When a key deadline trade goes down between a playoff team needing help and a non-playoff team needing to rebuild, most feel bad for the veteran going to the losing situation — Sasha Vujacic, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Mike Bibby, Maurice “Mo” Evans come to mind from this season. The secondary consideration, partially because he’s going to that losing team, is the young player who would gladly trade riding the bench during a playoff run for a chance to suit up for a team going nowhere. Jordan Crawford got that and more when he went from Atlanta to Washington. He got off to a hot start with a new team that he wouldn’t give up on, even when hindered by a back injury. He got that treasured green light, which is rare, even for a lottery team. But what happens when that green light ends?
Crawford arrived in Washington at February’s trade deadline along with the 18th pick of the 2011 draft and a good veteran influence in Evans. In exchange, the Wizards gave up Kirk Hinrich (owed $8 million next season) and Hilton Armstrong. They also got the unexpected bonus of a money-saving buyout of Mike Bibby, who also came with Crawford and Evans from Atlanta. Because of a knee injury to Nick Young, he suddenly found himself going from the 12th or 13th man on the bench to full-time starter by his seventh game with the Wizards. He ended up starting his final 17 games in Washington, out of 26 total games with the team. The carefree Wizards bunch went a respectable 7-10 in those last 17 games, during which Crawford averaged 20 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists (to 3.1 turnovers), and 1.3 steals. Pretty impressive for the 27th pick of the 2010 draft.
There were times last night when it seemed like the torso and arms of recent Wizards D-League call up Othyus Jeffers formed into a mouth to gobble up missed shots in mid-flight. I imagined the ball clenched by massive teeth, unable to be relinquished, but somehow spit out cleanly to continue play, Wizards possession. I wasn’t hallucinating.
My mind was curious about the perception. How exactly was the unassuming stature of Jeffers — listed at a very generous 6’5” and weighing in at a 200 lbs. that unfairly masks his strength — able to gulp down rebounds so commandingly against the juggernaut Miami Heat?
DVR has made me selfish against real-life action. I wished I was at home watching the Wizards play the Heat on television and not sitting baseline taking photographs. No, I wouldn’t really give up one of the best seats in the house, but that didn’t keep me from wanting to quench instant gratification with a film study in the art of rebounding.
Jeffers finished with 15 points on 6-7 shooting and eight rebounds, both career highs, in 29 minutes off the bench against Miami. The bad guys, or bandwagon drivers, beat the Wizards 123-107, but the game was much more competitive than the score indicates.
For being the root of the furor surrounding the confiscated, yet perhaps less-than-stellar dunk on LeBron James in July 2009, Jordan Crawford is a rather ambiguous player. His hunched-down physique, raspy gargle of a voice and 6’4″, 195 pound stature almost denotes an ‘old man’ impression on his non-demonstrative movement. But when he goes to score, fueled by natural instinct, he is just as spry as you’d expect of a 22-year old NBA rookie, and then some.
But what exactly does he do? Are the Wizards simply working with wild scoring talent that needs to be tamed? That seems to be the more present denominator of Crawford’s game with, perhaps, the assumption that his development as a complete player — certainly including the ability to play defense and perhaps including the ability to fill the role of spot creator — will simply come along for the ride of his seemingly unpredictable nature.
Crawford has shown the promise of relentless defensive intensity, and he’s also shown the ‘oh brother’ of overly aggressive, erratic offense. What he seems to be at this point is naturally unnatural, the current stats on his professional career, in their tiny, unable to be truly analyzed sample size, contributing to his ambiguous nature. He is yet another Wiz Kid to be tossed in the already crowded pool, not to see if swims, but how he swims. Hopefully Crawford and his other young teammates don’t end up climbing and clawing at each other in order to stay afloat. But the mundanely optimistic part about watching a bad team in the midst of rebuilding is that the opportunities will be aplenty.
Maurice “Mo” Evans, who came to the Wizards with Crawford in the Kirk Hinrich trade, has proven to be a veteran’s vet. He’s well-spoken and provides thought-out answers, the good standing of his opinion aided by the fact that he’s one of six vice presidents of the National Basketball Players Association. Evans has been around Crawford for the duration of his 212-minute NBA career (160 over 16 games in Atlanta and 52 minutes over four games in Washington). More importantly, Evans has seen a display of Crawford’s talents and demeanor since training camp and in practices — clearly Evans ranks highly amongst authorities in observational opinion of Crawford’s game. After last Saturday’s game versus the Dallas Mavericks, I asked Evans two key questions about Crawford.
It late in the third quarter against the Dallas Mavericks and Washington made a quick 7-0 run sparked by a John Wall layup, a Kevin Seraphin offensive rebound put-back and a Mo Evans three from the corner. The Wizards cut Dallas’ once comfortable lead to just four points at 76-72 and then got Jason Terry to miss a three with 30 seconds left in the period. But on Washington’s next possession, Wall turned the ball over and the Mavericks went breaking in the other direction with a seemingly easy opportunity. The old Wizards might have just let Shawn Marion get the bucket, spawned by their often seen habit of displaying a willingness to lay down for a superior opponent. Not newcomer Evans though.
Mo Evans has made a name for himself as a tough role player for playoff teams in Sacramento, Detroit, Los Angeles (for the Lakers, obviously), Orlando and Atlanta over the previous two seasons. He played for Wizards coach Flip Saunders on the 2005-06 Pistons team and as an undrafted rookie with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2004-05.
When Ted Leonsis said there would be an increased emphasis on player development in his list of 101 Things (action item No. 29), specifically involving the D-League, Wizards followers gave a collective ‘We’ll believe it when we see it.’ Not so much in doubt of Leonsis’ words, but more so because they’ve been conditioned under the tenure of team president Ernie Grunfeld that development and building for the future was paid more of a whimsical, cursory attention, as the franchise’s number one team builder always seemed instructed to focus on winning in the now.
Not that Grunfeld and his team did not pay attention to the scouting and the draft, but rather, for a myriad excuses one could presumably always find (see: the Wizards’ D-League affiliate, the Wizards, being in Bismarck, North Dakota and/or supplying said team with players to develop wouldn’t best jibe with the intricate offensive system that past coach Eddie Jordan was trying to instruct). Essentially, the D-League has never been worth Grunfeld’s time, warranted or not, aside from sending down the likes of Peter John Ramos or Andray Blatche for a spell in the earlier days (2005-06), and when the affiliate franchise was much closer in Roanoke, Virginia (the Dazzle), or during last season when a franchise in flux was interested in taking a gander at cheap labor while likely appeasing the desires of league higher-ups to use the development league for it’s true intent.
In any case, upon surely leaving out detail on the past unknown team development protocol that will only be known to organization insiders, ideals toward positive future development efforts changed when 2010 draft pick (No. 56 overall) Hamady N’Diaye was assigned to the Dakota Wizards on January 5. But such a path to the basketball enlightenment for the one called “H” almost didn’t happen. Unsigned in the days leading up to training camp, sentiment from the team indicated that they’d rather N’Diaye take his talents overseas for a year or two, something those on the player’s side didn’t seem amicable toward. Rather than lose his rights completely, the Wizards ended up extending a contract tender to N’Diaye and ultimately signed him to the team for training camp and into the season. Now, after a taste of life in the big leagues, just a taste, Hamady works on his very raw skills in the landscape of bus rides and meager per diems.
I caught up with Rashard to ask him about tonight’s matchup with the Raptors. The take away: Both teams have the same game plan. The Raptors play fast and loose with plenty of pick and rolls. According to Lewis, the Wizards will look to do much the same.
Lewis identified forward Andre Bargnani and point guard Jose Calderon as the primary threats on the Raptors, as I’d imagine Toronto is concerned about the Lewis-Wall tandem.
Bargnani is a big key for this team, he’s playing great this year. He’s big, so he creates matchup problems, he can shoot threes– he can post up, he can drive to the basket, sets a lot of pick and rolls with the pick and pop or he can roll to the basket… so it’s a number of different things to look out for. And Calderon is also a good point guard so there’s a number of different things we need to be ready to defend with those two.
As for pace, Rashard supposes the Wizards need to push the ball as much as possible, but it has to come from defense. That is, play fast, but not loose.
It’s a big key tonight. We need to come out and hit them first, set the tone . You know they like to play fast but we like to play fast, as well because John is our point guard, and he’s better when we play fast… I think if we can defend first and hold them to one shot and then kick the ball to John and get out and just run we’ll be better off on offense.
It’s struck me as odd when recently, before being traded to Orlando, Gilbert Arenas deferred to Josh Howard as a more vocal leader on the Wizards than him. Yes, the same Josh Howard whose past record will almost cause more scoffs than Arenas’ … the same Josh Howard who has played all of five games in a Wizards uniform since arriving via trade back in February, compared to Arenas, who appeared in 357 total regular season games with the franchise since being signed to D.C. by Ernie Grunfeld in August of 2003.
After a home game against the New York Knicks on December 10, Arenas was asked about the then forthcoming return of Howard.
“It’s going to help more in the locker room and on the bench because, you know, he has a strong voice. You know, I usually don’t say anything, but he’s more of a vocal person. So when we have those lulls like we did in the third [against the Knicks], he’s going to speak up,” he said.
When I asked Howard about needing to fill the role of vocal leader after the Miami game on Saturday, he said, “It’s different for me. I mean, I haven’t did this in a long time as far as college, and I led by example in Dallas as far as my play on the court. As far as being vocal, I have to remind myself that I can speak.”
Much has been made about Gilbert Arenas eschewing jersey No. 0, and then going from 6 to 9 (very Jimi Hendrix of him). But why? Probably because Arenas’ past nickname, Agent Zero, derived from the number he chose to represent the slight of people saying he’d get zero minutes at the University of Arizona. The chronicles of zero have been well documented since.
Okay, so why No. 9? Well, it was probably time to ask Mr. Arenas himself, so I did.
“Nine means the rebirth … you know it’s the last number before you start something else,” Arenas said. But it sounds better coming from him, so let’s take a look-see:
[Shaun Livingston shows no fear going against the JaVale McGee tree.]
[Livingston ended up missing the tough shot ... but man, he and McGee are some lengthy dudes.]
Along with “no cheering in the press box”, and “no soliciting autographs from the players”, one of the rules of game-attending media says that we aren’t supposed to openly root for players. We are supposed to be as objective as possible so we can freely vacillate between criticism and praise, without worrying about offending our own sensibilities.
Plenty of professional athletes pull pranks. Plenty of regular people pull pranks. Gilbert Arenas didn’t invent the prank, he just was, perhaps, the best at it — the most prolific … because he’s a professional athlete.
Arenas’ varied pranks are infamous, and for a recent spell due to a horribly failed prank with guns that wasn’t really a prank, they became blemishes open for all armchair psychologists to analyze to their core, from a distance.
And then there’s pooping in someone’s shoe, an act that added a somber twist to Arenas’ locker room gun affair and his history of egregiousness excused by a franchise. Or in the least, it was Gilbert’s most memorable prank, which went from the punchline of comical stories among those in the know to something that was used to further indict Arenas’ character.
“Former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan and his staff privately intimated they felt undermined by Grunfeld when it came to matters of discipline with Arenas. Arenas, a notorious practical joker, often crossed the line of acceptable decorum. The example often cited was how Arenas once defecated in teammate Andray Blatche’s shoe during Blatche’s rookie season. His behavior often went unchecked and unpunished, said a former team employee on condition of anonymity.”