Undecided and undetermined, the Washington Wizards remain as they enter the final week of the preseason. They’ll play the world champion Miami Heat in Kansas City on Wednesday and the San Antonio Spurs on their court in south Texas on Friday before opening the season in Cleveland next Tuesday, October 30. Up until and through that date, one thing is certain with Randy Wittman’s team: competition.
“Intensity level this year has been a huge difference, both in games and in practice,” said the coach after practice on Monday, thinking about his environment a year after the fact. “That’s probably the biggest difference, we’ve got guys competing at just about every position, and that’s with guys out.” Wittman then ran down the list of those who have missed extended time this preseason.
On Monday, John Wall and Nene remained sidelined as scheduled. Kevin Seraphin sat out, working on basketball handling drills on the sideline while all other teammates played five-on-five basketball toward the end of practice. A blue team of A.J. Price, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker, and Emeka Okafor (the same five who took the court to begin last Saturday in Milwaukee) started with the ball against a white team of Shelvin Mack, Steven Gray, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely, and Earl Barron.
Tensions were not overtly high on the court, at least not during the portion of media access toward the end of the late afternoon session, but the stress was. Wittman showed it on his face. He showed it in his slightly disheveled hair. He showed it with the look in his eye when players dared question him on play assignments and positioning. One player, who carried the discussion with his coach a few words too far, was sent to the sideline, exchanged for another willing competitor.
The competition will remain as intense as Wittman is willing to get, while still communicating that he’s on the players’ side. He relishes in the increased competition that has arisen due to injury, absorbing the brunt of player angst about playing time and roster spots, who will start and who will soon be cut. Giving the news can be just as tough as taking it.
Final roster decisions, even though the Wizards are far from the scheduled 11th hour, was an unresolvable debate amongst a few media types before being let into practice. Assuming Steven Gray and Shavlik Randolph are odd men out, the Wizards must cut at least two of the following five players: Jannero Pargo, Cartier Martin, Brian Cook, Earl Barron and Shelvin Mack.
“We got some decision still to make, obviously,” said Wittman. “I’m still going to give these guys opportunity to showcase a little bit,” he continued, indicating dispersed court time and lineups in flux over the final two preseason games.
The real games begin in about a week. Decisions, even about the end of the bench, are important. It all comes back to the competition. Minutes on the Wizards are a money grab, and with so many hands, the competition will extend past trimming the roster down to 15 (or less). Competition just may keep this Wizards team fueled with unseen fire going into the regular season while they try to assemble a fully healthy team.
Trevor Booker was asked about the team identity after practice. Of course he answered defense. Defense was the statement by the Wizards coach from day one. If Wittman’s team is up to compete, it will first be seen defensive end, and that may ultimately determine who’s got pockets deep with minutes. Defensive competition is when the rebuilding project gets serious.