Any fan of the Washington Wizards who thought this year was going to be any different has turned out to be sorely mistaken. As with many other years, the Wizards came into the season as one of the best teams on paper and ended up looking thinner than by season's end. A 2009-2010 preseason poll showed that other teams around the league saw the Wizards as a potential surprise team, one that would be greatly improved from last season. I wouldn't call five more wins a great improvement. Nor would I call losing the face of the franchise to season-long suspension for felony gun charges.
Over the course of the long, arduous journey to the end of the regular season, the Wizards were shockingly awful. GM Ernie Grunfeld had to ship out the array of talent he spent so many years assembling to give the team a future. He succeeded in trading Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and that waste of space DeShawn Stevenson to Dallas and Antwan Jamison to Cleveland. Mission almost complete, there Ernie. There was and is still that lingering question of the future of one Gilbert Arenas. On numerous occasions, Grunfeld has stated that Arenas would be back with the team next season and they had no interest in trading him or attempting to void his contract I have but one question for Mr. Grunfeld on the matter: Are you out of your mind, sir?
The organization, still reeling from the loss of their owner Abe Pollin late last year, had to endure the embarrassment of employing a felon, which understandably did not sit well with the Pollin family. The Verizon Center was wiped clean of any image of Arenas in the wake of his locker room tomfoolery. Since that time, Arenas faced sentencing and received a month's time in a halfway house and 400 hours of community service, as well as a donation to victims of violent crimes. Where is the justice in that? Why does an NBA star get to walk away from a gun related felony with the equivalent of a slap on the wrist in the nation's capitol, where gun laws are the most strict? If any normal man had presented a single firearm, let alone multiple firearms, in his place of work, proceeded to Tweet about it and make a spectacle of the matter around the water cooler, he'd be getting cozy with the biggest nastiest cellmate the penal system has to offer. This may seem like an unnecessary rant thus far, but bear with me, it has plenty to do with the Washington Wizards and their immediate and continuing future.
See, the NBA Draft is just a couple of months away, and with one of the worst records in the league, the Wizards have a good chance at landing the number one overall pick in the draft. The presence of Arenas limits their options, even in such a deep class. His outrageous contract limits Washington's ability to participate in the smorgasbord of talent set to hit the free agent market come summer.
So why is Grunfeld so ready to welcome the problem back into the Blue and Gold? In short, Grunfeld is only human, and refuses to admit his mistake. He may have disassembled his starting lineup, but by golly, Arenas is a star through and through and can be the face of this franchise for years to come. Well, maybe that's delusional Ernie talking. In reality, no one would be able to match a trade for Arenas, releasing him would be too costly, and perhaps, Grunfeld doesn't want to think his grand investment could be a bad one. Maybe I'm being too hard on Arenas and Grunfeld, but in the grand scheme of things, they are making it hard to be a fan these days.
Prior to his suspension, Arenas looked like a different player. Even I can admit that. He went through stretches where he would score 20 points and dish out 10 assists. Great numbers by anyone's standards, but closer observation shows that his increased assist numbers merely made up for the number of shots he was taking. For the better part of his games this season, Arenas was shooting under 40-percent from the field and a career worst 73.9-percent from the free throw line. Not to mention he was on pace for a career-high 304 turnovers (yes, I did the math) before commissioner Daniel Stern pulled the plug on his season. The season was barely two months old before he was throwing his teammates under the metaphorical bus, saying they weren't hitting shots and they hadn't changed his game the way he had.
I have expressed this before, but leadership is a quality shown both on and off the court. Arenas was not and is not a leader. He is too willing to take credit for the success of the team and far too willing to defer blame to his teammates. Leaders lead by example, and the example Arenas set was not one worth following. I feel bad for Flip Saunders right about now. He thought he was taking over a veteran team with a chance to be a surprise playoff contender. Turns out, he can only do so much with so little.
Head coach Flip Saunders can't win, and neither can the Wizards
So Arenas will be back, but his Big Three counterparts have been moved to greener pastures (i.e. the playoffs) and less than a handful of players on the Wizards' roster right now are under contract beyond this season. Call it disloyalty, but parting ways with Arenas is the best thing the Wizards didn't do. And here I thought this was a real attempt to rebuild, and not just the Agent Zero Show 2.0. As it appears now, Arenas will be the "centerpiece" for Grunfeld's newest roster concoction. Which raises the question, who will the Wizards get to surround him?
Ideally, they would extend Andray Blatche beyond next season, re-sign Mike Miller and James Singleton, and give Cartier Martin a good long look next season. Those moves would give them time to rebuild and some depth in the meantime. JaVale McGee and Nick Young are already under contract, and who knows what the deal is with Josh Howard, Shaun Livingston and Randy Foye. If the common fan with a decent amount of basketball knowledge doesn't know what the Wizards intend to do, then I don't know who does. Therein lies the issue. The Wizards have mentioned that they are rebuilding in some sense, but have not laid out the best or clearest of plans.
New owner Ted Leonsis may change that in the comings months, as he has done wonders with the Capitals by laying out a clear plan for rebuilding. If the Wizards need one thing, it is someone in the front office with their head firmly planted in reality.
Grunfeld is not that man, and won't be as long as he clings to the falling star we all know and "love" in Arenas. Ironic since it was Grunfeld who ripped the New York Knicks apart when he traded John Starks and Charles Oakley in 1998, fan favorites and not team distractions. So what does this all mean for the Wizards? For you? For me? Well it means, that unless there is a statement made or released in the next several months outlining the plans of the Washington Wizards moving forward, we are in for a lot of the same stuff we have sat through for the past few years.
Poorly managed draft picks, poor signings, poor team chemistry, poor product. I for one would like to see the Wizards make use of their two first round picks for more than just making a little cap room in trades for cash considerations. John Wall is the trendy pick, Evan Turner is the smart pick, Wesley Johnson is the safe pick, DeMarcus Cousins is the interesting pick and Derrick Favors is the out-of-nowhere (in the context of what the Wizards need) pick. You can't really go wrong in the top 10, but the other two picks may turn out to be just as useful for restocking the empty shelf of the Washington Wizards. Who wouldn't want to see Turner in a Wizards uniform?