All personnel decisions made in the NBA are nothing more than risky gambles, much like in a game of poker. The Washington Wizards took a $100 million-plus gamble on guard Gilbert Arenas, despite the bum knee. They took a $50 million-plus risk on forward Antawn Jamison, despite his age and mileage.
They assembled a team that, if healthy, could make some serious noise in the playoffs.
While their hand showed promise, the flop didn't give Washington anything. Last year served as the turn card, but still nothing. Yet the Wizards raised and are going all-in, taking one more leap of faith—waiting for that last chance, that last opportunity at success.
As the Wizards prepare to begin their 2009-10 campaign in less than five days, major questions about the team's overall durability loom large.
Gone are the days, few as they were, when Wizards' fans could count on Arenas and Jamison to carry the load for much of the season while getting sporadic help from different role players.
While Washington has done an excellent job in bringing in talented, youthful depth to their roster, there is no question that the difference between winning 55 games or 35 games rides on Arenas' knee and Jamison's shoulder.
Jamison suffered a dislocated shoulder in an exhibition game against the Cleveland Cavaliers less than two weeks ago. The recovery process has taken longer than expected and he is now expected to miss anywhere from three to five weeks of the regular season. While the injury is not the way the Wizards hoped to start their season, their off-season acquisitions and development of young talent under new head coach Flip Saunders should put fans at ease—for now anyway.
Forward Andray Blatche has made significant strides in each of his first four seasons.
He will be vying for more playing time with Jamison out, looking to turn his fifth season with the club into his breakout year. He will likely compete with Fabricio Oberto, a savvy veteran who has spent all four of his seasons playing alongside the likes of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in San Antonio.
While injuries are a part of any season, one would be hard-pressed to find a team who has been hit with the injury bug more than the Washington Wizards over the past few seasons. It isn't just the sheer number injuries the team has had to deal with.
It is a matter of who has gotten injured. While the Wizards have one of the most talented starting five in the NBA on paper, they haven't been able to produce due to lack of playing time shared together.
The Gilbert Arenas era of the Washington Wizards began with a bang.
His arrival gave an instant shock to a dead basketball scene and brought excitement that hadn't been seen or felt since the young Bullets faced off against Michael Jordan's Bulls. But that excitement and enthusiasm has and been subdued for the past couple of years.
Despite the Wizards' key components being locked in with long term deals, the 2009-10 season will likely be the last of having the big three in peak form. Jamison isn't going to get any younger and Arenas' knee likely won't get any healthier.
If the Wizards are going to make a serious run, they are going to need their big three on the floor, for at least 90 percent of the regular season games. If not, don't be surprised to see the trio broken up as the NBA owners are not in the best position financially and with the salary cap being reduced each season.
Abe Pollin, Ernie Grunfeld, and Flip Saunders are taking a gamble with a shaky hand. While the odds of success began in their favor, things have not gone the Wizards' way.
For the 2009-10 season, the Washington Wizards are going all-in and fans are waiting eagerly for the dealer to show the river card. The next several years of the franchise depend on it.