We have done Wizards Round Tables before, but this one is our first since the summer and, naturally, it focuses on the 2010-11 season ahead of us. It's been quite an offseason for the Wizards, after the unrelenting misery of 2009. The Wizards won the lottery and drafted Kentucky point guard John Wall. They traded for Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich and also acquired rookies Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker and Hamady N'diaye in the draft. They traded for Chinese forward Yi Jianlian, completing a series of lopsided deals with teams hoping to get far under the NBA salary cap to sign a big-time free agent. They re-signed the injured Josh Howard and hope to have him on the floor soon after Thanksgiving. John Wall and center Javale McGee sparkled in Summer League play. Andray Blatche got injured and began rehabbing furiously to return in time for preseason.
Then much of the good vibe developing around the team was wiped out when Gilbert Arenas casually admitted he faked an injury during preseason to help teammate Nick Young get some floor time. Arenas was fined $50,000 and the angry denunciations directed at him undermined owner Ted Leonsis' message of peace, love and keeping the drama on the court from now on.
To answer the important questions about the seriously new-look Washington Wizards going into their 2010-11 season -- which begins on Thursday night in Orlando -- DC Pro Sports Report assembled a panel of local experts to talk about our favorite cursed pro sports franchise. [Just kidding, Ted -- I don't believe in curses either.] Introducing the knights of this round table...
Rick Snider -- He's written about the Redskins, Bullets/Wizards, Capitals, anything to do with the local sports scene for over 30 years. If it happened in this town and it had to do with sports, Rick Snider was there, wrote about it and came home with the t-shirt. He's been a fixture of our Redskins Round Tables from the beginning and we're grateful he's making his first appearance here to talk hoops. Check him out at the Examiner and the Rick Snider Report.
Alex Schultz -- The lead blogger over at Wiz of Awes, a fine FanSided site devoted to Wizards worship and criticism, Alex is making his first, but not last appearance at the Round Table.
Samuel Chamberlain -- A native New Englander who must have loved watching the Celtics defeat the Heat last night, Sam covered the Boston Red Sox for the Manchester Union-Leader and is now writing about sports for TBD, one of my favorite new DC websites. He will be leading their coverage of the Wizards this season.
Craig Stouffer -- We're very happy the Examiner's lead hoops writer, who will be covering the Wizards this season, is joining us at the Round Table for the first time. We've been after him for a while and now that he's here, we hope he'll be around for all future editions.
Clinton Yates -- A staple of our Redskins Round Tables, Clinton is also a part of our Wizards Round Tables past, present and, hopefully, future. He's a local news anchor and the Sports Editor of Washington Post Express. We always ask him to help us out and he never disappoints.
Kyle Weidie -- The author of Truthaboutit.net, part of the ESPN TrueHoop network. Nobody does more interesting work covering the Wizards and if you're not reading his site regularly, you don't know nearly as much as I do. So there. This is only his latest appearance at the Wizards Round Table, with many more to come, I hope.
On with the show...
1. What was your favorite personnel decision the Wizards made this year, apart from drafting John Wall?
Rick Snider: I like trading for Kevin Seraphin of France from the Chicago Bulls. He probably won’t play much this season, but that his English is much better already means he’s willing to work hard at everything. Maybe he’s a long shot, but something tells me Seraphin will eventually produce.
Alex Schultz: Bringing in Yi Jianlian for practically nothing was Washington's best move this offseason. I'm not ready to proclaim Yi a changed man who will finally live up to his potential, but considering the Wizards grabbed him in exchange for Quinton Ross, his arrival is an instant upgrade to the roster. He fits into Washington's youth movement, can play multiple positions, and might even end up the starting center by season's end if JaVale McGee struggles.
Samuel Chamberlain: I didn't know what to think of the Yi Jianlian deal when it was first made, but I really like it now. I think being "The Guy" for the Chinese team at the World Championships in Turkey this summer was a valuable learning experience for Yi, and he looked very good coming off the bench in preseason, especially on the defensive end, where his fundamentals and rebounding have improved immensely. Throw in the large Asian community in this area, and the excitement surrounding this group (as opposed to playing in Milwaukee for a year and on two truly terrible New Jersey teams), and I think that going into this season, this is as comfortable and motivated as Yi's felt in his time in the NBA.
Craig Stouffer: The Hinrich deal works out nicely for the Wizards because they gave up so little (only the draft rights to forward Vladimir Veremeenko) and got so much (Hinrich, Kevin Seraphin and cash). More important than Hinrich's contract working out favorably - it goes through the end of next season - he's a defensive-minded leader, and the Wizards were desperate for both in the backcourt. Not a bad piece to have with so many concerns around Gilbert Arenas, too. The mentor role he plays with Wall is bit overrated, but Hinrich, despite just arriving, will be an important team leader this season.
Clinton Yates: Trading for Hinrich was my favorite decision to this point. I say that not just because he was eventually selected as a team captain, but let's be fair — if you look at the Wizards' roster, he's one of few guys with any proven NBA mettle that couldn't potentially be qualified as a knucklehead. Coming off of last season's debacle, getting a player who is at the very least a qualified NBA professional could end up being quite valuable.
Kyle Weidie: I really like the Yi Jianlian acquisition. The Wizards got him for nothing, no offense to Quinton Ross -- the Nets even threw in $3 million cash, partially off-setting the just over $4 million Yi is set to make this year. He is very talented, but that talent has laid mostly dormant due to circumstance, surroundings, and Yi's meek attitude in a foreign land. This has clearly created a lot of skeptics and doubters, and the fact that many believe that Yi is older than advertised doesn't help. But new surroundings, cultivated by a Papa Bear owner in Ted Leonsis, and re-focused training, largely thanks to David Thorpe and Bob Donewald, has created more hope around the guy (once dubbed the Chinese LeBron by some) since before he was drafted into the cold doldrums of Milwaukee. If Yi can prove his supposed new-found attitude on this young and open team, Ernie Grunfeld might have a bigger steal on his hands than getting Caron Butler for Kwame Brown.
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2. Gilbert Arenas will make the Wizards better this year, true or false? And why?
Snider: Well, they can hardly get worse than last year or 2008 so he has to make them better. If, and with Gilbert it seems to always include ifs, the guard comes in with this head straight, he’s still a pretty good player. But, something tells me Arenas will create drama at some point and that hurts the team. Overall, it’s a plus but a very tepid one.
Schultz: True. Regardless of Gil's antics--his off-the-court issues, his overgrown beards, and his on-again off-again relationship with the media--his impact on the court will only help this team. How could it not? Even if he's relegated to second-fiddle in the offense, he's still good for 16-25 points every night. You can't get that production from any Average Joe. If the Wizards end up sneaking into the postseason, Agent Zero will be a major reason behind their improvement.
Chamberlain: Right now, I'm going to give Gilbert the benefit of the doubt and say true. He played very well in the preseason (when he actually played), and didn't show any evidence that he'd actually lost his speed or basketball sense during his time away. Furthermore, he's seemed to work very well with John Wall, and I've seen no signs of any "who's the alpha dog?" issues in that locker room. He also seems to have the support of a large chunk of the fanbase, which should guard against any awkward situations or taunts at home games. You always have to keep an eye on Gilbert, but for right now, I'll say he'll be back close to his pre-Javaris Crittenton self.
Stouffer: True, if he wants to. The off-guard spot is his best spot on the floor. But his attitude and health are critical variables in the equation.
Yates: I find this a difficult question to answer because in my eyes, anything Gilbert does on the court successfully is nothing but what he's been paid to do. As Chris Rock once said, you don't get credit for what you're supposed to do. He's got a ridiculously lucrative contract and he's supposed to be a great player. Just because he got hurt then ended up as a convicted felon doesn't mean that any accomplishments this season will by default make the team better. He's already hurt the squad so much that at this point any contribution at all is a bonus, frankly. That being said, John Wall will make Arenas a MUCH better player if you ask me. So in a way, the team will make No. 9 better, not the other way around.
Weidie: A definite yes. Who else is going to be that long distance threat who can also create his own shot on the fly yet be a threat to create for teammates? Arenas' offense will be needed more than we currently realize, mostly because we don't quite know what he has left in the tank. Right now, getting his pocket picked by Tyreke Evans with the game on the line last December is an image that's most prominently burned in my memory. What have you done for us lately Gilbert? Perhaps I shouldn't go there. The feeling that he will eventually get traded has slowly crept into my psyche where I feel more inclined to tell Wizards fans not to re-embrace him like Ted Leonsis has said anyway. It's always exciting with Gilly, isn't it?
3. Will John Wall win Rookie of the Year honors? If not, who will?
Snider: I’ll say Wall won’t because something tells me Arenas isn’t ready to be No. 2. That will spillover and hurt Wall’s productivity. Plus, winning helps earn those honors and the Wiz will be fortunate to crack .500. My guess is Eric Turner gets the award.
Schultz: True. I love Blake Griffin and feel like he will give Wall a run for his money, but Griffin has to compete with a plethora of other guys (Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Aminu, Kaman, etc.) for shots and rebounds. Other than Arenas and Blatche, who else is going to take opportunities from John Wall? If he averages somewhere around 15 ppg/7 apg, I see Wall taking ROY.
Chamberlain: Yes, John Wall will win ROY.
Stouffer: Yes, because of his influence on the court at both ends. In contrast to Griffin and Cousins, who round out my top three candidates, Wall's role is way bigger for the Wizards.
Yates: Blake Griffin has to be the front-runner at this point. Some might argue about his eligibility in general, but that rule is exactly what gives him a huge advantage. The only thing new to the NBA for him this season will be actually playing basketball. And considering that he's a monster on the court, that shouldn't be a big problem I imagine. Wall has a good shot though, and I think he might actually be oddly underrated in this race. He was a bit of a turnover machine at Kentucky and I can bet a lot of fans expect him to be a highlight machine and not much else. If it turns out that he's one of the best PGs in the conference stats-wise, he's got a shot.
Weidie: I'm calling Wall with Blake Griffin a close second. Griffin won't battle the Lakers' fortress for attention via the market of Los Angeles, rather, that environment will create even more buzz around him. Not like the guy needs it though, his high-flying, high-energy game will speak for itself. But ultimately, Wall will get the award. Some might attribute it to Wall being a point guard who has the ball in his hands a ton. I'll say it's because Baron Davis still plays for the Clippers.
4. Are Andray Blatche & Javale McGee ready to become a good starting tandem this season?
Snider: Both should be ready to produce. Blatche especially looked good last season when given a chance. If they merely rise to a decent tandem then that’s fine.
Schultz: I wish I had a definitive answer on this one, but I don't. I trust Blatche and feel like he can put up 17/8 easily, but I don't trust McGee. Yet. The potential is there for that duo to score in bunches and to block lots of shots, but rebounding-wise, there's a lot left to be desired. Both guys are pretty immature on the defensive end of the floor, and can pick up silly fouls or play lazy (in Blatche's case). If Saunders can get them focused, they should thrive. That's a mighty big if though.
Chamberlain: Now we're coming to the real problem spots in my opinion. There's obvious talent there, but these two absolutely need to put it together if this team is to make any noise in the East this year. And considering that, during preseason, the following was happening:
A. Flip Saunders was both discussing the need for McGee to do "the little things" and
B. Giving Yi Jianlian starts at the 5 position, as well as
C. Saying after the Milwaukee home preseason game, "Andray's a low post scorer, he's just gotta get his big butt down there," which prompted
D. Blatche to respond with "It's tough to stay low when you've gotta set a lot of picks," that tells me that Wizards fans are in for a very inconsistent start to the season from both these guys. Maybe they'll put it together later, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
Stouffer: It's going to be a challenge. Blatche would've been more ready if he hadn't gotten injured back in June. He showed all the right signs of his potential last spring, but those contests meant far less than they do when the Wizards start with the same record as everyone else. Ask me again about him after 10-20 games. As for McGee, with the way he's performed against first-tier big men, it still seems like he's best used off the bench untill he can prove otherwise. Hmm, that's not exactly an endorsement of either, is it? The upside that both players have huge upside - it'll be up to them to demonstrate they can play at that level every night.
Yates: Blatche, no. McGee, yes. I don't have a problem with Blatche, I in fact like his game, but I don't ever see him being part of any 'tandem' or a major weapon in his own right in this league. He's a bit part player that may blow up every other week or so and I'm still not convinced he deserved a new contract no matter what the restructuring ramifications were for the salary cap. He's an inconsistent player and I don't think that giving him more money is going to change that.
Weidie: Well, that depends on your definition of 'good'. I'm going to go ahead and say no. Sure, they will dazzle with numbers and dunks (and in Blatche's case, silly behind the back dribbles on the perimeter that only work 30% of the time; in McGee's, shots that belong in the setting of 'Where The Wild Things Are') -- basically, style. But those who follow the team closely will be maddened by their inconsistency and lack of substance, partially physically (in terms of how poorly their immense and incomprehensible talents are implemented by them), but mostly mentally (which makes you wonder who on the coaching staff is going to clean the wax out of their ears). 'Dray and 'Vale will show you a lot of potential for a better future, until you realize that they are also both a little too finesse to truly make it work together.
5. Who will emerge as the starter at quick forward by January 1?
Snider: Good question, but I have no answer. Gotta see more.
Schultz: Josh Howard. By January, I'd expect J-Ho to be healthy enough to play. I don't think Saunders will stick with the three-guard lineup for that long, and it's clear he isn't too high on Al Thornton or even Nick Young as the starting small forward. If Howard can play, he's the best option the Wizards have by a mile.
Chamberlain: Josh Howard, if he's back by that point. If not, then Al Thornton.
Stouffer: Josh Howard has been ahead of schedule since training camp, and the Wizards can hardly wait, especially if he's back well before Thanksgiving.
Yates: Al Thornton, who is arguably the best player on the team if you ask me.
Weidie: It's going to be Josh Howard. No other player on the team has the size and diverse skills of Howard, with his ability to defend better over others on the rosters being the determining factor. He's playing for a contract and seems to be genuinely content with his basketball life's direction through all that he's been through (or rather, the uncomfortable bed that he's made for himself) ... mostly, perhaps, because he believes the Wizards wanted him. It's almost heart-warming enough to make one think that Howard might be the one in the top rotation most willing to sacrifice for the greater good ... after Kirk Hinrich of course. I think there could be something wrong with my heart.
6. Predict Washington's record, place in the conference and yes or no on playoffs.
Snider: Ninth overall, which means no playoffs. Probably a couple games out of it.
Schultz: 39 wins and making the playoffs as the 8 seed to be Miami/Boston/Orlando's punching bag in the first round.
Chamberlain: 35-48, 10th place in the Eastern Conference, no playoffs.
Stouffer: I'll be optimistic: 34-48. 9th place in the East.
Yates: It wouldn't surprise me if this team improved by 10 games this year, which would still keep them under .500. If they win more than 40 games I'll be shocked. I'll go with 38-44, 12th in the conference. Playoffs? Ask Jim Mora.
Weidie: I'm sticking to my prediction of 34 wins, which will keep the team in the playoff picture, but no dice ... which is what I'm saying right now. My tune can certainly change several times over. After the top six in the East (Miami, Orlando, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee and Atlanta), there is so much uncertainty. Too much for me to be comfortable with ...
7. How many wins for the Miami Heat and will they win the championship?
Snider: Boston made it work in the first season with three stars together so Miami certainly should. I’ll go for 61 wins but losing the NBA Finals to the Lakers, who threepeat again.
Schultz: 62 wins for the Heat--tops in the regular season, but a close encounter in the second round of the playoffs (the Bulls will take them to 7 games) will be followed up by a loss to the Celtics in the Conference Finals. I'd be tempted to take the Magic over the Heat in the postseason too, just because Dwight Howard would eat Miami's big men alive, and at least Howard has competent players to throw at the Big Three. Miami won't win a title until they get some help at point guard and center.
Chamberlain: 62 wins for the Heat and a loss to Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Stouffer: No championship, they'll be undone by injuries and a lack of size. They'll still finish with 68 wins.
Yates: I think the Heat will win 60 games. All this talk of them breaking the Bulls single season record may happen, just not this season. As for the title, I think they've got a great shot, but winning the East won't be as easy as it seems. Next year will be the special year for that group of players.
Weidie: I don't think so. They have to many moving parts, old legs, and the looming threat of Pat Riley over their current coach. Miami is a juggernaut, but the Lakers, Magic, Celtics, and perhaps some currently unknown wild card (what if Portland comes together with an amazing trade?) all could very well have the studs to compete. Put me down for 65, no 66 wins for the Heat, but a loss to the Lakers in the Finals as Kobe continues to prove that he just might warrant being in the same conversation as Michael Jordan.
This concludes the discussion, but Wizards Round Table will return with its panel of experts to analyze the latest news & developments with the Washington Wizards and the NBA. Stay tuned for it.
Thanks again to all who took part in the Round Table -- Kyle Weidie of Truthaboutit.net, Clinton Yates of Washington Post Express, Craig Stouffer and Rick Snider of The Examiner, Samuel Chamberlain of TBD and Alex Schultz of Wiz of Awes. Great stuff, as always, gentlemen.