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2009-10 Recap

Admitting the problem is the first step to solving it. In that sense, the Wizards finally made some progress in 2009-10. After a half-decade of clinging to the fantasy that they were an Eastern Conference contender, a slow start and a gun-related suspension for Gilbert Arenas finally slapped some sense into the organization. Belatedly, the rebuilding has begun.

Not, however, before the Wizards first showed enough hubris to jump into the luxury tax with a 19-win team. Washington ditched the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft to take on salary and get its mitts on the mighty combo of Randy Foye and Mike Miller, both of whom are already gone. New coach Flip Saunders quickly became disillusioned by the toxic combination of jaded me-first veterans and clueless kids he'd been asked to coach, complaining early and often about the avalanche of bad shots from his troops. That was happening even before Arenas' antics ended any hopes of a playoff berth -- let alone the ridiculous idea of contending for an NBA title.


W-L: 26-56 (Pythagorean W-L: 25-57)

Offensive Efficiency: 101.4 (25th)

Defensive Efficiency: 106.7 (18th)

Pace Factor: 94.1 (19th)

Highest PER: Gilbert Arenas (18.76)

Fortunately, the Wizards have been given a bit of a reprieve. Winning the lottery and earning the rights to John Wall should make the rebuilding a less painful process than it might have been. Washington also took quick action to dump payroll once last season went off the rails by dealing Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood before the trade deadline.

The only toxic contract remaining is that of Arenas, who still has four years left on a ridiculous six-year, $111 million deal. (Amusing side note: Articles at the time stated, without a hint of irony, that Arenas accepted less money than he could have in order to help the Wizards.) His contract is so unpalatable that it appears the Wizards are stuck with him.

Overall, Washington has hit the restart button fairly successfully. New owner Ted Leonsis purchased the team from the family of Abe Pollin and appears to be taking a much more realistic approach to building it. The Wizards stayed out of the free-agent market despite having cap space, notably eschewing the quick-fix mentality the team employed the previous few seasons. The only eyebrow-raiser was his decision to retain general manager Ernie Grunfeld, whose serial mistakes got Washington here in the first place.

On the floor, the Wizards were plagued by what might have been the league's worst shot selection. Arenas, Caron Butler, Andray Blatche and late-season pick-up Al Thornton all had penchants for forcing bad ones, resulting in Washington's ranking of 28th in two-point shooting percentage at 47.1 percent. That one stat was brutal enough to drag Washington to 25th in offensive efficiency, even though the Wizards took more shots per possession than the league average. In other words, quantity, not quality, was their calling card.

Speaking of shooting, it's a mystery as to where the Wizards will get the long-range shooting they need to space the floor this season. Washington is likely to start two slashing guards, in Arenas and Wall, but opponents will collapse the floor around them because of their lack of 3-point shooting. Reserve guards Kirk Hinrich (37.9 percent career 3-point shooter) and Nick Young (38.0 percent) are the only two who look threatening from long distance; alas, putting one of them on the floor requires either playing small or removing Arenas or Wall.

Other than Wall, few players on this roster would appear to be in the team's long-term plans. Two exceptions, however, emerged late in the campaign in the frontcourt. Blatche became the team's go-to player down the stretch after taking over as the starting power forward, and while he's not yet qualified for such a role, he did display considerable progress as a scorer. Meanwhile, center JaVale McGee established himself as a shot-blocking force and needs only to round out his mental game to become a defensive star.

Despite the young frontcourt and the injuries, Saunders made the Wizards a halfway-decent defensive team and deserves credit for the achievement. Washington finished 18th in defensive efficiency compared to 29th, 24th and 28th the three previous seasons under Eddie Jordan. In fact, Washington had never finished higher than 19th during Jordan's six-year tenure. Obviously, Saunders challenged this team more at that end than the previous administration had. So despite the ugly win-loss record, it's tough to criticize Saunders' first season in D.C.

Alas, the other usual characteristic of Saunders' teams failed to materialize. His teams in Minnesota and Detroit were high-assist, low-turnover operations. Not so much in D.C., where he had shoot-first point guards in Arenas and Foye. The Wizards amassed the league's sixth-highest turnover ratio but were 29th in percent of assisted baskets, with a feed producing just 51.8 percent of their makes. Most of their offense came in one-on-one isolations for Arenas, Butler or Jamison (before the trades) or Blatche and Thornton (afterward). The addition of Wall will hopefully render this a footnote to future discussions of the Wizards.

Offseason Moves

Grunfeld had a gimme in the draft after the team's lottery win, opting for the no-brainer pick in Wall. While the Wizards had a busy draft day with other trades, it was a fairly quiet offseason in the nation's capital. However, the Wizards remain $5 million under the cap even after using a big chunk of its cap space in the Hinrich deal. They should be able to rent out that cap space at the trade deadline in return for more assets, much as they did to acquire Hinrich.

Drafted John Wall

The electrifying guard from Kentucky will force Arenas to play off the ball, which may be a good thing for everyone. Wall is an off-the-charts athlete but also has some point guard instincts, which he should be able to develop much more in the pro game given his ability to blow by most defenders.

Kirk Hinrich

Traded rights to Vladimir Veremeenko to Chicago for Kirk Hinrich, cash and rights to No. 17 pick; drafted Kevin Seraphin

Washington was essentially paid $3 million and a draft pick to take Hinrich's $9 million salary off the Bulls' salary cap. Actually, the Wizards could have structured the deal to snag $6 million if they'd set it up as two trades rather than one and received the maximum $3 million in each (cash for the pick and Veremeenko for Hinrich), but only Ted Leonsis' wallet will notice any difference.

Hinrich will help because he defends and can play either guard spot, but at $17 million over the next two seasons, he's a very expensive backup -- that's why it's surprising Washington wasn't paid more to take him. Seraphin, meanwhile, is a high-energy power forward from France who needs to improve his skill level.

Traded Nos. 30 and 35 picks to Minnesota for Nos. 22 and 56; drafted Trevor Booker and Hamady N'Diaye

Washington moved down 21 picks in the second round to advance eight up the ladder in the first. What made it a bit unusual was that most draftniks had Booker, the No. 22 pick overall, as an early second-rounder, meaning Washington probably could have stayed put and grabbed him. At No. 56 they took N'Diaye, an offensively limited 6-foot-11 shot-blocker. Although he played at Rutgers last season, N'Diaye is a native of Senegal who is likely to put his French-speaking skills to good use this winter.

Traded Quinton Ross to New Jersey for Yi Jianlian and $3 million

"Yi, Robot" can run, jump and shoot, but his basketball instincts are terrible. The Nets paid the Wizards to take him so it's a no-lose proposition for Washington; if he flames out they can just let him walk after the season, and if he plays well they have his rights as a restricted free agent. He'll likely serve as the backup power forward until Seraphin and Booker are ready.

Let Mike Miller, Randy Foye and James Singleton leave

As further evidence of the new leaf the Wizards are turning over, they resisted the urge to bring back all of their veterans on inflated contracts.

Signed Hilton Armstrong for one year at veteran's minimum

Washington filled out the end of its frontcourt bench with the barely adequate Armstrong. While the price is hard to argue, it's not exactly an inspired move. Armstrong appeared on his way out of the league last season, so unless he had an offseason hand transplant, it's tough to see how his status will change for the better.

Signed Josh Howard for one year, $3 million

A low-cost move, but still a curious one: How will a 30-year-old, rapidly declining player coming off a serious knee injury help with the rebuilding program? In the best-case scenario, in which Howard surprises and plays well, he'll just sign with a better team next season. Either way, it seems like a waste of Washington's time and money that could have been better used signing and developing a younger player.

Gave Andray Blatche three-year, $28 million extension. The Wizards used a neat trick to renegotiate Blatche's deal, giving him a short-term raise on his existing deal (allowable because they're under the cap) and adding three years at reasonable dollars for his production ($7.1 million, $7.7 million and $8.4 million).

The key here is that the Wizards weren't going to be able to extend Blatche the so-called normal way in another year, because his maximum allowable raise on an extension would have been less than his market value. So he would have been an unrestricted free agent in 2012 no matter what, which is a difficult risk to manage. By giving him some of that money in an up-front raise, Washington could lock him up at a decent price for the final three years. (I indicated $28 million as the value of the extension because that's the total additional money, but over the final three years he'll make $23 million.)

Biggest Strength: Perimeter quickness

When Washington wins games this season, it'll likely be because of its perimeter players getting to the rim. While Wall and Arenas have their weaknesses as a guard combo, each is among the league's quickest players at his position. That will stress opponents that lack good perimeter defenders.

Arenas, in particular, should enjoy a quickness advantage against opposing shooting guards and will have to take advantage, because he's going to have some long nights at the defensive end. He can indulge his scoring instincts more and let Wall and Hinrich worry about involving others, which should result in a more fluid offense than we saw a season ago.

Wall, however, is the one who has to make it work by intitiating the offense. It's up to him to probe the paint on pick-and-rolls and making sure the other Wizards see the ball once in a while. In particular, Blatche can't be starved of touches while the guards are doing their thing.

Off the bench, Washington's quickness remains an advantage. Hinrich and Young both move very well for their size, and the Wizards should be able to throw three-guard looks that feature Hinrich, Wall and Arenas in the same backcourt -- forcing an opposing small forward to guard one of Washington's three quick guards.

Biggest Weakness: Basketball IQ

I don't know how to put this gently, but the Wizards lead the league in guys with no idea how to play basketball. Thornton, Yi and McGee are incredibly talented, but each gets about 50 cents on the dollar from their abilities. Young is getting about a dime. Even the veterans have their faults. Blatche would have made this list a season ago and will be back on it if he regresses; Howard's behavior puzzled everyone in his last few seasons in Dallas; and Arenas baffled with his shot selection last season prior to his suspension.

In fact, I'm not sure there's one guy on the roster whom you'd really call a heady player. Hinrich, for as long he sticks around, is probably the closest thing. One hopes Wall makes a strong showing in this department, but that's asking a lot from a 20-year-old rookie.

All this puts a tremendous burden on Saunders to motivate his players to make the most of their abilities. He simplified a lot of the offensive schemes last season, particularly for Thornton, but doing so also makes life easier on the defense. Inevitably, he'll have to raise the team's basketball IQ from its current floor to something closer to the league norm.


Yes, admitting the problem is the first step. But there's a reason they're called 12-step programs. There are no overnight fixes for what ails Washington, although that didn't stop them from trying one a season ago.

This time a more realistic plan is in place, making this a learning campaign for Wall and the rest of the Wiz kids. As such, it shouldn't be measured by wins and losses but rather by the progress of the young guys. While the likes of Arenas, Hinrich and Howard may help them to a few extra wins, ultimately their contribution is material only for what they can reap in a trade down the line. Washington's hopes of becoming a genuine contender -- as opposed to the imaginary one they imitated for the previous half-decade -- lie in getting the likes of Wall, Blatche, McGee, Seraphin and Booker to develop into stars.

Saunders should prove helpful in navigating the road and will create enough structure and accountability that they won't embarrass themselves. But even with Wall's addition, expecting a playoff appearance from this bunch is unrealistic.

Prediction: 30-52, T-4th in Southeast Division, 11th in Eastern Conference

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How have you been coping these last 4 months? :ols:

Ready to get it on. It should be a great season in the Eastern conference. The West? I don't even know why they play games this season.

Who is really going to stop the Lakers from going to the Finals again? It has to be hard for other teams to even sell tickets.

Maybe the Suns with Turk can do something.

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