A long, patience-testing and at most times overwhelming season has finally come to a close for the Washington Wizards. Headlines out of Wizards Nation touched on various issues throughout the season. From Andray Blatche's self-appointment of captain, to the firing of Flip Saunders, to the eventual ousting of JaVale McGee and Nick Young, it has been a season nothing short of eventful.
Here at Wizards Extreme we have chosen five questions to cap off the lockout-stricken season and attempt to put some key factors into perspective as we move forward into the offseason. Participating in this feature is yours truly, Abdullah Sharif, Trevor Jackson, Charles Lamar, Saam Bozorgmehr and Joe Glorioso.
1. Who was the MVP for the Wizards season?
TREVOR: It is tough to think about an MVP on a 20-46 team, but along with most everyone else, I believe the award goes to John Wall. He played hard night in and night out, and did his best with a cast of young guys and 10 day contract guys. One of the best things he did was help our young core like Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin develop. A case could also be made for giving the MVP to Nene, not just Nene as a player because he was injured the majority of time here, but what his arrival represents. It represent a change in the culture from lackadaisical preparation to a more focused, serious approach. It represent a focus on defense. It represents out with the old and in with the new. The 'change in direction' could almost be an MVP candidate for me.
ABBY: As Trevor stated, finding value in a 20 win team is a difficult task. As the year progressed along with the team, players began to fit into their roles and the production level steadily increased, especially after the appointment of Randy Wittman as head coach. But in terms of MVP, I feel there is no question that it is John Wall. Through the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the season, Wall never let up or slowed down. He rarely expressed disinterest or laziness which can be considered commendable considering his circumstances, leading a team sorely lacking in talent and drive. With some mid-season adjustments, the Wizards eventually improved as did Wall.
CHARLES: The MVP for the season is going to be Nene. I know he didn’t play for the Wizards for even half of the season but the changes that he brought to the team cant be overstated. The easy answer would be John Wall but the strides this team took since Nene came aboard is somewhat of a miracle so he beats out Wall for my vote.
SAAM: MVP for the Wizards this season I think has to be John Wall. He had some ups and downs, much like the rest of the guys on the team, but throughout it all John has been the ultimate professional. He's always trying to his best to get everyone involved in the game and he made the other guys around him better by the end of the season. Just ask Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely and Trevor Booker how much their games have improved throughout the course of the season.
JOE: I'm going to go against the grain here and pick a non-player as the MVP of the 2011-12 season. No, not Ernie Grunfeld, but my Wizards MVP is Randy Wittman. Choosing a guy who has a lifetime 118-238 record and a win pct of .331 is not easy but you can't help but feel for Randy and the assignment he was given. Not only did he have to take over the Wizards after seeing his friend and Subway sandwich affictionado Flip Saunders fired, but he was tasked with getting a team with a couple of loose cannons to play as a team. He held the Wizards young roster accountable for their actions, finished with a record of 18-31 that was highlighted by a season ending 6 game win streak. The more I listen and read about the exit interviews, the players comments, the GM's comments and Ted's latest take, I have the feeling Wittman comes back for the 2012-13 season. He more than proved to me that he is a capable coach, one that can get the right players to play a team game and I for one fully support a full offseason, training camp and year with a roster that has team goals in mind instead of not-so-Sportscenter highlights.
2. Who was the biggest disappointment for the Wizards this season?
TREVOR: Ted, for resigning Ernie........I kid, I kid. As a fan, I will jump on board with the resigning and hope "The Plan" comes to fruition. Back to the question -- the obvious answer is Andray Blatche. This guy seemed to be saying all of the right things during the offseason and seemed to be trying to lead by example. It took all of one game for him to throw all of that out the window....from self-proclaiming himself the captain to bashing his coach in the media. His play on the court was terrible as well. A couple weeks into the season, fans started raining down boo's every time he touched the ball. He was eventually shut down for being out of shape by coach Wittman. Blatche is the first person I know of who ever recorded a NWT - Conditioning on a box score.
ABBY: It’s almost this question was specifically set up to target Andray Blatche, and who’s to say it shouldn’t? Going into the season, we all raved about the possibilities of Dray. The career highs in numbers last year, the offseason training, and the avoidance of trouble were all factors that led us to believe that Dray was morphing into a new man. It took very little time before he made us look like idiots. A post-game rant following the first game of the season sparked off what became a tumultuous season for Blatche and it never let up. It was only a matter of weeks before the displeased fans expressed their feelings, booing him relentless every moment he was on the floor. I think it’s fair to make an argument that his days of playing professional basketball ANYWHERE could be over. That could be a stretch. Maybe not.
CHARLES: The biggest disappointment has to be Andray Blatche. He came into the season out of shape and stayed that way for the duration of the season. He received a box score line of NWT (Not With Team)- Conditioning, which is the first. The season started with him introducing himself as Captain and ended with him being mercilessly booed by the hometown crowd. He is disappointment personified.
SAAM: The obvious answer here would be Andray Blatche but I'm going to go in another direction and Chris Singleton. I know he's a rookie, I know there's tremendous upside there, but i felt like he hit a wall after about the 20 game mark of the season and never got up. He was lost in the offense, he settled for outside jump shots way too often and didn't do enough on the offensive end to make me believe that he's going to improve.
JOE: Where do I start? I really can't pinpoint one thing in a season that was trying as both a fan and a member of the media. Coach gets fired, team loses 46 games in a 66 game season, John Wall doesn't "break out" like everyone and their mother wanted, Andray Blatche loses his mind and his ability to play the game of basketball, and someone decides that firing out confetti is a great idea after the team wins a game. Note to in-game entertainment operations crew for next season - more Wizards Girls please! So what's my biggest disappointment? For the fourth consecutive year I'm watching the playoffs sans the Washington Wizards. Our last drought like this was pre-Big 3 and our 4 year run of playoff appearances.
3. Out of the three 10-day contract players (Martin, Singleton and Almond), which would you want returning next year?
TREVOR: I don't think we saw enough out of Morris Almond to warrant bringing him back, and even when he did play he didn't stand out. Cartier Martin played well in his second stint in DC. He plays tough and brings hustle, and is more efficient on offense (44% FG - 38.7% 3PT) than Jordan Crawford (40% FG - 28.9% 3PT). I would really like to see him back on this team. But if I had to pick one of the 10 day guys to bring back, it would be James Singleton. He seems to do a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor, He is a hard nose, tough defender and doesn't get pushed around by bigger guys. He is a decent offensive game, and is a very good rebounder. He sets an example out there any time he steps on the court. Singleton is also a very good locker room guys and brings a veteran approach, similar to Nene.
ABBY: James Singleton. As much as I love Cartier Martin and his instant offense off the bench for the Wizards, it’s the all-around play of Singleton that was partly responsible for the Wizards’ late season surge. Singleton’s efficiency had coach Wittman jokingly state that he might as well sign all the players to 10 day contracts if it means consistent production. While averaging just over 21 minutes a game, Singleton tallied 8 points, 7 rebounds and nearly a steal and a block a game, all while remaning in minimal foul trouble. His scrappy, hard-nosed style of play is what makes the Wizards tougher on the floor, and toughness is one thing the Wizards can always use as they head into next season.
CHARLES: I never wanted to lose Cartier Martin last year but due to the lockout and the late start to the season he spent most of the year playing in China. While I’m a huge fan of Martin, James Singleton played out of his mind at the end of the season. He did all the dirty work, rebounding, diving for loose balls, and most importantly teaching the young guys. In a perfect world WE bring both of these guys back, not because I like them but because they earned it.
SAAM: Cartier Martin! He's proven that he's a good player who can either start or come off the bench and be effective. He's got speed, he can shoot, and he's a good locker room guy with a good personality. We all credit Nene for changing the culture of the team, but since Cartier Martin returned to the team, the locker room became extremely more upbeat.
JOE: We've already determined I don't like answering questions the way they are posed so I won't stop that trend. I want to see Singleton and Martin both back next year. Guys like that, while they don't shape teams, they do round them out. Every succesful team in the playoffs right now has those "glue" guys who can come off the bench, provide hustle, energy and either contribute offesively, defensively or a little bit of both. Watching how Martin and Singleton interacted with the core of the Wizards team while on the court, on the bench or in the locker room was such a welcome relief from the dismal attitude that was portrayed by the team prior to their arrival. I was a fan of both individuals prior to this season and was happy to hear they were returning.
4. With Ernie being brought back, how do you feel about the direction of the Wizards?
TREVOR: My initial reaction to hearing the news that Ernie was coming back was WHY ME??? I was angry and sad at the same time. I have since thought about it more, and while I still disagree with the move, I am just hoping that it works out. By all accounts, I believe Grunfeld did make this team better by trading Young and McGee, and has put the Wizards in a good position financially. If he can hit on the draft, and land an impact free agent or two, the direction of this team will be looking much prettier. I still think the ownership should have waited until the end of the season and interviewed some new candidates who may actually be able to improve the team, but all we can do as fans is hope that this works out.
ABBY: I wrote a post about this a few weeks ago. The displeasure of the fans upon hearing of Ernie’s contract extension is warranted and understandable. The man has made several bonehead moves over the course of his tenure here and while he’s cleaned up a lot of his mess, the fact still remains amongst the fans that he was the one that caused the mess in the first place. With that said, Ernie’s return can still be justified as the Wizards are equipped with a top 5 draft pick along with two 2nd round picks, some cap space and a few players with good trade value. These tools should be enough to allow this rebuild plan carry forward smoothly and successfully. Fingers and toes crossed.
CHARLES: This a tough one because I was one of the loudest voices in the fire Ernie camp so I understand the anger, disappointment, and frustration the fans feel about bringing back the Grunfeld as GM. But I’ve taken Ted Leonsis advice and I’m going to judge Ernie from the starting point of the ownership change. I’m going to ignore the boneheaded moves like the Gilbert Arenas deal and the drafting of Oleg Pecherov and focus on the past two drafts, the fact that he was able to trade Gilbert Arenas and he was able to salvage something from the disasters that were JaVale McGee and Nick Young.
SAAM: I don't agree with Ernie coming back. He's put this franchise in the situation they're in now and if we're going to hold coaches and players accountable for not producing, we have to place blame on the people who hire them and assemble the team personnel. I have no idea what direction this team is going in. I can't properly assess this team's direction because they win 6 in a row down the stretch against teams that packed it in and had nothing to play for. It's quite embarrassing that this organization actually rewards guys like Grunfeld for bad work and then fires Flip Saunders for having to deal with the mess that Ernie created. I don't get it.
JOE: I get both sides of the argument, I really do. That said, it's not as bad as the doomsday fans have painted it out to be. Is Ernie the best GM in basketball, absoultely not. Is he the worst, absolutely not. Should he get credit for sending two players who had personal agendas more selfish than Kim Kardashian's quest for TV dominance? Only if he gets blame for drafting both of them in the first place. When you have a career, especially in sports, that covers the better part of a decade you are going to have a resume full of highs and lows. The one thing about this particular situation is that you have to step back and analyze from the perspective that Ernie has had three different objectives over the course of his tenure. First was the rescue from hell mission of saving an organization post-Michael Jordan. In the second chapter, Ernie built a team that at one point had the All Star game's Eastern Conference Coach, a couple of all stars on the squad and made it to four consecutive playoff appearances after having been to one playoff series in the previous 16 years. His third and current mission was to implode a team that he created under a boss that passed away and rebuild a team around a #1 pick who we have yet to see the best from. I was far less startled to hear that Ted kept Ernie based on the fact that Ted has stuck with Caps GM George McPhee for as long as he has. Ted comes across as a loyal boss, someone who has a strategy that he wants to tie himself to and surrounds himself with smart people in the business. This isn't just about Ernie though, the Wizards have some talented evaluators and executives such as Tommy Shepard and Milt Newton to name a couple. This draft is going to be huge and I think both Ted and Ernie know that. We've hit pretty well in the past couple of drafts and I fully expect to come away from June's draft with 1 if not 2 players who will play a huge role in the Wizards return to playoff form.
5. Has Randy Wittman earned the job for next year?
TREVOR: Randy Wittman did a fantastic job with this team after he took over. Simply getting the team to play hard each night and actually compete seemed impossible, but he was able to do it. The biggest plus I see out of Wittman's job was the development of young guys like Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin. Part of this was due to playing time being opened up by the Young and McGee trades as well as the Blatche benching, but you have to give credit where credit is due. With that being said, I am not convinced that Wittman is going to be the guy for this team moving forward. If I were the GM, I would bring in as many candidates as possible who would fit the mold of young and up and coming, who also have the fire and energy to get the most out of there players. If a decision is made to replace Randy with someone like that who can improve the team, than so be it. If they decide that Wittman is the best guy for the job, there could be worse choices. Here is a thread on this very topic if you want to keep the discussion going or give us your input: http://www.wizardsextreme.com/
ABBY: Yes. Although there wasn’t a drastic improvement in wins and losses after Wittman took over for Flip Saunders, there was definitely improvement in the team’s mentality and demeanor game in and game out. Wittman offered a new brand of philosophy upon his arrival, demanding that playing time be earned solely on the level of production you bring on the floor. This boded well with players like Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker and eventually Jan Vesely.
CHARLES: If you would’ve asked me this a few weeks ago my answer would’ve been no, but oh the difference a few wins make. Coach was dealt the impossible task of changing a team that was known around the league as the knuckleheads. He was changed the culture and has rewarded effort and smart play with minutes. While the Wizards still have tons of room to improve, I believe Wittman righted the ship. Granted benching Blatche and trading McGee and Young helped but he deserves credit for taking a team of young guys and castoffs and getting to them to play hard every night. At the end of the season the Wizards looked like a completely different team that the one who started the season and Randy deserves some if not most of the credit.
SAAM: I think Randy has earned the job for next season. I love his attitude and he tells it how it is. We need continuity on this team and it should start with the head coach. I like Wittman.
JOE: I mentioned some of this above but I absolutely think Wittman has earned the right to continue with this team for next year. I think honestly, it's only fair that if you brought back Ernie that Randy should get a fair shot at a full offseason, training camp and season without having to deal with some of that circus crap he had to deal with prior to the Nene trade. As Michael Lee pointed out the Wizards very easily could have gone 10-1 with Nene in the lineup rather than the 7-4 they ended up with. Randy Wittman was not the reason this team was losing games prior to the trade and I think that was all the more evident after Ernie pulled the classic addition by subtraction deadline deal.