As the trade deadline approached earlier this season and rumors swirled of the Washington Wizards dismantling their roster, mailing in the season for all intents and purposes, I voiced my opinion on several occasions that I didn't think it was in the best interest of the organization or the fans to do so.
I wasn't in favor of sending forward Antawn Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers for peanuts, just like I wasn't in favor of sending Caron Butler to the Dallas Mavericks without getting some building blocks back in return.
But what is done is done. The Washington Wizards are what they are—a lottery team with no identity, no leadership, and as of right now, no sense of direction.
With Ted Leonsis assuming the majority ownership, as a Washington native and a Wizards' fan, I can only hope that he can get the team on the right track with a little bit of lottery luck similar to how he turned the Washington Capitals hockey franchise around and landed the game's best player in Alexander Ovechkin. The Wizards current team reeks of dysfunctional characteristics, lack of control, and little to no talent.
When the trades were made, one thing was made certain. The Wizards were entering a rebuilding mode that would span several years.
This isn't going to be a one or two-year fix. If the organization tries to expedite the process by bringing in high priced free agents looking for a pay day, a la Joe Johnson, they will be setting themselves back.
There are a few principles that I hope Leonsis, general manager Ernie Grunfeld, and head coach Flip Saunders follow:
This will require patience and time, but the Wizards must follow the blueprint of Memphis and Oklahoma City of making sound draft picks year after year and signing young free agents with upside.
Forget the big money guys for now, and go after the types of players that have drive, character, and unselfishness. You want to have players that can be developed, not borderline All-Stars who are set in their ways.
The new Wizards team will have to be built to grow together.
Get Rid of the Cancers
Surprisingly, I'm not talking about Gilbert Arenas. I'm talking about Andray Blatche.
Sure, he's shown plenty of signs of talent and ability since the trades of Jamison, Butler, and Brendan Haywood, but where was this for the past, I don't know, five years?
More importantly, I don't like the clashes he's had with the coaching staff, his poor decision making on and off the court, his lack of work ethic, and his boneheaded, embarrassing moments such as this past week when he desperately tried to pad his statistics to achieve a triple-double in a game that was already decided.
Blatche fits the mold of a young player with a lot of upside but he lacks the desired traits of a winner and signing him to a long-term deal this summer or the next would be an enormous mistake. To me, he is nothing but Jared Jefferies with an attitude.
The Wizards don't need that.
Add Depth with Scrappy Veterans
Having a young team will be good, but you still need savvy veterans to guide the younger guys and teach them the ways of the NBA.
Look at the players the San Antonio Spurs have had over the past several years coming off the bench. Guys like Bruce Bowen, Antonio McDyess, and so on.
Those are the types of men you need to groom the younger players into the team-above-all mentality while playing hard and focused basketball.
If the Wizards can follow these simple principles and stick to them, despite the bumps in the road that are bound to appear, they will put themselves in a position to be a talented, youthful team with a solid core that could attract a hometown guy like Carmelo Anthony in 2014* to come and put them over the top.
I'm not suggesting to bank on landing a free agent years from now the way the Knicks have done with LeBron James, but building a solid foundation and then searching for a superstar to join will be much better than trying for the quick fix and failing.
The road will be long, but the Wizards must get on the right path this summer or fans will be doomed to more miserable performances for the foreseeable future.
* Carmelo Anthony will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2011, but is widely speculated to be looking to sign a three-year extension with the Nuggets, making him a free agent again in 2014.
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