Posted Sep 25 2010 11:27PM - Updated Oct 1 2010 2:37PM
Given what they just endured, what the Wizards really needed in the offseason was someone to open the window.
Yes, it was getting stuffy in there. A nice summer breeze of fresh air was definitely in order. Besides the atmosphere, the philosophy needed changing as well. In that sense, the offseason actually began back at the February trade deadline, when the front office abruptly downshifted and made a sharp left turn, and (no) thank you very much for that, Gilbert Arenas.
In a very warped sort of way, Arenas set the Wizards off on a new and perhaps improved path when he brought his guns to the arena and broke the law. Of course, nobody knew that at the time. At that point, the Wizards were hoping to reach the playoffs in what was a comeback year for Arenas from injury. Had the quirky guard kept his toys at home, the Wizards never would've cleaned house, never would've had the chance to get John Wall.
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You know the sequence by now: Arenas gets suspended and brought up on charges. The Wizards take the opportunity to bail, pawning most of their veteran players. They drop in the standings faster than LeBron James' Q-rating. Then in the Draft lottery, they snare the first overall pick. And we're not sure about this, but Mrs. Pollin, who was charmingly astonished while watching the lottery unfold, might still be in a state of shock at this very moment.
"We got lucky, and that was nice," general manager Ernie Grunfeld said. "We got a dynamic young point guard who's a real team player."
There are few shortcuts to prosperity in the NBA, but the surest way to build a winner is by grabbing a franchise player in the draft. And perhaps the Wizards did just that. Wall is the guy who opened the window. He's bringing terrific qualifications to the job. Not only does Wall have skills, he dazzles. He's the type of player who can fill the seats, which is exactly the type of PR cleansing the Wizards needed.
But it really doesn't stop with Wall. During the post-gunplay stretch of last season, after the Wizards dumped Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler (essentially, four-fifths of the starting lineup vaporized when you include Arenas), playing time opened up. Youngsters filled in. And a new dawn began.
"That group we had got stale and played selfish basketball, so we made the decision to break it up and start over," Grunfeld said. "That group had been together too long."
Therefore, the Arenas incident had a silver lining. The Wizards saw center JaVale McGee take his NBA baby steps and work through his mistakes. Still somewhat naïve in the basketball sense with a body that could use a few second helpings at dinnertime, McGee needed a good summer, which he delivered. He was impressive during summer league play and drew an invite to the USA Basketball tryouts. Obviously, the organization is hyper about him.
"People are noticing him, which is good," Grunfeld said. "He's improved his body, added several pounds, and his fundamentals. He needs to work on the little things to become a more complete player and a consistent player over 82 games, but we're confident he can do that."
The real revelation after the breakup of the Wizards was Andray Blatche, a 6-foot-11 post player who was one of the more productive players in the league during the final few months of 2009-10. Blatche turned into a double-double machine almost without warning, getting 12 in the final 32 games when he averaged 22 points (on 48 percent shooting), 8.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 blocks. Blatche has a different skill set than most big men, because he can score off the dribble, isn't afraid to take the mid-range shot and is an alert passer and defender.
There are two issues with Blatche, one short term, the other long term. He broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot in June and needed surgery to have a screw inserted and will be held back somewhat during camp. Then there's the subject of his maturity, which flared when he had a spat with coach Flip Saunders and was benched in a loss to Indiana. Regardless, Blatche might be primed for a major breakout over 82 games and can only become a better player with Wall on the floor.
Oh, and Arenas, too.
"Gilbert is excited," reports Grunfeld. "What happened last year is behind us. Nobody was happy with it. But he worked out with (trainer) Tim Grover in Chicago and then came to town to run drills with Wall. He's looked very good."
Who knew this was coming? The Wizards remade themselves almost on the fly, and then the centerpiece of their rebuilding project arrived in the draft. Ask the Wizards how their summer went, and they'll point to the open window and say it went easily. And breezily.
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