Refreshing Effort by the Wizards Results in a Win

Tonight’s win increased the Wizards win total to 18.  And while their overall record is still only a less than impressive 18-33, their overall effort was very impressive.  For the first time, in quite some time they actually seem to be interested in playing defense.  Consider that just a few weeks ago, this was a team that was crucified, and rightfully so, for its lack of defensive effort, or maybe more accurately in their lack of interest in putting forth an effort on the defensive side of the court.  (Truthaboutit.net details one example in painful detail.)

In other sports, like the NFL, we glorify the teams that seem to not have the best talent at every position, but manage to routinely find the hungry overachievers that form the nucleus of a successful team.  For example, how many Pro Bowl players do the Patriots and Steelers have each year, compared with other teams, but yet they are two of the most successful teams over this last decade.  Believe me; I am not letting myself get carried away by a couple of games.  I do not think that this team is going to make a miracle run to the playoffs – personally I rather they continue to play with energy and grit, while remaining in the lottery.

While not a perfect effort for 48 minutes, I was impressed with Nick Young diving for balls, players hustling back on defense, Josh Howard’s beer crunching attempt at a lose ball, the Wizards picking up their defense in the backcourt… THE BACKCOURT!  I liked the fact that this new collection of parts – or as a commenter on Bulletsforever put it, “The Replacement Killers” – are hungry!  They have something to prove and early into their tenure with the Wizards are playing like it.  I can’t remember a player on the Bullets/Wizards over the last 15 years playing defense on the other team’s superstar like Al Thornton did.

And on the offensive end of the court they made shots.  But just as importantly, they did not give up on plays and drift back up court, they actually fought for rebounds.  They fought for rebounds even with a CRAZY small lineup on the court – who was their center???  That was the craziest lineup I can remember seeing, but it worked.

An effort like this, win or lose, is great to watch.  However, it also elicits another emotion from me – anger.  It makes you wonder why this team with Gilbert, Antawn, Caron, Brendan and DeShawn couldn’t play with this same type of effort.  What could that team have accomplished if they truly played this hard?  I got used to the other team winning all of the “hustle plays.”  Today, the Wizards won those plays.  For much of this season the Wizards pretended to play defense, today they actually played some particularly when it counted most.  Could you imagine a Wizards team that actually held Carmelo scoreless in the 4th quarter?!?!?

Yes, this was a Nuggets team that just came off an emotional (and likely physically draining) overtime win against King Crab Dribble and the Cavaliers.  But this is also a Nuggets team that is deep and has superior talent.  The Nuggets were mostly playing against a collection of inexperienced young guys and cast-off role players.  I hope the Wizards learned an important lesson today.  If they play with this level of effort and passion, even as presently constructed, they can play with any team in the NBA (at least for the rest of this season).

For one game, I forgot that this was a 17 win team.  It was fun to watch this team go out and compete.  If they continue to play like this, I look forward to watching the rest of their games.

What these players offered tonight the Wizards need moving forward in 2010-2011.  Ernie and the coaching staff need to figure out how many of these guys to keep (and at what price).  But Thornton and Singleton in particular play with an edge that has been lacking in this team for quite some time.

Gilbert, I hope you were at home watching this effort tonight.

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Wizards Trade Reaction

I have been watching and reading all of the coverage concerning the Wizards recent changes and decided that I would take the time to jot down some of my thoughts. In broad brush-strokes, I am glad that Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards finally decided to make significant changes. Now in hindsight it is easy to suggest that the Wiz could have probably received more in return IF they would have made changes during the summer and/or earlier in this season (before the wheels fell off). However, I do understand his thinking that with everyone coming back healthy this would be a good year to see if they could recapture what they had a few seasons ago. Sadly, it did not work.

I’ve enjoyed watching Antwan Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood and part of me is sad to see them go. I understand the issue that some have with the trades, that it appears that the Wiz – outside of getting below the luxury tax, significant cap space and prospects (primarily in the form of a couple draft picks, Al Thornton and the rights to a Euro player) – did not get equal value. I understand those feelings, but the Wizards were not in a position of strength and each of those players had a little baggage as well – for example Antwan’s age and the size of his existing contract.

The Wizards won 19 games last season and 17 games this season with the players that were traded (or are not currently playing) primarily leading the way, so the idea that they can not live without any of them is a false argument. And in fact, as many have pointed out, the existence of many of the traded players – and the size of their contracts – prevented the Wizards from adding the talent that they were lacking. This fact finally seems to be clear to Ernie and the Wizards brass.

Assuming Gil Arenas is back with the team next season, the Wizards have the ability to go out and add a significant piece or two in free agency, as well as some young talent with their draft picks. If ultimately the Wizards and Arenas part ways, then Washington will have even more cap space, but then the rebuilding process is likely even longer as it might be more difficult to convince two or more key free agents to come to Washington together.

For the remainder of this season I am looking forward to seeing the “Young Guns” prove that they can play in this league, consistently. One of the mistakes that I thought the team made last year, was not by letting them (in particular JaVale) play heavy minutes. The Wizards now have 31 games to determine what they have in the young guys on this squad.

Arenas takes the season’s first shot… at Haywood

Picture yourself on business travel, sitting in a restaurant having breakfast. You open up the USA Today that was left outside your hotel room door. Flip open to the sports section and begin reading the story about Gil talking about the Wiz’s chances this season and BOOM!!! The first shot is fired across the bow:

“No matter if Etan is the starter or the backup, he’s going to give you the same kind of energy and the same kind of play,” Arenas explained. “Brendan will give you three-four (strong) games (off the bench) because he’s mad, then he’s going to tank it.”

While the content of the quote does not surprise me, the timing does. Maybe this was a way for Gil to remind Wiz management to do everything in their power to get rid of him. And if they are unsuccessful, it could serve as a verbal kick to Brendan’s pants. What also surprised me was that the quote was buried deep in the story, I would have thought that the writer would have lead with the quote. I am also a bit surprised that it has not gotten much play in the local media as well.

Maybe the issue is that Gil only said what we all knew. We can see Brendan quit on his team nearly every year. For someone who is as consistently inconsistent as him, he – like a number of athletes – feels as if he is owed some respect, for under performing. I do give Gilbert credit for saying publicly what we all see. Often it is rare for an athlete to call out another athlete. But, there comes a time when you have tried all other methods that you are left with “spanking that ass” publicly. If the Wiz cannot successfully move Haywood, maybe Gil’s comments will serve to light a fire inside Brendan that lasts beyond December 31. Oh, never mind I am talking about Brendan Haywood. Sorry, I forgot.

Wizards finalize trade with Memphis

As you know the trade sending Juan Carlos Navarro to the Grizzlies is final. In return the Wizards get a protected first round pick or worst case scenario a second round pick and cash considerations by 2013, only if they haven’t received a 1st round pick by then. When you look at this trade in a vacuum, it is easy to be a little disappointed. JCN is widely regarded as one of the premiere Euro league players at a time when a number of European players are All-Stars or playing near that level. The assumption that most make is that if he is the best Euro league player, then surely he will be a very talented player in the NBA. And if you subscribe to that line of reasoning, it is easy to understand why you would be disappointed with this trade. You would undoubtedly believe that Ernie Grunfeld gave JCN up for virtually nothing in return.

I don’t believe that is the case. First, we have to consider that every player entering the NBA is unique, a player’s success is based on many factors, not the least of which is the players surrounding him, the coaching style (and whether the player truly matches what the coach likes to do), distractions off the court (positive and negative), work ethic, talent (does your game translate well to the NBA), etc, etc, etc. With that said very few players are guaranteed to be successful in the NBA. So for a moment let’s consider that he is just as, if not more, talented than Tony Parker, there is still a number of other factors that can determine his ultimate success or failure in the league.

When you look at JCN’s stats in the Euro league, you realize that they look surprisingly similar to Dan Dickau’s stats at Gonzaga. It is true that this is not an apple to apple comparison because JCN was playing in a professional league, while Dan Dickau was playing “amateur” college athletics. It could be argued that the talent level in Men’s D1 basketball is pretty close to the talent level in the EL. The point is that prior to entering the NBA, both players had very similar stat lines and both were great shooters in their respective “leagues.” But, as we have seen with Dickau’s NBA career thus far, that does not mean it will instantly translate into a successful NBA career. All rookies, including international players, have an adjustment that they need to make to the NBA game which easily take 2 – 3 years. But, again there is no guarantee of success.

Given that JCN could be Dan Dickau 2.0, I am comfortable with the trade to Memphis. I like the fact that the Wiz are most likely getting a 1st round pick for a 2nd round selection. As Ivan Carter of the Post pointed out, that gives them an asset that they could package together in another transaction that could help address some more pressing needs. (For example, could Indiana be enticed to trade Jermaine O’Neal for a combination of players and two 1st round picks?) I like the fact that they did not potentially make an Eastern Conference team better by trading him to the West. I would be even happier if the 1st round pick that the Wiz received was not protected, or at least only lottery protected.

Now, if I had a crystal ball and could see that JCN would be a future All-Star-type player would I still like this trade? Given the current make up of the team, I still believe that trading JCN’s rights is the right move. Ultimately this trade can only be judged once all the facts are in, and the facts most likely won’t be in for a few more years. There are still too many questions that will need to be answered before a final evaluation can be made. How well does JCN adjust to the NBA? Does he become anything more than a shooter off the bench? Do the Wiz get a 1st round pick or a 2nd with cash considerations? Do they draft a player with that pick? If so, how does that player help the team? Does this pick help them pull off a trade in the near-term that benefits the team? Or do they trade the pick at some point in the future? Unfortunately, only with time can we answer these, and other, questions.

Side note:

With the Andray Blatche contract now signed – terms undisclosed – and the roster nearly set, what if anything happens with some of the names on the team that have been linked to possible trades? At various points this summer we have heard about possible trades involving Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas and Antonio Daniels. More so than Daniels, I would like to see the Wiz move both Etan and Brendan. While I like the effort and the energy that Etan brings, I would like to see the Wiz get out from under his contract and possibly bring in a less expensive veteran who could provide you with his same stats and energy. Brendan on the other hand, I would like to see moved because of his much to inconsistent play and the fact that he tends to sulk when not in the game. Plus, the way he finished last season, I would not bring him back to play for my team – if I were calling the shots. His behavior burned that bridge and then buried the ashes.