Sitting in the cellar of the Eastern Conference with a dismal 4-15 record, and with a backcourt producing next to nothing through nearly a quarter of the regular season, Washington Wizards’ President Ernie Grunfeld decided it was time to start wheeling and dealing.
The Wizards acquired two guards in a three-team trade involving the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets. By sending point guard Antonio Daniels to New Orleans, the Wizards acquired Mike James from the Hornets and Javaris Crittenton from the Grizzlies.
A summary of the trade terms is as follows:
Sends Antonio Daniels to New Orleans and future first-round pick to Memphis.
Receives Mike James (New Orleans) and Javaris Crittenton (Memphis).
Sends Mike James to Washington.
Receives Antonio Daniels (Washington) and conditional second-round pick (Memphis).
Sends Javaris Crittenton to Washington and conditional second-round pick to New Orleans
Receives future first-round pick (Washington).
In order for the Wizards to make salary cap room, they released seldom-used point guard Dee Brown.
The move was made due to the lack of scoring and playmaking by guards DeShawn Stevenson and Nick Young. Thus far, the burden of carrying the team has been solely on the shoulders of All-Star forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.
Combined, the duo has averaged 42.7 points per game, over 16 rebounds, just under seven assists and 3.11 steals per outing. However, the void created in the backcourt by the absence of injured Gilbert Arenas has proven to be too much for the Wizards to overcome.
While Nick Young has shown improvement from last year, his 11.3 points per game (ppg), combined with DeShawn Stevenson’s mediocre eight ppg, were not enough to alleviate the pressure from Butler and Jamison. Young and Stevenson could make for excellent contributors off the bench, but the Wizards need a point guard capable of starting as well as providing a scoring threat night in and night out.
Enter Mike James. James, a seven-year veteran, has always been a dangerous gunner out of the backcourt. Though his career average is a hardly-intimidating 10.6 ppg, he gave a glimpse of what he is capable of in the 2005-06 season with the Toronto Raptors, when he scored 20 ppg and dished out six assists in 79 games. The Wizards would be thrilled if James could provide anything close to his performance with the Raptors.
James’ role will be primarily to set up Butler and Jamison for easy looks, while helping to avoid defenses collapsing on the forwards by being a legitimate outside presence. If James can keep defenses honest while running the offense smoothly, the Wizards will have found the stopgap that they need to keep their season from sinking.
Looking slightly ahead into the future, the return of Arenas would diminish James’ minutes per game, but keeping a shooter coming off the bench could prove valuable in the stretch run—assuming the Wizards can stay afloat long enough for it.
Javaris Crittenton’s immediate impact won’t be much, given that he is still a very young and raw player. However, for the purposes of building depth at the point guard position, Crittenton was a steal. The 19th-overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2007 draft provides athleticism and leadership qualities. Head coach Ed Tapscott’s emphasis on defense could be means for Crittenton to earn more playing time.
Tapscott has shown in his short stint as head coach that defense will be the priority. The younger players seem to be responding, and Crittenton will fit right in—as long as he plays hard on both ends of the court, an aspect the Wizards have been talking about but not delivering on for years.
In the short term, look for a shuffling lineup with a merry-go-round at the guard positions between Nick Young, DeShawn Stevenson, Mike James, Javaris Crittenton, and Juan Dixon. Common logic points to the likeliness of Tapscott going with an offensive and defensive lineup.
For example, when he feels the need for more scoring, look for James to get heavy minutes.
In a game where better defense is needed, look for Crittenton and Stevenson to be on the court for longer stretches.
Though the Wizards have a steep mountain to climb, they have begun to take steps in the right direction. Finally putting emphasis on defense and addressing specific needs could help steer them in the right direction. Whenever Gilbert Arenas is healthy enough to come back, the Wizards will find themselves with a plethora of guards—each with specific skill sets that can be used at different points in the game.
It’s hard to be optimistic at 4-15, but at least a step in the right direction has been taken.