With two recent trades the Wizards have blown up almost all of their starting lineup. The first trade on February 13th traded C Brendan Haywood, SF Caron Butler, and SG DeShawn Stevenson to the Mavericks for Josh Howard,Drew Gooden, Quinton Ross, and James Singleton. A few days later on February 17th the Wizards participated in a three-team deal that sent Antawn Jamison to Cleveland, Drew Gooden from DC and Sebastain Telfair from Cleveland to the Los Angeles Clippers, and Zydrunas Ilgaukas, Al Thornton, and a 1st round pick here to DC. The only remaining starter from last season and the Wizards playoff run two years ago is Gilbert Arenas. Every Wizards fan knows that Gil is suspended for the rest of the season and is on his way out of Washington. Or he may not be according to a recent Washington Post article.
Many fans are disappointed with the drastic changes to the Wizards roster but I think the moves have been for the best for a few reasons.
1. The young core of players has been retained. C JaVale McGee, F-C Andray Blatche, SG Nick Young,and G Randy Foye are all still on the roster. Al Thornton is a young forward in only his third year who also has potential. Next year’s starting lineup could be Arenas at PG, Nick Young at SG, Thorton at SF, Blatche at Power Forward, and McGee at C. That may not be a formidable lineup next season but with an average age of 25.6 there will plenty of time for it become one. Blatche is blossoming in to a solid player on offense and defense who’s capable of putting up huge games. Young and McGee have been inconsistent but have shown flashes of brilliance and are a both potential superstars.
2. The old lineup had peaked. The core lineup of Arenas, Butler, Jamison, and Haywood had never passed the 2nd round of the playoffs. The previous two seasons Caron Butler missed starts in 39 regular season games and Arenas only played in 15 games. Last season Brendan Haywood only played in 6. The old lineup had a tendency to break down late in the season. And to be frank, the front-court of Haywood and Jamison wasn’t built to go deep in the playoffs. There just wasn’t enough power to match up well against Dwight Howard and the Magic or Shaq, LeBron and the Cavs.
3. Financial and Draft flexibility
The Wizards did not get much immediate value from their trades but they did clear a lot of cap space and will now have four draft picks in the 2010 draft. Ilgauskas has already been bought out of his contract and Mike James will likely be bought as well. Josh Howard has a team option so the organization can decide whether his play before his season-ending injury justifies bringing him back. Quinton Ross has a player option next year and Mike Miller,Fabricio Oberto, and Earl Boykins contracts all expire as well. Wizards insider estimates that the recent moves have reduced the team payroll from around $79.3 to $68 Million. The big shakeup will likely continue.
While D.C. may not be one of the most attractive options for the big name free agents like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, etc…the Wizards may be one of the few teams able to pay a superstar salary next year. SI reported recently that a hard cap may be put in place before the 2011-2012 season. If owners and GMs begin to feel like that is a real possibility during the off-season, they’ll be even less likely to pay out for a big name.
The lingering question remains is what will happen with Gilbert Arenas? It seems like almost anything can happen. They could try to create a third “Big 3″ of him, Josh Howard, and another star brought in during the off-season. But Arenas was the most oft-injured and most expensive player of that old Big 3. He is only in the second year of a 6 year, $111 Million dollar contract. Unless they can renegotiate his contract he will be impossible to move through trades. The Wizards could still pursue voiding his contract but that is starting to seem more and more unlikely.
If Arenas stays or if he goes, I still think the Wiz will be in good shape next season. It’s hard right now as a Wizards fan to see some of our favorite faces shipped out, but I think these moves will help the team in the long run. Two years from now I really believe that the Wizards can be in playoff contention. But if the management had stayed the course with the current lineup I think it we would be watching a steady decline. So let’s not overreact. In the long run I think the Ernie Grunfeld and the ownership are doing the right thing for the team.
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