Retooled team looks to win
Now that the Washington Wizards have tasted the postseason, the team is eager for more. The goal is no longer to simply make the playoffs but to improve on the second round finish of last season. General Manager Ernie Grunfeld has retooled the Wizards solely for this purpose and the Wizards will take on a new face come November 2, the season opener against the Toronto Raptors.
The main motivation for Grunfeld's changes was the departure of Larry Hughes, the stellar backcourt partner of point guard Gilbert Arenas. Grunfeld and the rest of the Wizards management understood that the loss of Hughes was significant and that the team had to find a suitable replacement. Not only did the Wizards front office find a replacement for Hughes, it also gave the Wizards financial flexibility.
Re-signing Hughes for $70 million would have given the Wizards three expensive and lengthy contracts. The Wizards already have Antawn Jamison and Arenas locked up with such contracts and a third would severely hamper the Wizards' options in future free agency markets. Thus instead of re-signing Hughes, Grunfeld traded disgruntled Kwame Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers for Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins. For Butler, the former University of Connecticut standout and first round pick, Washington will be his third stop in three years. Butler has the best potential of anyone on the team to fill Hughes' absence and Atkins will be a reliable backup to Arenas. But with the new additions the Wizards will have to make a few improvements on last season.
1. Focus on small ball
While Kwame Brown was a waste of time for the Wizards, the one thing he did provide was a big body. Often Brown and center Brendan Haywood would play the paint. posing a formidable task for other big men, not because of skill but size. The loss of Kwame Brown leaves a smaller lineup with the power forward position probably occupied by Antawn Jamison. Jamison stands 6'9" and is definitely a talent on the offensive end, but against the bigger power forwards of the league he might be a liability. Jamison is suspect on the defensive end, mainly because of his chronic knee problems.
Jamison cannot be moved down to the three position where he often played last year because of the addition of the 6'7" Caron Butler. Butler and probably Jarvis Hayes will man the shooting guard and small forward positions. Hayes and Butler can be productive on the offensive end as both are decent shooters. The team will not run the way it did with Hughes but when either has a hot hand the Wizards will score in bunches.
2. Play solid defense
The loss of Hughes will impact the Wizards more on the defensive end. Hughes led the league in steals last season and often came up with the turnover that would lead to a critical fast break. The backcourt of Arenas and Hughes could run with everyone and the fast tempo drove the offense. Both would also be fearless in the lane and get to the free throw lane several times each game. On the other hand, Butler and Hayes are both spot up shooters who do most of their work on the perimeter. Hayes has showed a streaky touch in his young career and if this continues, the Wizards defense will have to step up. Without a guaranteed third scorer, the Wizards will have to slow down other teams to at least the level of their own potent offense.
Coach Eddie Jordan preaches the Princeton offense, which has worked wonders for the team. This offseason Jordan has emphasized defense, but he has never been a defensive-minded coach. Even when he was an assistant with the New Jersey Nets, he never controlled the defense. That responsibility usually belonged to the head coaches. Hopefully, someone else on the Wizards staff can lead the team on defense.
3. Build chemistry
Last season, most of the starters were familiar with each other. Arenas, Hughes and Jamison all played together on the Golden State Warriors. Jamison was also familiar with Haywood because both of them played on the University of North Carolina basketball team. The loss of Hughes and Brown leaves the task of building chemistry with Arenas. As the point guard, Arenas quickly needs to learn everyone's strengths and weaknesses. The newcomers must also pay attention during training camp to pick up the intricacies of Jordan's offense. The preseason will be the best time for everyone to play together and solidify as a unit.
All in all, the Wizards will win 45-50 games and make the playoffs in the East. This in itself will be hard because the East has improved significantly. Regardless, last year's experience will help the Wizards into the postseason, but their progress there can only be predicted after we see their postseason schedule. The first few weeks will be the hardest on the team because they will be learning how to play with each other. Within a few weeks, the Wizards will work out all the kinks and should be one of the best teams in the East.
Adith Sekaran. Adith Sekaran is finally a senior at Blair. Adith is a man who is a big time sports fan and can spend any day to its' entirety watching sports or ESPN. Football season is his favorite, which he spends cheering on his ‘Skins to no … More »