The Washington Wizards have an uphill battle to fight over the next few years. Through diligent work, good talent evaluation, and the right mix of players/player personalities, they could have a surprisingly bright future. Assuming everything goes to plan, that is.
That plan is still being laid out with each week that passes en route to the offseason.
Let us assume that the Wizards will be without the services of newly numbered Gilbert Arenas, who recently changed his jersey number from '0' to '6' as he awaits sentencing for ringing in the New Year with guns blazing. That would leave Andray Blatche as the de facto leader and foundation for the team.
With less than a handful of players contracted through next season, there is a lot of room for roster turnover once the season ends.
A perfect situation for a team fresh off of three years of denial.
Ever since the Kwame Brown debacle of 2001, the Wizards' front office has been reluctant to put any stock in the draft. Only Nick Young, JaVale McGee, and Blatche were selected by Washington. Every other pick they have made is on another team or out of the league.
They traded away the draft rights to Devin Harris for Antawn Jamison, who is now with Cleveland. They traded away their first round pick in 2005 for Brendan Haywood, who is now with Dallas. They traded two second round picks for cash considerations to accommodate Arenas' contract.
The front office has a lot to make up for and less time to make up for it.
So what to do with a potential top five selection in the draft and some wiggle room under the salary cap?
As I said, for the sake of argument, Arenas isn't on the books for next season. That frees up roughly $17 million in cap space, meaning the Wizards would have less than $20 million in contracted players. The downside of that is the lack of players on the roster with only four players on the payroll for next season.
Washington does have the luxury of weighing their many options and setting in motion a three year plan that could renew their once bright future.
As it stands now, the Wizards are set at power forward with the emergence of Blatche. He is averaging over 20 points per game and grabbing a ton of rebounds since becoming the starter. Why some sites have him listed as a center, I do not know. He is a power forward and a good one at that.
The Wizards can easily fill the bench and much of the starting lineup with players they already have.
Mike Miller should get a contract because head coach Flip Saunders doesn't seem too confident in Young's maturity at shooting guard. McGee is still raw, but has put up a few double-doubles since becoming the starter. He has the athleticism to be great, but could stand to beef up a bit for some added strength on the boards to go with his superior length.
Randy Foye should be brought back because he is young and showed he can be a decent starting option. Thornton is under contract, and as inconsistent as he can be, is capable of 20 points and 10 rebounds on any given night at small forward.
Re-signing James Singleton, and letting Quinton Ross exercise his option to stay with the team gives the Wizards eight players with plenty of room for growth.
The draft is the key to the long-term view of the future, as the Wizards stand to have four picks come draft day.
Washington's record gives them a good chance at a top five pick and an outside shot at the first overall pick. They own Cleveland's first round pick, which figures to be in the later stages of the draft, and could have Sacramento's second round pick if it is outside of the top 41 picks.
In my opinion, the Wizards need a long-term shooting guard. Miller is an unrestricted free agent after this season, and SHOULD get a contract, but is definitely not guaranteed to.
In the event that Wizards find themselves in the top two or three picks, Evan Turner is the obvious selection. He is a great all-around player, and while he is more of a scorer than a shooter, he makes his three-point attempts count. As a sophomore he shot 44 percent from beyond the arc.
Even better about Turner is that he can easily move to small forward if the Wizards keep the pure-shooting Miller around.
Turner would be the ideal top pick, but if Washington falls out of the top two picks, there are plenty of great options available. The short list of those options includes DeMarcus Cousins from Kentucky, Xavier Henry from Kansas, Al-Farouq Aminu from Wake Forest, Cole Aldrich from Kansas, and Wesley Johnson from Syracuse.
Each fits differently into the Wizards' plans.
Henry is a great scorer and shooter, which would be ideal if Miller isn't brought back for next season. Cousins is a big body in the middle, and could push McGee aside as he is a bit stronger. Aldrich is also an option in the middle and while he is not as big as Cousins (just 245 pounds to Cousins' 280) he is more refined and has a better motor in game.
Johnson and Aminu would push Thornton to the bench if proven ready to start the season.
Both are incredibly long, boasting wingspans of 7', and can be productive on the glass. Johnson's two blocks per game average and great movement away from the ball remind me of Josh Smith, though shorter and much lighter. Aminu is more versatile and willing to play the power game, but could stand to bulk up himself. At 205 pounds, he won't hold up against the bigger forwards in the NBA unless he does.
The high draft picks are always the most scrutinized, but there is very little the Wizards could do wrong if they select any of the projected lottery picks.
The only hope is the Wizards do better with these picks than they did with their 2002 draft where they had four picks. Juan Dixon, Jared Jeffries, Rod Grizzard, and Juan Carlos Navarro were not the best selections, and only one, Jeffries, is still in the NBA. If things are going to get any better for the Wizards, the draft is the first step towards the future they hope to have.