Coming into this year, the Washington Wizards were hoping to make the playoffs for a fifth straight year, something that a lot of teams in the East cannot claim. Instead, they now find themselves all the way in the dregs of, not only the Eastern Conference, but the entire league.
They share a similar record to such mismanaged franchises like the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and the Sacramento Kings. So what exactly went wrong this season, and where can D.C.'s team go from here?
Obviously injuries have played a big part in this year's major regression. If you take away any team's most dangerous offensive player (Arenas) and the anchor of their defense (Haywood), that team cannot be as effective as they were the previous season. But a majority of sports fans claim that injuries are no excuse, "they're part of the game." That's fine, so there must be something more to it.
The Wizards got off to a terrible start this season going 1-10 in their first 11 games. This prompted the front office to make a crucial decision and fire Eddie Jordan. I certainly don't disagree with the firing of Eddie Jordan; he seems like a good guy but he has been an ineffective coach in Washington, and has never really had the respect of all of his players. He never managed to get his team to buy into the defensive side of the ball because he was always more worried about running his Princeton offense, and the Wizards only made it out of the first round once during his tenure.
So in steps Ed Tapscott. Since Eddie Jordan's firing the Wizards have gone 9-27, better in terms of winning percentage, but the Wizards really haven't looked any better since the coaching change.
Tapscott has said that he wants to focus on defense and sharing the basketball, but neither of those things are something the Wizards have done well. The Wizards are 28th in defensive efficiency in the league and 18th in assist ratio. But more than just numbers, the Wizards look sloppy and they settle for too many jump shots.
Another thing that Tapscott hasn't done well is manage the rotations. His starting lineup right now looks like this: Mike James at PG, Caron Butler at SG, Dominic McGuire at SF, Antawn Jamsion at PF and Darius Songaila at C. Now the only reason Songaila is starting at center is because Andray Blatche suffered a knee injury and is out for 2-4 weeks, another injury to another Washington big man.
What the Wizards and Tapscott really need to focus on is developing the young guys. The team is near the bottom of the league, so there is no point in playing for a better record. It seems to me as though Tapscott is running the rotation the way he is because he does not want to finish with a terrible record, in the hopes that he can keep the head coaching job.
The ideal starting lineup for the Wizards right now should be this: Javaris Crittenton at PG, Caron Butler at SG, Dominic McGuire at SF, Antawn Jamison and Javale McGee at C until Blatche heals from his injury. Mike James isn't a bad player, but he isn't in the future plans for this team while Crittenton should be.
McGee absolutely needs a lot more playing time than he's getting. He's 7 feet tall, very athletic, extremely long, talented, and raw. He seems like one of those guys who needs playing time in order to develop. He doesn't get into foul trouble that often, but when he does Tapscott takes him out immediately rather than letting him try to learn how to play through the foul trouble.
For the draft, if everything goes the Wizards' way they should draft Blake Griffin. He seems to be the best player available and he fills a need. He can replace Jamison when Jamison is done, or if the Wizards ship him out (which would be the optimal strategy). Jamison's great and he's probably the most consistent Wizard, but in a couple years he is going to be 35, and making a lot of money.
Overall, the Wizards need to start and play the young guys a lot of minutes while cutting down on Butler and Jamison's minutes, and let the young guys develop. And in the draft they need to draft a dominant low post presence who can defend and put the ball in the basket.