Washington Wizards Season Preview
Team Name: Washington Wizards
Last Years Record: 43-39
Key Losses: Guard/Forward Roger Mason
Key Additions: Guard Juan Dixon, Guard Dee Brown, 18th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, Forward/Center JaVale McGee and Center Etan Thomas (back from injury).
What significant moves were made during the offseason?
After their season ending loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in June, the biggest question around Washington, D.C. was, “Will Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison be re-signed?” Owner Abe Pollin and Team President Ernie Grunfeld quickly answered those questions the first week of July by signing Arenas to a six-year, $111 million dollar contract and Jamison to a deal worth $50 million over four-years. Although Arenas got hurt again and is out until January, when healthy, Arenas , Jamison and Caron Butler are one of the most potent threesomes in the NBA.
The other significant move made by the Wizards brass was the re-signing of Juan Dixon. Dixon, who is a local hero after leading the University of Maryland to a NCAA Championship in 2002, played for the Wizards from 2002-2005. Not only was he a crowd favorite, but he developed a reputation for instant offense, by scoring 35 points in a playoff game back in 2005. With Arenas out the first few months of the season, Dixon’s ability to score in bunches could be the difference in a close game.
What are the team’s biggest strengths?
The Wizards biggest strength can be summarized in one word: Continuity.
Eddie Jordan has been the head coach of this team for six years making him the longest tenured coach in the Eastern Conference. Leading scorers Arenas, Butler and Jamison have been in starting lineup for four consecutive years. Centers Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas are the only two players left from the Michael Jordan era (2001-2003). And even though Dixon has been away from the team for three years, he played under Jordan for two years, and he understands what is needed from him. In this era of free agency, injuries, and revolving coaches, the fact that the Wizards have achieved that level of continuity is one reason they’ve made the playoffs four years straight
What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
The inability to keep key players healthy has played a major role in the Wizards’ fate the last two seasons. At the end of ’07, Butler and Arenas were hurt, and Lebron’s Cavaliers swept them out of the playoffs. Back in May, Arenas gave a valiant effort, but he was unable to finish the series, and the Cavs defeated them once again.
Already this season, Arenas is out until late December/early January while he recovers from knee surgery, and Haywood is out four to six months with an injured wrist. Without Arenas, the Wizards will struggle to find that one player to hit the big shots at the end of games. Butler was able to pick up the slack at times last year, as was Jamison, but neither has the flair for the dramatic quite like Agent Zero. Haywood was easily the best low post scorer/defender on the roster. Without him, the Wizards will be utilizing the center-by-committee strategy. Thomas, fresh off heart surgery, will probably be the starter, and he’ll be backed by an undersized trio of JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, and Darius Songalia. This will put a tremendous amount of pressure on the team’s outisde shooters, which is always a risky proposition.
What are the goals for this team?
Last season the Wizards brought in former Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach, Randy Ayers to shore up the defensive flaws, and there was immediate improvement. The Wizards allowed 99 points a game last season which was good for 12th in the NBA–a significant improvement from the previous year when they were 28th in the NBA in points allowed. Even Arenas, who was a notoriously poor defender in past years, bought into Ayers’ system. If the Wizards are going to be continue to be successful this season, playing top notch defense has to be a goal, and Coach Jordan has said as much as during the preseason.
The other goal will be to simply stay afloat until the starters return. No team in the NBA can be expected to be at its best without its star player, and Arenas represents just that. On top of that, not only is Haywood scheduled to be gone most of the season, but the Wizards have a bunch of very green players like Nick Young, McGee, Blatche and McGuire who will be expected to step up in a major way. It will be up to veterans Butler, Jamison and Arenas’ replacement, Antonio Daniels, to steady the team until everyone is healthy.
After struggling at the start of last season to play without Agent Zero the Wizards hit their stride and were able to make the playoffs without the services of their best player. When healthy, Arenas is capable of putting up 30, 40 and 50 points a night with no problem, and his teammates just have to find baskets where they can. Without Arenas, the team was forced to play more of a team game, and take on the hard nosed identity of veterans Jamison and Butler. During last year’s playoffs, the Wizards seem to play better without Arenas, and there was serious talk around Washington, D.C., about whether he was even needed.
Now, a knee surgery and $111 million dollars later, Arenas is still with the team, and he’ll have to prove that he can co-exist with the rest of his team. He can score 40 to 50 points a night, but he’ll have to balance that out with hard nosed defense and timely ball movement. If Arenas masters this skill, the Wizards will be a tough out in the playoffs and they may even finally beat LeBron and the Cavs. If not, it could be a long season for Coach Jordan and the Wizards.
Predicted Record: 41-41
Photo Credit: ICON Sports Media