Only a ‘superstar’ player gets away with such a poor shot

Many Wizards fans don't care for King Crabdribble

The Heat – Wizards game, minus Gilbert Arenas, ended up being much more competitive than the Heat – in the quiet recesses of their minds – likely thought it would.  Hell, in their previous game (with him) they were down by 23 to the Nets… yes, those Nets.  So surely they would struggle even further without him.

Well, the Wizards played like a different team and led for many stretches of the game.  Early in the third quarter, the Heat were able to reclaim the lead for a bit, in part behind a couple of LeBron James threes.  But the Wizards kept playing hard.

Then came this series of possessions:

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NBA Contract Toxicity Ratings: Gilbert is not alone

It has become popular to discuss Gilbert Arenas as having the most “toxic” contract in the NBA.  Toxic in the sense that the Wizards, if they were so inclined, could not move him in part because they would not get equal value for his talent and the trading team would likely not want to take on his contract based on what Gilbert will get paid for the remaining four years of the deal.  The contract can also be considered toxic if it prevents a team from making moves to improve its team, due to a lack of salary cap space.  I would also add that if a player isn’t outperforming his current wage rate, then that contract should also be considered toxic as the team will have money tied up in an under-performing player.  In this light, when we look at the 21 highest paid players in the NBA, it becomes clear that there are a few other toxic contracts out there.

This post focuses on the 21 highest paid players in the NBA according to data pulled from Hoopshype, Basketball-Reference.com, Hoopsworld, DraftExpress and CBS Sports.com.  Please note that in many cases the players rank is based only on these 21 players and not necessarily in relation to the full list of NBA players.

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99 questions and Gilbert’s height ain’t one

Last week I was reading through the comment trails and I noticed a few comments about Gilbert Arenas’ height, or depending on your perspective lack thereof, for a NBA shooting guard.  So I began to wonder how the tandem of Wall and Arenas measure up against other NBA backcourts.

Please note that the data was pulled from ESPN’s NBA Depth Chart a little over a week ago and due to the continuing offseason moves the starters listed could have since changed.

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Why does Gilbert Arenas need a change of scenery?

This afternoon Daniel Marks of Dime Magazine published an article entitled, “10 NBA players who need a change of scenery.”  And not surprisingly Gilbert Arenas was on the list.  There are many people who have talked about his “cancerous” impact on the team from Tony Kornheiser to Charles Barkley.  However, few logically detail why they believe that he must go.
Marks seems to share many of the same viewpoints as others in the national media:

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Wizards play the “tortoise” and let others play the “hare”

A few teams (Chicago, New York, New Jersey and Miami) decided to clear all of their available cap room in order to make a run at one or more of the most significant free agents in the 2010 class (which includes LeBron James, Dewayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson).  The Wizards to the dismay of some of its fans decided to take a decidedly different approach – avoid the big names and try to capitalize on those desperate to make moves to target the big names.

While this is clearly an extremely talented free agent class, one that has not been seen since 1996, a GM must not overreact.  The management of a team has to realize that there are a number of forces at play that must be taken into account:

  • There are four teams with enough cap room to sign two or more max free agents – CHI, NY, NJ and MIA
  • Teams with little (or no) available cap space, still want to improve their teams, have owners who are unafraid to spend money, and are willing (and possibly able) to use current assets to swing sign and trades for one of the power free agents – DAL, HOU and LAC
  • The power free agents’ existing teams are still best positioned to offer more money than any potential suitor.  In nearly all cases these players can make an additional $30 million, over the course of the new contract, by remaining with their existing team
  • Even if all free agents leave their existing teams, there aren’t enough power free agents for each team that wants them – plenty of teams will be left out in the cold
  • Desperation increases as power free agents begin to fall off the table
  • If your team is able to sign two or three of the best free agents, will you have enough money to surround them with enough talented roll players?

Any GM worth their weight in salt is going to weigh these factors, and many others, as they formulate their strategy for building their team.  We can only hope that the strategy is flexible enough to adapt as the environment changes.

Off-season

From the trade deadline until about June 24, the Wizards had enough money available under the cap that many fans hoped that they would make a serious run at one of the major free agents.  That was purely wishful thinking, as all of the power free agents have “talked” about winning championships now – which would mean that they don’t want to play for a rebuilding team.  (We will soon see if money or championships is the primary driving force.)

NBA Draft

The Wizards started June 24 with three picks (#1, #30 and #35).  In the hours leading up to and during the draft they made a couple moves that were generally killed on the Internet and the blogosphere.  In part, I believe this was due to some who still had dreams of max free agents still clouding their minds.  Just prior to the start of the draft, the Wizards accepted Chicago’s offer of Kirk Hinrich, Kevin Seraphin (17th pick) and $3M in cash for essentially nothing (a future 2nd round pick).  Later in the evening the Wizards swapped their 30th and 35th picks to trade up to get Trevor Booker (#23) and back to pick up Hamady N’Diaye (#56) from Minnesota.  At the conclusion of the draft, the Wizards finished with 5 players that they feel best fit their needs.

Some of the criticism about these moves revolved around the typical quibbles over one player versus another, to whether or not the Wizards trade was as good as Oklahoma City’s deal, to whether Hinrich’s contract prevents the team from being a player in Free Agency.  All of those are legitimate concerns to have during and following the draft.  Those of us that consider ourselves fans aren’t privy to the team’s strategy so it is normal for us to criticize based on what we believe the strategy is (or should be) and the moves we feel best compliment our strategy for the team.  Ultimately, we know that you can’t judge how successful the draft truly was for you team for about three to five years.

Just prior to the start of free agency, the Wizards traded a back up guard, Quinton Ross, to the New Jersey Nets for Yi Jianlian – a starter for the Nets and likely a back up for the Wiz and $3M in cash.  This was a trade that did not immediately make every Wizard fan happy – some in Nets nation even laughed.  Clearly Yi has been inconsistent in his relatively short career.  He has both struggled and showed flashes with both the Bucks and Nets.  He has also had injuries which have affected his performance so far.  But for essentially nothing, the Wizards picked up a big (7 ft 250lb Forward) who was talented enough to be a lottery pick, just a few years ago.  And while he may never develop into Chris Bosh, it is nice to have someone who will push Andray Blatche to start.  And if his role is to come off the bench, he offers the Wizards a skilled 7 footer coming off the bench who has a mid-range jumper.

New players
Name Position Height Weight Yrs pro
John Wall PG 6’4″ 195 R
Trevor Booker F 6’7″ 240 R
Hamady N’Diaye C 7’0″ 235 R
Kevin Seraphin C-F 6’9″ 264 R
Kirk Hinrich G 6’3″ 190 6
Yi Jianlian F 7’0″ 250 3
Existing Players
Gilbert Arenas G 6’4″ 215 8
Andray Blatche C-F 6’11” 248 5
JaVale McGee C 7’0″ 252 2
Al Thornton F 6’8″ 220 3
Nick Young G 6’6″ 200 3

Start of Free Agency

Once12:01 on July 1 rolled around, the Wizards had eaten into the cap room that some thought would be available for a power free agent.  Entering this phase of the off-season the Wizards still need a 3rd PG, 3rd SG, veteran Center and a starting SF.  Given their needs, the Wizards could afford to sit out the initial flurry of free agent activity.

With teams going after the power free agents and others like Atlanta, Memphis, etc offering max deals to lock up their prized free agents, which will mean that there will be solid players available after the initial flurry of activity.  Some teams, due to max deals that they offer their stars, will likely have to cut players for salary cap reasons that they, under normal circumstances, would like to keep (i.e. Marvin Williams in Atlanta).  This type of activity will add to the pool of players that will be available for teams like the Wizards.

And while I am not in the Gilbert Arenas must go crowd – actually I am in the camp that wants him to stay – the Wizards would be fools to not listen to offers.  About a month ago, most “experts” laughed that no one would want any part of Gilbert.  Well as we pass the first 24 hours of free agency, that tone is changing.  It already is beginning to look like New York and New Jersey could very likely get shut out in the power free agent bidding war.  The teams that get shut out will need players to show for their efforts.  As a result, Gilbert’s name is beginning to come up much more frequently.

In addition, if teams like Chicago or Miami are able to get one or more of the power free agents, then teams like Orlando need to make changes to its roster in order to keep up.  The point is that all of a sudden Gilbert is beginning to look like a potential trade asset within the first 24 hours of free agency.

Teams like Miami, Chicago, New Jersey and New York sprinted out in an effort to land LeBron and company.  There is the very real possibility that two or more of these teams will be disappointed by the end of free agency.  Most of the power free agents will remain with their current teams, leaving Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer as the most likely candidates to move to a new team.  The Wizards should continue to look for the best opportunities that are presented to them based on the harried pace created by the “hares” who begin to scramble to fill their roster once most power free agents don’t change teams.  Let’s hope that taking a measured approach will continue to pay dividends for the Wizards.

Wizards Win NBA Draft Lottery and Some in the Media Lose Their Ever-Loving Minds

A few years ago, one could argue that the Wizards became the darling of the NBA.  Under Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan the Wizards made the playoffs four years in a row and, as many of us who live in the DMV have heard much too often, they even had the best record in the East – prior to the 06/07 All-Star break.  Hell, as recently as this season, the Wizards were a popular candidate to again compete with the best in the East.

However, today most in the popular press want to lead off their Wizards draft lottery stories by focusing on the infamous gun issue and use it to describe what prevented the Wizards from recapturing the glories of its recent past.  More insulting still, they want to use it as a means to describe the Wizards franchise as a fatally flawed organization that no one would want to play for.  And while that incident clearly, was a significant contributing factor, there were many other issues that plagued the team.  And all of those issues in total, ultimately wrecked the 2009/10 Wizards season.  (I highly recommend reading Michael Lee of the Post, Truthaboutit.net and Bulletsforever.com to get a broader perspective on all of the issues that undermined the 09/10 Wizards season.)

It is easier, however, to focus only on the more salacious and dysfunctional story of Gilbert and the guns.  It is also easier to characterize the Wizards organization as the Raiders of the NBA or the Clippers of the East.  And while the Wizards have not had the same level of success as it did in the 70s, it is not accurate to describe them in the same manner as the Clippers.  It may shorten your copy to pretend as if the Wizards recent stretch of playoff appearances did not occur.  Selectively focusing on a few facts tightens up the story, but it also serves to aggravate those of us who follow the team faithfully.

This post isn’t just about the way in which the franchise has been characterized.  I also have issues with a number of story lines and/or recommendations that have been floated since the Wizards won the draft lottery.  I have paraphrased and responded to some of my favorites:

The Wizards may trade the pick:

This thought is just insane and I will not waste any more keystrokes on this.

Winning the lottery means that the Wizards will/should trade Arenas:

There were multiple variations of this floated by many different journalists and “experts.”  I believe this is a ridiculous claim and I will pick this up later in this posting.  However, those who floated the idea have clearly not listened to the things that Ted Leonsis has said publicly.  I believe that Gilbert Arenas will be (and should be) a Wizard next season.

Should the Wizards take Wall or Turner with the first pick?:

Most have said that the Wizards should draft Wall – and I am of that camp.  However a few, including Tim Legler on ESPN, floated the idea that they should take Turner – even though he contradicted himself by saying that Wall would be the first pick.  There are plenty of places on the net in which you can find stats on both players until you are warm and fuzzy, but here are a couple thoughts that jumped out to me:

  • Magic Johnson who I believe is the best PG ever immediately stated that the Wizards have to take Wall because he will be a special player.  I am inclined to believe that Magic has forgotten more about the position of PG than the majority of us have ever known.  So his recommendation carries more weight for me than nearly every other person who is not named Earvin “Magic” Johnson.  Sorry, Tim Legler that goes for you too.
  • While Turner appears that he will be a very solid (if not special) pro, I give Wall credit for having to play the entire season with the label as “the man.”  Just as importantly he did not fold or disappoint, while carrying that label and he outplayed most on his more talent rich team.  Many did not start talking about Turner until some of his more amazing performances in March.  I will continue to lean towards a person who had more pressure and performed consistently at a high level for an entire season.

And finally…

Gilbert Arenas and John Wall can’t play on the same team or in the same backcourt:

I believe this opinion is based on feelings and not based in fact.  Not only do I think that these two can and will play for the same team.  I think that they will form an incredible backcourt.

First, let me point out that I believe that Gilbert will grow following his recent self-inflicted wounds.  He is no longer the youngest guy on the roster,  this last issue almost sent him to jail and nearly ended his career.  I believe that this served as the wakeup call that he needed.  I also believe that he will come back more highly motivated than ever.

Those who don’t think Gil can play with Wall clearly forget that Gil truly enjoyed playing in a two guard system with Larry Hughes.  More pressure was put on him to score when Larry left and then he had to share the backcourt with combinations that included Daniels, Butler, and Stevenson (during the 05/06 and 06/07 seasons) – none of which struck fear in the competition.  Adding someone as dynamic as Wall will provide Arenas with his best backcourt mate since Larry Hughes, while reducing the need for him to constantly handle the ball and run the offense.  Just as importantly, it puts pressure on the competition to decide how best to match up with the two of them.

And for those that want to talk about Arenas’ knee injury and whether he had fully recovered, it is true that early in the season he had struggled, but much of that was fitting into a new system with additional responsibilities.  Prior to the suspension, Gilbert was having a comparable season, Per 36 minutes, to both the 05/06 & 06/07 campaigns.  In December Gilbert appeared to be rounding back into form and while his scoring numbers were in his normal range, more impressive was that he had superior assist numbers.

I don’t believe that Gilbert is going to come back and be a problem.  I believe that he will be highly focused and motivated, and when you combine that with his already high work ethic and the stage is set for an extremely productive season.  Pairing him in the backcourt with a talent like John Wall could create a tandem that you cannot find in the NBA.

One of the weaknesses that the Wizards have had is the lack of a true Point Guard.  Well, with some poor play and a great deal of luck they have the opportunity to select a potential star at the position.  I suggest they take the potential star and deal with any “potential” issues as they develop.  Unlike many in the popular press, I don’t think there will be any issue between Arenas and Wall.  Gilbert has proven that he is willing and able to adapt his play to fit with another talented guard.