The 2010-11 Washington Wizards season, which ended Wednesday night with a 100-93 loss at Cleveland, will largely be remembered for the sparkling play of rookie point guard John Wall, who averaged 16.4 points and and 8.3 assists per game and would be a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year if it weren’t for the stunning emergence of Blake Griffin. Apart from that, however, most of the positives of this past season could only be seen on paper, rather than on the court.
To wit, in December, General Manager Ernie Grunfeld traded Gilbert Arenas and his horrendous contract to the Orlando Magic for the slightly less odious commitment made to Rashard Lewis. Two months later, with the NBA’s trade deadline approaching, Grunfeld swung a deal with the Atlanta Hawks that brought Mike Bibby and two promising young players to D.C. in the persons of Jordan Crawford and Mo Evans. Grunfeld then became even more fortunate when Bibby became so desperate to play for a contending team (eventually settling in Miami with the Heat) that he passed on all of the $6.2 million the Wizards would have owed him in 2011-12.
Back on the court, the Wizards struggled to a 23-59 record, the fourth-worst in the league, capped by a truly abysmal 3-38 road mark. Back in January, when the Wizards still had yet to notch their first road win, I wrote about their issues for another website and I think the points that I made then can be used to point the way to some of the team’s problems this season and storylines to watch next season. The 2010-11 Wizards were, by and large, a young team that struggled on the defensive end, allowing their opponents to score 104.7 points per game, 7th-most in the league. To compound matters, Washington was remarkably inefficient on the offensive end. They finished 25th in the NBA in both total field goal percentage (44.3%) and free throw percentage (74.5%), 28th in three-point field goal percentage (33.2%), and perhaps most remarkably, even with the addition of Wall, only one team in the whole NBA averaged fewer assists per game than the Wizards’ 19.4 assists per game (That would be Milwaukee, with 18.8).
So, what do Wizards fans have to look forward to now? Well, for a start, there’s the NBA Draft Lottery, which will be held sometime in May. With the fourth-worst record in the NBA, the Wizards have an 11.9% chance of duplicating the miraculous achievement of 2010 and securing the first overall pick. Those are actually better odds than last year, when the Wizards had a 10.3% chance of landing Wall. The trouble here is that the 2011 draft class is not particularly deep and not, in the initial analysis anyway, full of potentially game-changing players like the bevy of Kentucky Wildcats that were selected in the first round last year. Instead, there are players like Arizona’s Derrick Williams, Duke’s Kyrie Irving, BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, and Kansas’ Morris twins, whose talent at the college level is unquestionable but whose ability to make the leap to the NBA is not. Throw in the usual motley crop of foreign players like Turkey’s Enes Kanter, and I do not envy whoever will be in the Wizards war room on draft night.
A deeper and even more pressing concern is the fact that the NBA, like the NFL, appears to be destined for a prolonged labor battle and a lockout of the players by the owners once the current CBA expires July 1. The last time this happened, prior to the 1998-99 season, each team’s schedule was reduced to 50 games and the season that followed is remembered as one of the most unimpressive in the league’s history. It is still the only time that the NBA has lost games due to a labor dispute, but if reports are true, the league is gearing up for a long battle, scuppering both its highly popular Las Vegas Summer League and its annual summer internship program (Nuts.).
The short-term effect of all this would be the same as what we’re already seeing in the NFL’s collective bargaining dispute. Namely, nothing significant could or would happen until the labor dispute gets resolved, with the possible exception of the NBA Draft, which is scheduled for June 23, a week before the CBA’s expiration date.
When (or if) there is a season next year, the Wizards will have more hard choices to make beyond which player to draft. As of this moment, the only players the Wizards have committed money to for 2011-12 are Wall, Lewis, Crawford, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin, and Trevor Booker. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the roster will look like. Will the Wizards match another team’s offer sheet to Nick Young, the team’s leading scorer this past season with 17.4 points per game? Grunfeld has said that he hopes to resign the shooting guard, but the emergence of Crawford would seem to make it less of a priority. It seems likely that Grunfeld will be less eager to keep either the injury-prone Josh Howard or the disappointing Yi Jianlian, while the futures of Evans, Hamady N’Diaye, Mustafa Shakur and Othyus Jeffers are all very much up in the air.
So, if you thought that the Wizards’ rebuilding job was close to being done, think again. Most of the big decisions have yet to be made, and much of the heavy lifting is still to come.