By Vincent Thomas, for NBA.com
Posted Aug 5 2009 10:28AM
The NBA just released the schedule for the upcoming season and you know what game caught my attention? Not the Shaq-Kobe-LeBron hook up on Christmas, but Dec. 14, when the Wizards head to L.A. to play the Clippers.
Only Sacramento had a worse record than the 19-win Wiz and Clips last season, but the Kings were supposed to be awful, with that basically D-League roster they trotted out every night. Washington and L.A. were supposed to be better than that. Yeah, both teams faced serious health issues all season -- Wiz starters Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood played a combined eight games, and the Clips rarely had their team at full strength -- and four of the Clips' top six players were new to the squad. But 19 wins was just deplorable.
I see change on the horizon, though. When both squads meet up in mid-December we might be watching two teams on their way to 50 wins.
Check these seven-man rotations. The Clips can come with two physical guards (Baron Davis and Eric Gordon), three bigs (veterans Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman and top pick Blake Griffin), with Ricky Davis and Al Thorton on the wings. Even in the stacked West, that's a tough squad. The Wiz will play three All-Stars (Gil, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison), a stopper (Deshawn Stevenson), one of the better young combo guards in the league (Randy Foye), a long-range bomber (Mike Miller), a rising scorer (Nick Young) and a center (Haywood) that can average close to a double-double. Both rosters are among the league's 16 best -- period. That means what? Playoffs. Yeah, I said it.
Everyone should be scared about a motivated Davis. Last season was a humiliating homecoming. I wrote a SLAM magazine feature on him before the beginning of last season's nightmare. Although the Elton Brand-to-Philly flip-flop was still stinging a bit, our conversations were full of optimism. He was intent on putting the Clips on the map.
Then the season happened. Nobody was more embarrassed than Davis. He's out to right wrongs now, and that means trouble for the league's point guards. Some folks may have forgotten that, when healthy, Davis is a top 15 player.
Then there's Gordon, fresh off Vegas runs at the Team USA mini-camp and owner of one of the prettiest jumpers in recent memory. Gordon is one of those dudes that can get off his shot on anyone, at any time. And the cat isn't even of drinking age yet. When you have two potential 20-point scorers in your backcourt and back that up with two big men that compliment each other (Camby's the defender, Kaman's the scorer -- both hit the boards hard), then you can see why I don't even have to add Griffin to the equation. Griffin could be a bust and this team would still be battling with Phoenix, New Orleans, Utah and the other squads that will beef for the last few spots in the West.
Meanwhile, back East, we're about to get reaquainted with one of the most unique talents and personalities of the decade. Who misses Agent Zero? I do. From 2004-08, Arenas was right up there with Kobe, D-Wade and 'Melo as a scorer. He averaged 26, then 28 and then 29 ppg. A torn MCL has derailed him the past two seasons, but the talk is that he's back to his old self. And he may not be the best player on his team.
Butler (aka Holy Caron, bka Tough Juice) is one of the most underrated players in the league. He can score every way, hit up a squad for 40 and shut down his opponent while he's at it. Between him and Stevenson, Washington has swag to spare.
Washington, on paper, is kinda frightening. I spoke with one Eastern conference exec a few days after the Wizards pulled off the Minny trade for Foye and Miller and he said plainly, "If those guys can stay healthy, that's an elite team." I didn't disagree.
If you're looking for a squad that can surprise everyone -- a la last season's Orlando -- check for these two squads. Their '08-09 campaigns were forgettable. Next season should be one to remember.
Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. His "From The Floor" column appears weekly on NBA.com. Vince invites you to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/VinceCAThomas.
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