Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ten Burning Questions for the Wizards in 2009-10

April 4th, 2007.

That was the date when Agent-0 injured his knee in a first-quarter collision with Gerald Wallace. With that knee went the Wizards chances of being anything more than 1st round cannon fodder for the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.

2 years, 6 months, 3 weeks, 2 days.

Ever since that fateful night, the Wizards have been stuck in mediocorty. You can do worse than a core of Tough Juice and Antwan Jamison, but they alone will never be enough to take a team further than the 1st round of the playoffs. If a team isn't gunning for a title or rebuilding, then what exactly is there to pique our interest? We needed Gil, and we still need him.

This is not just any season opener for the Wizards, this is a return to relevance. I would not say that I feel excitement as much as relief that Agent Zero, and the Wizards, are back.

With opening tipoff about 24 hours away in Dallas, here are the 10 burning questions for the Wizards this season.

10) Will Gilbert Arenas return to his All-Star form?

The answer is looking like "yes". By all accounts, the knee is back to what it was and the bigger issue is looking like rust and adapting to a new role. I hate to put a lot of stock in the preseason, and a knee injury for a guy whose game revolves around quickness is particularly concerning, but it looks like we still have a superstar on our hands. Maybe the better question now is whether Gil will be able to become a more valuable player and carry this team beyond the first round of the playoffs, which is something he could not do before the injuries. As much I'd like to talk about X-factors and other improvements, this team will only go as far as Agent Zero will take it.

9) Can Gilbert Arenas change his ways and be a leader in more than name?

We may never learn the answer to this question. Stopping his blog and avoiding the media look like steps in the right direction, but what he does behind the scenes will be what matters. I would like to say that Gil should be himself while taking a leadership role, but look at the best leaders around the league: Lebron, Garnett, Kobe, Duncan, and D-Wade, all of those guys have achieved a level of maturity that Agent Zero has not. Lebron looks like he was at the same point last year as Gil is this year. Lebron still has a playful side, but clearly made the decision to be the leader of that team, which comes with being the dominant player on a team.

8) Can Flip Saunders get this team to play defense?

This Wizards group will likely always be offense first, but tightening-up the defense could be the difference between another first-round playoff exit, and having some hope of going deep in the playoffs. Arenas, Jamison, and Butler are great offensive talents who have never been great defenders, so Saunders is fighting an uphill battle and surely realizes that this group is best suited to playing a fast-paced system. I realize that if Rip Hamilton became an okay defender in Detroit, then there is hope for everyone, but that was while surrounded by great defenders on a slow-paced team. The Wizards have one guy and one guy only who is a great NBA defender: Brendan Haywood. You want to know the difference between winning 19 games last year and 43 in 07-08? Brendan Haywood. He has quietly been one of the better defensive players in the NBA for awhile, and partly covered for the deficiencies of the big name players on this team. With Deshawn Stevenson losing playing time, Saunders' job will begin with Arenas, Butler, and Jamison, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the starting SG spot eventually be determined by Mike Miller, Randy Foye, or Young Sushi becoming a good defensive player.

7) Can Caron Butler fit-in with Arenas after being the alpha-dog for 2 years?

Gil is making every effort to be more of a pure PG by passing more often, which should help him integrate back into the team, but who knows what will happen once the regular season starts and the competitive juices get going. Would it shock anyone to see Gil go back to being a shoot-first guy once he feels confident in his knee? Meanwhile, Butler will have to take a slight step back to a co-starring role regardless of what Arenas does. Tough Juice was better when the offense ran through him, so his effectiveness may be diminished. The awesomeness of his nickname, however, remains intact.

6) Are Mike Miller and Randy Foye what the Wizards really need?

(Image courtesy of reclinergm.com)
I posted about this when the trade happened, but clearly these two improve the Wizards. The question is how much do they improve the Wizards, and is that improvement worth the price we paid? The issue for me is that this trade moved the Wizards upside from 2nd round of the playoffs to.....the Eastern Conference finals? With the Big Three signed to big deals, rebuilding would have been difficult to achieve, but if you are going for a championship, swing for the fences, don't settle for hitting a double. Vince Carter was had for a similar/lesser package, and T-Mac would have been available for less. Do either of those guys make me excited? No, but at least the upside of the team with another all-star would have given us some kind of hope to win a championship. I just think this move wasn't enough.

5) Who will be the odd men out in Saunders' rotation?

The starting lineup will likely be Arenas, Miller, Butler, Jamison, and Haywood. After that, it gets very foggy. Saunders is known for using an 8-man rotation, but given the depth of this team, I would not put money on 8 being a magic number. The preseason didn't provide much in the way of clues, as the starters rotated every game. In the front-court, Blatche, McGee, and Oberto appear to be fighting for two spots. In the back-court, Foye, Young Sushi, and Deshawn Stevenson look to be fighting for two spots. Right now it looks like Blatche, Oberto, Foye, and Stevenson will all be in the rotation.

4) Will the Wizards make another big trade?

Let's see, lots of depth, established players likely to be underutilized in a short rotation, young players, one veteran with an expiring contract, obvious holes in the front court and at SG............this sounds like a team in need of a trade. Except, we just made one, so what gives? The big trade brought depth to our deepest position, which begs the question of whether this was the first of more than one trade. The team sorely lacks front-court grit and still lacks the upside to compete with the Celtics, Cavs, and Magic, so should be looking to make a move. If we could somehow package Foye, Miller, and something else into a star SG, then this trade would make a lot more sense. Grunfeld's history shows that he is great at turning around teams, but not great at getting them to make the final step to championship contender. I can assure everyone that I will be mercilessly pounding the refresh key on hoopshype rumors, hoping that a big move is coming.

3) Can the team stay injury-free this season?

(Image courtesy of washingtonpost.com)

That picture is definitely worth 1,000 words, and with Jamison already out for 10 games or more, the answer already appears to be "no". The team is the deepest it has been in recent memory, but the four guys who have to stay healthy are Agent Zero, Tough Juice, Jamison, and Haywood. Everyone else is relatively replaceable, but those four need to stay on the floor, something they have never accomplished for a full season. If Jamison missing 10-15 games is the worst of our injuries, then we will be in for a great season.

2) Will any of the team's young players step-up?

The Wizards have spent the offseason adding veterans to compete immediately, but this has come at the expense of developing our young players. Some of the honus is on the players, but the biggest problem this year will be playing time. Fortunately for Javale McGee and Andray Blatche, almost all of the offseason additions were in the backcourt, so those two are guaranteed at least some playing time in the rotation. McGee, however, does not appear to be a favorite of Saunders, and may only be a bit player this season. Javaris Crittenton and Dominic McGuire are not in the rotation right now either. The one guy who has made a leap forward and claimed some playing time is DCLS friend and favorite, Young Sushi. Coming into the offseason, it looked like he had zero chance to beat-out either Foye or Stevenson to earn almost any PT. Well, Young Sushi became a different player this offseason and in addition to making us look smart and outgrowing his new nickname, has forced Saunders to include him in the rotation. In the meantime, regardless of how much they play, enjoy the personalities of Epic Vale and Young Sushi, who have together taken the mantle of best personality from Agent Zero.

1) What is the ceiling for this team?

I've said it already, but the ceiling for this team currently looks like the 2nd round of the playoffs. I think the Magic will win our division, which leaves us battling for the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. With the Cavs, Celtics, and Magic looking head and shoulders above the rest of the conference, getting the 5th seed or better is crucial if the Wiz are to have a chance of getting out of the 1st round. Chicago, Philly, and Atlanta will compete with us, but I think we can get a top-5 seed. Vegas has our over/under at 41.5 wins, and as the 8th most likely team to win the East, both of which indicate the Wiz are being underrated. I believe we will eclipse those projections with 45 wins earning us the 5th seed in the East, but getting beyond the 2nd round would likely require an injury to Lebron, Dwight Howard, or one of the key Celtics, while we stay healthy. This Wizard team may well be the best we've had in awhile, the problem is that the competition is also the best it's been.

Despite these competitive hurdles, the Wizards are back both literally and figuratively, and not a moment too soon.


  1. Excellent preview, but here's the most important question: will they EVER AGAIN be known as the bullets? Please?

    Fine, I'll compromise. Keep the Wizards. But get rid of those god awful uniforms. There's a general rule in sports: the more teal/aqua/turquoise you are, the less championships you win. The Redskins happen to have enough Seahawks in the organization to compensate if the Wizards switch.

  2. Marlins: plenty of teal, 2 world series championships in 15 years.




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