Wizards energetic effort results in a loss against the Heat

Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

Certain loses are easier to take than others and the Wizards eight point loss to the Heat is one of those loses. When you consider the way the Wizards played in their recent games against Orlando, Indiana and Philadelphia, that they were without Andray Blatche and Al Thornton who were nursing injuries, and that they were adding three new players into the mix (Mike Bibby, Maurice Evans and Jordan Crawford) – a beat down against the Miami Heat would have been expected. However, the Wizards elected to play with a little passion. And while they ultimately lost the game, it was a competitive and entertaining game throughout.

The Heat secured the win with an good game by Bosh (15 pts & 8 reb), great game by LeBron James (25 pts, 9 reb & 7 ast) and an incredible scoring performance by Dwyane Wade (41 points). They also received a little help by the officiating crew as the Heat shot 45 free throws versus 23 by the Wizards. (In fact, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (28 FTs) attempted more foul shots that the entire Wizards team (23).)

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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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Will LeBron James be to Cleveland what Barry Bonds was to Pittsburgh?

Tonight might just be the night in which the Cavaliers fall off the cliff.  Why?  Let’s consider the Pittsburgh Pirates following the 1992 season.

Barry Bonds spent his first 7 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and during that time he amassed a very impressive list of personal achievements.  The list includes:

  • Voted an NL All-Star – 1990 & 1992
  • NL Golden Glove – 1990, 1991 & 1992
  • NL Silver Slugger – 1990, 1991 & 1992
  • NL MVP – Finished 1st in 1990 & 1992 and 2nd in 1991

This was also before the team became the laughing stock that it is now.  It was a team with a proud history.  It had won 5 World Series since 1903 – the last in 1979.  The team had been to the post season many more times throughout its history.  Ok, enough of a trip down memory lane.

So while Bonds was hitting his stride as a player, he was also playing on a very solid team.  It was a team that made it to, but ultimately lost, three consecutive NLCS (1990, 1991 and 1992).  Following the 92 season, Bonds left the Pirates for the San Francisco Giants, a team that had just finished two back-to-back sub-500 seasons.  However, the issue here is not where he ultimately went to play.  The issue is what happened to his previous team after he decided to leave.

In the case of the Pirates, the team went into the toilet.  The very next season the Pirates began a streak of 17 consecutive losing seasons – which they have yet to break.  Now, to be fair, I will not blame all of that on Bonds departure.  Bonds left at a time when all of the Pirates talent departed (players and management) and the team has yet to figure out how to build a successful team.  It is clear though, that a small market team, like the Pirates, can easily fall off a cliff when its biggest star leaves.

LeBron James has spent his first seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  And much like Barry Bonds, James has amassed some great personal honors.  He and his team have also had some post season success – making it to one NBA finals and two Eastern Conference finals during this period.  James and Bonds careers, in two completely different sports, seem to parallel.

If LeBron James leaves the Cavaliers, as many experts suspect, is it not reasonable to expect that the Cavaliers would fall into a multi-year funk?  If they do, I doubt that it would be nearly a generation like the Pirates – as the Cavaliers appear to have better management and ownership than the Pirates.  However, a departure of a player of his stature, much like Barry Bonds, appears very likely to have a devastating, multi-season impact on his former team.  And as a smaller market city, that no longer can offer the draw of “playing with LeBron,” nor does it present the opportunities of the larger cities, nor is it a destination city – it will be increasingly more difficult to attract free agent talent.  This could easily create a situation in which the Cavaliers become a (best case) middle of the pack team or (worst case) routinely in the draft lottery for the next three to four seasons.

So here we are only a few hours from 9:00 EDT on July 8, 2010, it will be interesting to see if today marks the day that the “Pirates-like” downward spiral began for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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.