The 2010 season is finally over for the Washington Wizards and with it goes a number of difficulties they'd rather forget. Their 26-56 record gives them the fifth-worst record to close out the season.
This day couldn't come fast enough for the Wizards.
It is difficult to compare the way the season started with the way it ended because the cast is completely different, despite opening and closing with wins. I know the stories have been told before, but it bears repeating in the spirit of this retrospective.
Gilbert Arenas was suspended for the season following a December 2009 locker room incident involving multiple firearms as part of a joke. Not long after that scenario played out, the Wizards' front office orchestrated deals that sent Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to Dallas and Antawn Jamison to Cleveland.
That equates to 80 percent of the starting line-up, with only Mike Miller remaining active with the team.
All the familiar names and faces the Wizards had were gone, leaving a collection of youth and relative unknowns to soldier on through the rest of the season. Meet Andray Blatche, the consummate "potential" player who finally got his chance to shine in the changing of times.
He made the most of his opportunity, proving once and for all that he was worth all the fuss made over his star potential.
After opening the season as the starter for the injured Jamison, he averaged 14 points over the first nine games. He returned to his off-the-bench role once Jamison returned, and his performance was generally written off as a fluke. There was no way he could be THE guy for the Wizards.
The very night Jamison was traded, Blatche scored 33 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Blatche has averaged 23 points and eight rebounds in 31 games since becoming a starter. He did have a brief run-in with head coach Flip Saunders after he was particularly lazy on defense. It looked like there might be a rift developing, but since that night, Blatche has been playing hard.
Another player who benefited from the trade deadline roster purge is JaVale McGee.
He logged minimal minutes through the first half of the season, but when Haywood was traded, McGee became the starter. He had an up and down season thereafter, but recorded 25 points and 15 rebounds against in an 18-point win over Golden State on Apr. 9 and logged six blocks in a single game against the Knicks on Apr. 12.
But as I said earlier, the Wizards became a tryout team over the last 30 games or so, giving relatively unknown players a shot to make a name for themselves.
Cartier Martin, an undrafted D-League player, was signed on March 30 and contributed to wins over Indiana and New Jersey. Alonzo Gee, another D-League signing, scored in double-figures three times before his 10-day contract expired. He has since been signed by the Spurs and may be valuable for their playoff run.
The most intriguing player to don the blue and gold has to be Shaun Livingston.
If you don't know Livingston, and aren't faint of heart, look up the video of his injury from 2007. He was a top five draft choice and missed substantial chunks of time due to various injuries before this season. After a stint in the D-League, Livingston caught on with the Bobcats, but was waived late last year.
He was signed to a pair of ten day contracts before the Wizards signed him for the rest of the season, and showing he still has something to give the NBA.
In the beginning of his time with Washington, Livingston didn't quite have the flow of the game yet. Eight games in, he scored 18 points with eight assists against Orlando. Over the last 11 games, he averaged 14 points and five assists in 35 minutes of play per night.
If nothing else, the last handful of games served as a great platform for players who won't be around Washington next season.
With the team's plans for resigning players unknown, it is safe to assume that most of the players the fans had grown familiar with down the stretch will be gone come next season. There are of course exceptions, but even that isn't completely certain.
James Singleton showed a Marcus Camby-like ability to rebound on certain nights and a nose for the basket on others. Josh Howard looked like a decent second scoring option before his season-ending injury. Randy Foye ended his season with an injury, Quinton Ross gave good depth and Earl Boykins gave the Wizards a spark in some games.
No matter who returns next season, and no matter how bad this season was, there was clearly a difference in the effort given over the first half of the season and the second half of the season.
And as part of this season wrap-up, and keeping things positive, how about some unofficial awards?
Best Moment of the Season
Apr. 9, 2010, vs. Boston Celtics, W: 106-96
The Wizards pulled out a ten point win against the playoff bound Celtics, giving them their third win in four games and showing they can compete with the so-called great teams in the NBA. It showcased Blatche against Kevin Garnett, a resurgent Livingston, and a 42-point fourth quarter by Boston that wasn't enough to win the game.
Blatche scored 31 points with 11 rebounds, complimented by Livingston's 25 points, Nick Young's 19 points and McGee's 19 points and 11 rebounds. (Honorable Mention: Blatche's near triple-double).
Best Story of the Season
Seriously, watch the video of his injury and tell me he didn't look great on the floor for the Wizards. If I wanted to be corny, he would win the "Give That Man a Contract" award for the performance he put on over the last several games.
It is impossible not to like Livingston and hope his career can continue somewhere in the NBA, even if not in Washington. (Honorable Mention: Anything not related to Gilbert Arenas).
Sixth Man Award
Given that the entire roster became a sixth man towards the end of the season, this award is difficult to give to just one guy. I would have to split it between Boykins and Young. Between the two of them there is an entire season's worth of production. Boykins was good early for the Wizards and Young was good late. (Honorable Mention: Al Thornton).
Most Improved Player
Hands down, Blatche wins this award. He started the season showing his abilities and got the chance to finish the season cementing himself as a real NBA player on the verge of stardom. (Honorable Mention: JaVale McGee).
Most Valuable Player
Even though he missed all of December and most of January with an injury, it is impossible to deny that Miller helped the Wizards whenever he was on the floor. He was up and down for most of the season, but what he lacked in consistency he made up for in effort every night. He finished second in the league at 48-percent from beyond the arc and did all the little things when he couldn't scored. He rebounded, he defended, he got his teammates involved. (Honorable Mention: Blatche).