October 26, 2009
Once again back is the incredible ... Ball Don't Lie's NBA previews, outlining offseason moves, projecting win totals, spinning tracks and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. Today, the Washington Wizards.
2008-09 Record: 19-63, fifth place in Southeast Division
Head Coach/Facial Hair: Flip Saunders/None
Key Additions: Mike Miller(notes), Fabricio Oberto(notes), Randy Foye(notes)
Key Losses: Darius Songaila(notes), Etan Thomas(notes), Oleksiy Pecherov(notes)
Faced with another possible rebuilding situation with a franchise that's had a history loaded with possible rebuilding situations, the Wiz decided to order themselves a big slice of Let's Do This Right Now during the offseason. Instead of blowing the core up, they augmented it and are hoping for the best. And I don't think they could have done it any other way.
No, this isn't a championship team. On paper and in a best case scenario, Washington is still a full step behind Orlando, Boston and Cleveland — to say nothing of the crews from out West. And that's with Gilbert Arenas(notes), who has played just 15 games in two years with Washington, back at full strength. The team tried real, real hard — it's paying the luxury tax and it's obviously hoping to win now — and yet the ceiling doesn't really allow for Finals potential.
That said, when you blow things up, you need help. You need trading partners, and as much as someone like Antawn Jamison(notes) or even Arenas could help a team that's close to the ring, few teams are going to be willing to take on the contracts of someone like Jamison or Arenas in exchange for expiring deals and/or prospects.
This isn't the NFL, where you can just cut the players outright. And it's not Major League Baseball, where you can just dump your highest-paid player on a team playing in a city much larger than yours for a Double-A All-Star. In the NBA, you have to find someone willing to match at least the first year of Arenas' ($16.1 million) five-year deal, or Jamison's ($11.6 million) three-year contract.
So, with no other team aiding and abetting in your attempt to turn around, you might as well stay the course, and upgrade the motor.
In comes Flip Saunders, a guy who's done wonders in the past offensively with teams and a guy who can work a sound zone defense when the talent is willing.
Out goes some dead weight, alongside 2009's lottery selection, and in comes Randy Foye and Mike Miller. Perimeter depth that will help Washington push 105 points most nights.
And returning for one more go-round is the team's core of young helpers. JaVale McGee(notes) and Andray Blatche(notes) provide solid production for their respective ages, Dominic McGuire's(notes) pretty bad and Nick Young's(notes) pretty single-minded (dude likes to chuck), but they can help. Young, cheap help.
The core is the key, obviously. Arenas has to be at full strength for this team to succeed. He has to return to drawing fouls, he has to shoot his team into games and he has to be able to stay on the court for significant stretches. Yes, Foye and Miller can help in that backcourt, but Arenas has to be the man here.
When he returns from a shoulder injury, Jamison has to be nearly the same as he was last season, a pretty tall task for someone that turned 33 over this offseason. Sound scoring output, good rebounding, few turnovers, high efficiency, passable defense. They'll take four out of the five.
Saunders can really coach. His offense doesn't get to the line much, but he could have the Wizards way, way up there in terms of offensive efficiency in 2009-10, even if they replace Jamison with an offensive zero in Fabricio Oberto to start the season. The defense will be a problem. There's no getting around that, no matter how well the zone collapses.
Even with all the potential peril, the Wiz can safely assume playoffs. The upside is higher than the win total I'm crediting them with. The Wizards might have 50 wins in them if their health returns and everything clicks, and with nearly $24 million in expiring contracts to trade with this February (Miller, Mike James(notes), Brendan Haywood(notes) and Oberto), the team might not be finished with the tinkering.
Can Washington's shoot-first ways help double last season's win total?
The unanswered, more critical question is, will Gilbert Arenas be the same guy who was dropping 30 in his sleep a few years ago? Even Agent Zero can't answer that, so we're moving on.
As an overwhelming offensive team — and middling defensively — the Wizards could roar back to the payoffs, winning plenty of game by 112-108 score. Flip Saunders' teams never run much, but they out up big numbers. Unless a wave of selfish plays takes over, Washington can return to the playoffs, if healthy.
And given the Wizards' hunger following two frustrating seasons, they won't be lacking motivation.
• Bullets Forever: "Why isn't Gilbert Arenas talking to the media? Isn't this a problem? Two reasons. One, he wants to be a little more serious about his game, and maybe he feels talking is a distraction. Two, he feels like they took advantage of his crazy personality to write unfair things about him. His logic is, if he doesn't talk, nobody will be able to twist his words. Does it make sense? No, not really. Most of the league finds a way to talk without getting their words spun out of control. But that's just Gilbert. He always has to position himself on one extreme or the other. Does this all matter? No, not in the slightest. All that matters is his health." [more]
• Hoops Addict: "[One] weakness is the lack of frontcourt depth, and this is an issue that has also plagued the Wizards since the 'Curse of Lez Boulez.' When Haywood is healthy, he is a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor. But if he gets in foul trouble, of if he misses part of the season as he did last year, the Wizards are in trouble. McGee, for all his dazzling dunks and big blocks, still is a work in progress, and consistency is an issue. Oberto was mainly brought in for defense and rebounding, and he hasn't averaged more than five points in his four years in the NBA. And Andray Blatche, as talented as he is, is mainly a perimeter player who makes cameo appearances in the paint, and can be easily overwhelmed by Eastern Conference big men such as Dwight Howard(notes), Shaq and even Kendrick Perkins(notes). If the Wizards outside shots are not falling, there really aren't a whole lot of consistent inside options." [more]
• Truth About It: "Is it possible Gilbert Arenas comes back a better, more complete player than before? Is it possible Caron Butler solidifies himself as an All-Star, proving to be more than a second fiddle? Is it possible Antawn Jamison maintains his workman-like consistency? Is it possible Brendan Haywood shows the world he's a top ten NBA center? Is it possible a deep and diverse supporting cast comes together under the leadership of Flip Saunders? Whether you think all of these improbabilities can magically come together with a dash of wizardry is possible or not doesn't matter. It only matters that those in the locker room believe." [more]
Jay-Z feat. Drake, "Off That" (Dirty)
Two whole seasons have passed since we really took the Wizards seriously. Then every player ever associated with the Wizards got hurt at the same time. Even Rex Chapman's spandex couldn't keep him from pulling a hamstring. It was a disaster. Now that almost everybody is "healthy" (sorry Antawn Jamison) we're more than willing to cut them a little slack and openly ponder the fact that they could be the fourth-best team in the East. But you have to wonder, did the Wizards miss their shot?
— Trey Kerby, The Blowtorch
Fantasy owners can only be cautiously optimistic when it comes to the Wizards. Gilbert Arenas finally looks healthy after totaling 15 games over the past few seasons, but he's clearly no guarantee and he's not exactly coming at a bargain in Round 2. It's not a bad gamble on a 27-year-old that posted a number of top-10 fantasy seasons before his knee issues — you need him to stay healthy and not make good on his promise to shoot fewer threes this coming season. Caron Butler has missed an average of 19 games over the past three seasons, and H2H owners can attest to the fact that his inactive streaks seem to come toward the end of the season. His per-game numbers are typically superb, however, so he's tough to pass on in the third. Antawn Jamison is the last member of what has become Washington's "big three." He typically has avoided major injury, but a partial shoulder dislocation will keep him sidelined for the next month or so (15ish games). He's a calculated risk in the fourth round and something of a reach earlier.
Andray Blatche could provide some boards and blocks while Jamison is sidelined, but he's struggled to show consistency in previous opportunities. That said, he's worth the late-round pick to see if he can pull it together this go-around. Mike Miller and Randy Foye figure to play roughly the same minutes, regardless of who is starting and who is a reserve, and both are reasonable late-round options for guard stats. Don't forget about Brendan Haywood in the latter stages of your draft - he appeared in just six games last season but is healthy and should be good for a consistent 10/7/1.5 at a rock-bottom price.
Sign up now for Fantasy Basketball '09.
DrOz: Drink more milk. #Wizards #health #NBA #Oprah #Stedman
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