitive in our three year window.” What a difference reliable playing time makes — I will forever love Antawn Jamison (the consummate professional) and Brendan Haywood (the only guy who played defense), but dealing them probably should have happened much sooner, when their value was higher.
Nick Young is conspicuously unmentioned in the latest Future Power Rankings. Because of the team’s new personnel, and aside from his solitary good performance in Summer League, Young has faded into the background. In the next few years, the Wizards will have to decide who gets the privilege of “growing” with John Wall in the backcourt; whether that person is Young remains to be seen. If he still can’t put it together after playing with Wall, then I would certainly hope that the team addresses the need for a shooting-guard-of-the-future in an upcoming draft. Note: this assumes that Grunfeld’s draft-night dartboard contains options other than “Obscure big man” and “Trade pick away for turkey sandwich.”
The modest improvement in the Wizards’ management ranking is purely because of new team owner Ted Leonsis. Here’s what Hollinger and Ford wrote about management in the latest Future Power Rankings:
The change in ownership to Ted Leonsis promises to usher in a more reasoned approach (if his stewardship of the Capitals is any sign) after the team largely flew by the seat of its pants under Abe Pollin.
Before the season, management was ranked 21st, despite Hollinger and Ford criticizing Grunfeld for overpaying Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas. In December, as the team was tanking, management was ranked 23rd. At this point, Hollinger and Ford referred to the front office as the “flailing Ernie Grunfeld regime.” By March, after Ted Leonsis was in and Butler/Jamison/Haywood were out, management was ranked 28th, and Grunfeld’s job security was being openly questioned. The most interesting part of all of this: Grunfeld isn’t mentioned in the latest Future Power Rankings, despite management being ranked 22nd.
This is a good thing. What Hollinger and Ford described as the team “flying by the seat of its pants” under Abe Pollin is the reckless, win-now mentality adopted by Grunfeld (and accurately described by Mike Prada of BulletsForever here) during the Arenas/Butler/Jamison years. It seems axiomatic that in any sport, GMs are often subject to the whims of the team owner. Per Prada’s piece, the relationship between Grunfeld and Pollin was no different. As such, Grunfeld cannot be wholly blamed for the debacle that was the past two seasons — he was simply adhering to Abe Pollin’s wishes to try and “win now” rather than begin a lengthy rebuilding process. However, it is a bit disconcerting that the organization actually thought Randy Foye and Mike Miller were going to put an aging, .500 nucleus over the top and into championship contention last season.
The silver lining is that it’s clear the Wizards can go in only one direction — rebuilding around John Wall — and the team now has an owner (and hopefully, a GM) committed to the Process. Managerial focus and stability is not something to be taken lightly; one need only look at the teams ranked behind the Wizards in the Future Power Rankings to see what an uncertain managerial situation can do to a franchise.
The Golden State Warriors are a prime example of how management-in-flux can adversely affect a team. This is truly a franchise without any direction. Because of his mismanagement and indecisiveness, GM Larry Riley has yet to duplicate the team’s 2007 playoff berth. Probably because of Riley’s incompetence, owner Chris Cohan is selling the team. Every year, it seems like Monta Ellis is on the trading block, and every year, Ellis remains with the team. Rebuilding around Stephen Curry seems like the logical step for Riley, but that’s difficult when you overpay the Knicks for David Lee. Don Nelson also needs to go, as his penchant for playing veterans rather than developing young talent is hurting the franchise. The result of all this uncertainty? Mediocrity.
Memphis and Philadelphia are other examples of awful management. Hollinger and Ford assert that Grizzlies’ owner Michael Heisley is calling the shots over GM Chris Wallace, with “disastrous consequences.” In Philly, GM Ed Stefanski has made a plethora of moves in recent years (signing Elton Brand and Andres Nocioni, letting Andre Miller walk, trading Samuel Dalembert, hiring Eddie Jordan, firing Eddie Jordan, hiring Doug Collins, etc). Stefanski did all of this when he should have been building around the team’s young players, i.e. Holiday, Speights, Thaddeus Young, and now, Evan Turner. Because of this confusing array of moves, Hollinger and Ford write that “GM Ed Stefanski’s plan for the team is still a mystery.”
The Suns are my last example. Here is a team that went to the Western Conference Finals last season, yet Phoenix is ranked 27th in the Future Power Rankings. Why? Because after team president/GM Steve Kerr resigned, owner Robert Sarver took over the front office’s operations. Hollinger and Ford chronicle the effects of Sarver’s offseason warpath:
First he [Sarver] lost Amare Stoudemire in free agency, and then he took on Hedo Turkoglu’s huge contract while also overpaying Josh Childress (who plays the same position as Turkoglu), Channing Frye and Hakim Warrick. Sarver eventually brought on respected player agent Lon Babby as the team’s new president, but at that point, most of the damage had been done.
In short, the Wizards are in an enviable position. Owner Ted Leonsis has a plan to build through the draft and sign veterans to fill any roster gaps. GM Ernie Grunfeld is no longer under pressure to win a championship each season. And finally, regardless of what the preseason pundits think, the Wizards may have a playoff-caliber roster this season. Defense is going to remain an issue, but on paper, the front line of Wall-Arenas-Howard-Blatche-McGee (with Hinrich, Young, Thornton, and Yi coming off the bench) looks reasonably formidable. The only problem? The East looks a lot stronger than it did last season. I can’t explain why, but I think the new-look Wizards are up to the challenge.
Arish Narayen grew up in Ellicott City, Maryland, is currently a student at the University of Maryland Law School in Baltimore, and has been an avid Baltimore/Maryland sports fan for as long as he can remember. He first became enamored with the Wizards after watching Gilbert Arenas take Game 5 from the Chicago Bulls in ridiculous, fadeaway fashion.