NBA Market Watch: Washington Wizards

NBA Market Watch: Washington Wizards
May 25, 2007, 02:47 pm
Washington had an extremely disappointing close to their season after starting off the year playing some of the best basketball in franchise history. The triumvirate of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Caron Butler successfully carried a heavy load for much of the season. But injuries to Arenas and Butler essentially ended the Wizard’s season before they could show their muscle in the playoffs.

The Wizards are at an interesting crossroads team-wise. The club is very competitive with the trio of scorers they’ve got, but their offense is still primarily perimeter oriented and they’ve been cut down in the playoffs each of the past three years by more defensively disciplined teams who have superior interior play.

With the contracts of Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas possibly coming up for review, it is important for Washington to take advantage of this season’s draft pick to acquire someone who can bring talent upgrade to the frontcourt.

Roster and Financial Breakdown:

[c](Salary Cap projections were created taking the average increase over the past 5 seasons)[/c]

Record/ Overview:

41-41, 7th place Southeast Division, 7th seed Eastern Conference

There were some team chemistry issues to address as Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas decided that the team wasn’t big enough for the two of them. The team overcame that obstacle and got some spirited play from Darius Songaila toward the end of the year, which will help the team to make a move in the offseason to rectify the harmony of the locker room.

The late season swoon took a toll on the psyche of the team overall, which is understandable. Talk about Arenas exorcising an out-clause in his contract surfaced, albeit quietly, as frustration over a lost season put everyone in a bad mood.

The Wizards as a team made some substantial strides this year overall before the injury bug hit, so there is much to build off of for next season. Caron Butler arrived and took the next step from solid, complementary player to legit cornerstone All Star.

Deshawn Stevenson did an admirable job as the fill-in 4th scoring option for the team as well. But the bench could use a primary scorer, a job Stevenson would be ideally suited for if the Wizards had a better alternative for the starting rotation.

The team seems close to being a true contender in the east but will have to iron a few of the details out before it can truly be placed above Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit.

Current Assets:

The Wizards don’t have much in the way of expendable assets unless they feel that they can move Jamison for something substantial. Brandon Haywood already has one foot out the door and is a serviceable starting center in the league, but isn’t going to command big time value in return.

In terms of prospects, its difficult to see any of Washington’s younger players getting a ton of attention. Donnell Taylor and Andray Blatche are probably the two most intriguing, and that isn’t saying much considering what each has accomplished thus far.

Expiring Contracts-

The big nugget in this crop is Antawn Jamison and his enormous 16 million dollar player option year. Jamison is happy in Washington by all accounts and there is little chance he sees that kind of money again, so picking up the option is a no-brainer from his perspective.

After this upcoming year Jamison and the team will have to sit down and truly evaluate direction and value both on an organizational and a personal level. Jamison is a great secondary scoring option, but isn’t a franchise player, so re-signing him has to account for the other missing elements for the team. Since Jameson plays primarily in the frontcourt but spends his time as a face-up perimeter player, the team is going to have to figure out how to acquire someone who can deliver consistent points in the paint off of plays other than slashing-something Jamison hasn’t done for quite some time.

Jarvis Hayes and DeShawn Stevenson are the only other expiring deals of consequence. Stevenson has a good relationship with Arenas and has played well in a supporting role to the top 3 scorers. Stevenson’s defense and willingness to defer to the other starters makes him an ideal role player for this team on the wing. The Wizards would be wise to keep him as long as his contract demands don’t exceed reasonable expectations for a player of his age and role.

Hayes has never become the player he was projected to be for the Wizards when he was a lottery pick three years ago. An uncanny streak of health issues has limited Hayes’ ability to fulfill the promise of his sweet stroke, but its hard to justify re-signing him despite that unless he can put it together and show the team that he can anchor the bench scoring role for this team.

Total Cost: $20,900,000

Rotation Players-

Everything in Washington centers around Gilbert Arenas and retaining him as the focal point of the Wizard attack is essential for the roster as its currently constructed.

If Washington was to entertain the thought of trading Arenas they’d have a long list of suitors for his services. Washington could easily get picks and prospects for their superstar leader, who is just 25 years old. But it seems much more logical for the team to retain Arenas and figure out how to maneuver their other pieces in order to give him the frontcourt complement that will make this team great going forward.

Caron Butler is almost as valuable as Arenas when it comes to his importance to the Wizard’s attack. Butler has the size and strength to overpower most any small forward he matches up against, but still has the lateral quickness and intelligence to be a bulldog defender.

Butler was wisely locked up for the long-term and Washington is highly unlikely to look at moving him anytime soon.

Etan Thomas and Darius Songaila appear to be the team’s frontcourt duo going forward as Brendan Haywood has become a locker room distraction and overall undesirable influence on the team.

Thomas missed time early in the season and then had to split minutes with Haywood as the team tried to appease both players while they were in the hunt for homecourt advantage. But, Thomas is the more dynamic player between the two warring parties and he more consistent overall, so keeping him seems to be the right choice.

Songaila stepped up late in the season and was one of the bright spots during a dismal playoff exit. Songaila is not much of a banger, but his face-up game is a nice complement to Thomas’ power and down-and-dirty style. Neither is a game-changer though, so there is room for another starting player to bump Songaila to the third big role, something that Haywood isn’t capable of doing.

Antonio Daniels has to be a major disappointment for the Wizards thus far. Daniels was masterful as an offensive/defensive sub off the bench for Seattle before coming to Washington two seasons ago. But Daniels hasn’t been able to effectively duplicate that same type of success during his Wizards tenure.

To his credit, Daniels stepped up big-time once the injuries devastated the team. His ability to playmake was evident once he got the ball in his hands and was able to lead on the court. The Wizards would be wise to leverage that value now to move him as the team just isn’t built to give Daniels the type of role that maximizes his value. He’s a quality backup combo point off the bench, but Arenas doesn’t ever come off the court and Daniels needs more responsibility to be at his best.

Total Cost: $41,400,000


Andray Blatche is a big question for the Wizards for this offseason. Blatche has an amazing skillset for a player his size. But, Blatche missed most of his first season after being shot and wasn’t able to do much more than nibble at rotation minutes throughout the year.

Blatche was a straight from high school player and is only in his second year, so the Wizards are probably going to extend their look at him. Almost 80 percent of drafted players don’t become starters in this league until year three and most development occurs between years 3 and 5 as players become acclimated to their environments and learn how to train effectively for the rigors of the NBA. Blatche isn’t considered to be the most mature or focused individual on the team, so the teams personal experience with him as a person will most likely be the determining factor on what they’re willing to offer this intriguing young prospect.

Donell Taylor is the only other player who could be considered a prospect at this point. Taylor has had flashes of being a quality combo guard in this league and probably will stick around and establish himself as an option off the bench for someone down the road.

Taylor has a bulldog attitude and seems like a survivor, but Washington seems to have too many backcourt options for Taylor to truly get into the rotation and show what he can do. Taylor may not have a lot of value on the market now, but a team looking to groom a combo guard for backup duty may be wise to take a look at him now.

Total Cost: $0

Free Agency

The Wizards are over the cap like most teams so any action they have on the market is going to involve mid-level signings or trades. Mid-level deals haven’t treated the Wizards particularly well in recent years, so Washington should be very careful about any additional signings that could completely restrict their ability to maneuver.

There are a number of frontcourt players on the market this year that could entice the Wizards greatly. The recent rumors about Zach Randolph are probably the best of the bunch because the Blazers probably aren’t looking for as much in return as some other teams.


The Wizards primary need right now is in the frontcourt. Assuming the team doesn’t make a trade for a major post addition, there are three prospects that are right in Washington’s wheelhouse: Tiago Splitter, Jason Smith, and Josh McRoberts.

Each of these three frontcourt prospects represents a major talent upgrade to the Wizard’s frontcourt, though none are true back-to-the-basket types. In terms of offensive potential these three players make a lot of sense though as none are so perimeter oriented that they’d be hanging out as far from the hoop as Jamison is prone to doing. If the team does add a Zach Randolph or some other veteran, any of those three rookies would be even more valuable in terms of frontcourt upgrade.

In the second round the Wizards should look to address the backup point guard position. A perfect candidate for that role would be Taurean Green, who would be ready to step right in and give the club 20 solid minutes a night.

Bench scoring is also a concern for this team, so if Trey Johnson is hanging around on the draft board the Wizards should consider themselves extremely fortunate. Johnson is the type of player who can create his own shot and anchor the bench scoring with his offensive versatility. If the team moves Antawn Jamison its not hard to see Johnson sliding into the starting lineup within a couple of seasons.

Russell Carter is another option in the second round. Carter isn’t as adept at creating shots as Johnson is, but he has a sweet stroke and could play off the ball brilliantly in Washington’s offensive sets. Carter is a good defensive player and has an intelligent basketball mind when he is focused and familiar with his role.

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