For Washington Wizards, No Effort, No Defense, and No Future

Matthew Brown@mlb923Correspondent IDecember 30, 2009

PHOENIX - DECEMBER 19:  Gilbert Arenas #0 of the Washington Wizards drinks water during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on December 19, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Wizards 121-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There are no more excuses to be made for the Washington Wizards' poor start to the season. They are 10-20 and they have lost to the NBA's worst teams this season.

But they're "still a playoff team" in the eyes of a few fans that are apparently watching their squad through rose-colored glasses.

The worst thing the Wizards can be right now is the most talented team in the NBA on paper. Yet that is exactly what they are. Just a few years ago, there was loose talk that the team was just a year away from serious contention.

Then the injury bug hit in all the wrong places.

Gilbert Arenas has missed 157 games in the last three years. Caron Butler has missed 58 games since arriving in Washington. Antawn Jamison has missed 16 games in the last three years. Brendan Haywood has missed 78 games in the last two years.

Mike Miller was a great offseason pickup for the Wizards, but he has already missed 21 of the team's 30 games.

This season, however, the remaining starters for the Wizards have been together on the floor for most of their games. They endured a rough stretch early without Jamison, but haven't been able to find a rhythm in the system implemented by head coach Flip Saunders.

But the Wizards aren't simply suffering through growing pains in adjusting to Saunders' system. They're just suffering.

In his tenure with the Wizards, current Philadelphia 76ers coach Eddie Jordan allowed his "Big Three" (Jamison, Arenas, and Butler/Larry Hughes) to run the floor and score as much as possible. It got them to the playoffs four consecutive seasons from 2004-2007.

It wasn't enough to see them past the first round more than once, though.

After the 2005-2006 playoff run, when the Wizards were bounced from the postseason by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Coach Jordan said he was going to put an emphasis on defense in the coming season. There were signs early that the Wizards had worked on their defense, but after a month of sloppy play, they reverted to their typical run-and-gun style.

It led them to the playoffs again, and for the second straight year, they were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The injuries hit, another first round playoff elimination, Eddie Jordan got the boot, and a 19-63 season ensued, earning the team the fifth overall pick in the draft—which they promptly traded away. On one hand, the Wizards gave away several underwhelming players with bad contracts, but passed up on the likes of Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry, Jordan Hill, and Brandon Jennings.

If there is one sure sign that the Wizards are on the wrong path to victory, it is that they are willing to place total confidence in a lineup that couldn't get past the second round of the playoffs five years ago, and hasn't even seen the second round since.

The Wizards cannot make the playoffs or win a championship, let alone be successful, built the way they are.

Ever since they drafted epic bust Kwame Brown in 2001 with the first overall pick, the Wizards have failed to draft a franchise player, or even a good role player. They had four picks in the 2002 draft (two in the first, two in the second) and picked Jared Jeffries, Juan Dixon, Rod Grizzard, and Juan Carlos Navarro.

Jeffries is now with the Knicks, Dixon is playing overseas, Grizzard bounced around the D-League, and Navarro returned overseas after the Wizards traded his rights to Memphis.

Jay Bilas would be so ashamed.

The Wizards could have easily packaged their picks with a player for the chance to draft Amar'e Stoudemire, who was taken with the ninth pick that year. Or they could've picked Carlos Boozer in the second round and had a double-double machine, and a real power forward.  Yet hindsight is always 20/20.

In 2003, the Wizards could have had David West. In 2004, they drafted Devin Harris, but traded him to Dallas for Jamison. In 2006, they could have drafted Rajon Rondo instead of Euro-bust Oleksiy Pecherov.

It's a shame that Eddie Jordan had to take the fall for his players' inability to adapt to playing both ways. Flip Saunders is running into the same problem with some fans.

The Wizards' struggles extend back to the beginning of last season and show no signs of coming to an end this season. But why does it fall on Saunders to motivate the team to play defense?

I have been on rec-league teams that play better defense than the Wizards.

Arenas can say "we stink" all he wants, but it doesn't change the fact that he is part of the problem and not the solution.

While he leads the team in steals per game (1.3), he's also the team leader in shots taken per game (19.1). The Wizards don't need a point guard shooting 20 times a game at a rate less than 40 percent. They don't need the face of the franchise to point the finger at his teammates. As a superstar, or so-called superstar in this case, Arenas is obligated to take as much of the blame for the losses as he takes credit for the wins.

The Wizards have grown content in an increasingly strong Eastern Conference.

The Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, and Miami Heat are considered the best of the East, as they all have winning records. Each of those teams has a face of their franchise or a group of proven winners and veterans.

Dwight Howard is the best center in the NBA. LeBron James is the best small forward in the NBA. Dwyane Wade is one of the best guards and playmakers in the NBA. The Hawks have a mix of young talent and a veteran presence in Mike Bibby. And the Celtics have KG, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, each of whom were criticized for not being able to win it all.

The Wizards are the fourth worst team in the conference, and they are lucky to be that good.

The Knicks are biding time until they can splurge on LeBron next season. The Bucks have Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut. The Bulls have Derrick Rose. The Raptors have Chris Bosh. The Bobcats have a mix of journeymen who have given them some level of success. The Pistons have Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, and Charlie Villanueva.

Nearly every other team in the Eastern conference has some glimmer of hope for the future.

Even the New Jersey Nets have a brighter future ahead of them. Devin Harris is shaping up to be a great point guard and Brook Lopez is a monster in the post. All the bright spots on the Wizards are buried behind the contract starters.

Nick Young, Randy Foye, Andray Blatche, and JaVale McGee are all talented playmakers, but have no chance to develop behind Miller, Arenas, Jamison, and Haywood.

Even with the enormous contracts that Arenas, Jamison, and Butler command, the Wizards could very easily move them in return for picks and players.

Arenas is healthy, so even with his 10th of a billion dollar contract, teams could be interested in adding a scorer.

Jamison is older than ideal, but can give some good minutes off the bench or play a small/power forward sixth man position—similar to a Rasheed Wallace but more productive offensively.

Butler is still young and has a good reputation around the league as a hard worker and a good "glue guy."

Haywood could bring interest from a team in desperate need of a decent center.

The Wizards are definitely going to have to take some sort of loss in whatever trades they make, but as long as moves are made in the direction of rebuilding, no loss is too great to take.

It may seem drastic to ship out all the names this team has, but the other Washington team (Redskins) have been mortgaging the future for a decade and have hardly seen the playoffs, let alone a winning season. Success is built, not bought, and the Wizards have spent too many millions in an effort to buy their way to a title.


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