Washington Wizards Trade Familiarity for Their Future

Matthew Brown@mlb923Correspondent IFebruary 20, 2010

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 29:  Andray Blatche #7 of the Washington Wizards celebrates a basket against the New Jersey Nets at the Izod Center on January 29, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Wizards defeated the Nets 81-79.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 Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Andray Blatche is the longest tenured member of the Washington Wizards. Let that fact sink in.

The trade deadline marked the end of an era for the Wizards. Gone are the Verizon Center staples of Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood, with Gilbert Arenas' future up in the air.

And not a moment too soon.

The Wizards were being billed as the surprise team in the East before the season started. Arenas was healthy, Butler and Jamison were as potent as ever, and Haywood was finally playing to his potential.

The additions of Mike Miller and Randy Foye, along with numerous subtractions, had Washington looking like a contender.

After a 2-1 start, Washington dropped their next six games. The poor play was attributed to the absence of Jamison, who was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

The Wizards did win Jamison's first game back Nov. 18, a home game against Cleveland, and people were certain the team would fall into some winning ways.

How could anyone bet against Arenas' scoring and passing, Haywood's scoring and rebounding, Miller's shooting, and the added abilities of Jamison?

The Wizards went 5-10 after Jamison's first game and have won just 10 games since. Poor chemistry, costly injuries, and the suspension of a star will do that to a team.

I do not hate to say "I told you so" because, well, I told you so.

On Nov. 15, 2009, I wrote an article about Jamison's pending season debut and what it meant for the Wizards. In the article I said, and I quote, "The Wizards aren't built for the long run, and it looks like they aren't built for this season, either."

I don't know how forward thinking I was at the time considering the 2-7 record the Wizards had at the time, but it certainly resonates with the current state of things.

Butler, Jamison, and Haywood were trade-deadline casualties that marked the end of an interesting era for the Wizards. The only connections to the run of playoff appearances the Wizards made a few years ago are Nick Young and Andray Blatche.

Only Blatche has shown improvement and the potential to be a starter for the Wizards.

It is insane to think a team can endure such a drastic makeover and do much with the remaining 30 or so games. It is that sort of insane thinking that is going to fuel the Wizards for the rest of the season. Washington is rife with players who have something to prove.

A team with a chip on its shoulder is dangerous at any stage in the season. The Wizards could play spoiler at the least, or surge for a playoff spot.

The Wizards dealt away the longest standing members of the organization in favor of expiring contracts and seemingly expendable players. Josh Howard was deemed useless in Dallas with the presence of Shawn Marion.

Quinton Ross and James Singleton were trade fodder to make the deal work financially. Al Thornton didn't have a future with the Clippers.

Players with something to prove are going to take every chance they can to do so.

No matter who suits up for the Wizards this season, it is almost guaranteed that there will be substantial change next season.

There are loose rumors that the rush to clear cap space is a move made to allow the team to be active in the deep free agent class next season.

While still a longshot, the Wizards have been mentioned as potential suitors for LeBron James, given Washington's GM Ernie Grunfeld's reputation for big moves. After all, he is the one who brought Arenas in and gave him the $111 million deal.

Even before free agency is the NBA Draft, which is a deceptively deep class.

The Wizards could play themselves into the best chance at the first overall pick and the future of the franchise. One issue with that idea is Grunfeld's stance on the Arenas situation.

In short, Grunfeld has left the door wide open for Arenas to return next year, even though sentencing has yet to pass and his future in the NBA is in serious jeopardy.

Depending on how the Wizards play his contract situation, whether they attempt a buyout or look to void it, it will have an effect on the team's ability to make free agent deals and changes their draft outlook.

With two first-round picks (one from Cleveland) and two second-round picks (one from Sacramento), the Wizards have a lot of options.

One can only hope they handle the situation better than the last time they had as many picks.

The Wizards have very little to play for except themselves at this point, and whether that leads to a surprise playoff run or a better shot at the first pick in the draft, next season could be interesting. Is it too early to look forward to someone like LeBron in the blue and gold, or does that turn every other fan's stomach as much as it does mine?

Change is a fickle thing, and big change even more. The change the Wizards are in the midst of is a great sign for the future, and it gives me some much needed excitement to tough out the rest of the season and into next.

Note: The Wizards defeated the Denver Nuggets 107-97 behind Josh Howard's 20 points, Andray Blatche's 18 points and 11 rebounds , and Al Thornton's 21-point debut.

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