Posted Jun 21 2011 8:22AM
What does a team with several promising young players need most? More of the same? Or more immediate help?
Such is the delicious dilemma facing the Wizards, who are more flexible than any Olympic gymnast. They can add to an intriguing nucleus or use the No. 6 pick as bait for a bold move toward a more veteran player. Either way, the Wizards, while not in the same no-lose situation as last summer when they held the No. 1 overall pick, can bolster the roster with the right decision.
They've got John Wall, Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Jordan Crawford, five guys who started shaving yesterday. The oldest is Young at 26, and he's just beginning to tap his potential. They all made their mistakes and grew into their own skin last season, when the Wizards won just 23 games and suffered from the typical young-team issues (defense, finishing games, etc.). Still, give them time and maturity and anything's possible.
The Wizards are well positioned to take advantage of the handful of Euros who will get plucked early in the Draft. All are seasoned big men with skills who only need to be weaned on the NBA game. Because the Wizards are in the initial stages of their development -- meaning, they're not ready to challenge for the East -- they can afford to take a chance on a foreign player and provide a comfortable learning curve for another season or two.
Therefore, Washington wouldn't be a bad place for Jonas Valanciunas, a 6-foot-11 Lithuanian. Or Jan Vesely, a 6-foot-11 Czech, or if he falls, Enes Kanter, who has a nose for the rim.
Or maybe the ideal addition would be Rashard Lewis, seven years younger and many millions cheaper. A solid small forward to eventually replace Lewis, who's on the downside and mainly swallowing up salary cap space at the moment, would also give the Wizards a nudge in the right direction. All five positions would then be manned by players who can only get better.
With three picks in the top 34, Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld is operating from a position of strength in a draft that's largely considered to be thin. He can deal the No. 6 and still have a first rounder, or keep the pick and package a player with the No. 18 pick in a trade. Or simply use all the picks and keep stockpiling young talent, or "assets," and make deals down the road once the new labor contract is set.
Bottom line: this team is clearly going in a different direction than a few years ago, before Gilbert Arenas bought his guns to the locker room. Back then, the Wizards were trying to win now. These days, it's all about developing talent and maintaining a friendly salary cap for the Wizards until they're ready to make a substantial playoff push.
"When we decided to rebuild," Grunfeld said, "we decided to build through the Draft and give ourselves cap flexibility."
Grunfeld pulled off an underrated trade last season when he got younger and more flexible and quite possibly, better. He sent Kirk Hinrich to the Hawks for Crawford, Mike Bibby, the Hawks' first-round pick and Maurice Evans. In order to be released so he could join the Heat, Bibby agreed to a buyout and his $6.2 million salary came off the Wizards' books for next season. Crawford was a late-season revelation for Washington when he averaged nearly 17 points a game the final two months. Evans brought a veteran's presence, and the first-rounder (No. 18) could fetch a keeper Thursday. Not a bad haul for Hinrich, who was unhappy and slated to back up Wall for the foreseeable future.
"Jordan did a nice job for us," Grunfeld said, "and so did Mo. With the pick we got, that gives us two first-rounders this year, and we had four first-rounders on the team last year."
So the young will get younger. But when will they get better? That's where patience comes in. The fans in Washington do seem to gravitate toward a team that can produce some highlights. But, eventually, that will wear thin unless the Wizards learn to play together and reduce the kind of mistakes that lead to tough losses.
It's a process that'll take time. And the Wizards can't afford to make a major mistake through the draft, or else the rebuilding will stretch a few more years.
"We're trying to accumulate assets and the best way to do that is through the draft," Grunfeld said.
So this is an important decision upcoming Thursday, one that can expedite the process if done correctly. Put it like this: If Wall is the second-best player on the team in a few years, the Wizards are on their way.
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