2011-12 Season Summary:
Team president Ernie Grunfeld called this the second year of a three-year plan for the Washington Wizards franchise. After finishing with the second worst record in the NBA, there will need to be some accelerated growth next season if the team is going to reach the desired destination of said plan.
As part of their rebuilding effort, the Wizards were one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the NBA. Seven rotation players were either rookies or in their second year in the league. Injuries to veterans Rashard Lewis (who was disgustingly the second-highest paid player in the NBA this past season) and Andray Blatche factored into the young guys being thrust into larger roles, but that should actually benefit the team in the long haul.
The main cog of this youth movement is former No. 1 overall pick John Wall, who didn't show a whole lot of growth from his rookie season. His supporting cast certainly had something to do with that, but you still expect to see him make steady strides. Wall's stats were consistent with that of his first year in the league though he shot an abysmal 3-42 from distance.
The team formerly known as the Bullets shook up its roster a bit prior to the trade deadline by dealing young players/sometime knuckleheads Nick Young and JaVale McGee for a veteran big man in Nene Hilario. Though Hilario only played in 11 games with Washington, his presence and experience was a welcomed addition to the young roster as it displayed better chemistry and maturity while finishing 11-14 after his acquisition.
It's easy to find a glass half-full approach for the Wizards. They finished the season on a six-game win streak and have quality young talent to go with a proven veteran in the middle. With a top-five pick in the draft, Washington will add another piece to the puzzle. I'm not ready to make a bold statement like Jordan Crawford's claim that the Wizards will be a playoff team next year, but I think with a couple of intelligent moves this offseason that they'll be one step closer to fulfilling that three-year plan.
2012-13 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Nene Hilario/Emeka Okafor/Kevin Seraphin
PF: Jan Vesely/Andray Blatche/Trevor Booker
SF: Trevor Ariza/Chris Singleton
SG: Jordan Crawford
PG: John Wall/Shelvin Mack
NBA Free Agents:
SF-Mo Evans (UFA)
PF-Brian Cook (UFA)
G-Roger Mason (UFA)
PF-James Singleton (UFA)
G/F-Cartier Martin (UFA)
SG-Morris Almond (UFA)
Wizards acquire C Emeka Okafor and SF Trevor Ariza from Hornets for F Rashard Lewis and 2nd round pick (46th overall).
2012-13 Team Salary: Approximately $56 million
NBA Offseason Needs:
With all the talented youth Washington has acquired the past couple of offseasons, it now needs to find a player or two to add to the veteran presence Nene brought to the team in mid-March. Rashard Lewis is another elder statesman on the roster, but he isn't a part of the team's long-term future, while other veterans like Mo Evans and Roger Mason are free agents. The Wizards may not need to look outside of their roster if John Wall can truly emerge as a leader entering his third season as a pro.
2. Leaping the Wall:
The parallel of Washington becoming a legitimate playoff-caliber club must coincide with Wall taking the next step toward being the true face of the franchise. He needs to cut down on his league leading 255 turnovers and work on his outside shot to reach that next level.
As I mentioned earlier, upgrading the talent around Wall will take some of the pressure off his shoulders. I also think it would be beneficial for the team to bring in a veteran floor leader who can help tutor Wall a bit.
The Wizards need to find some depth on the wing since the shot-happy Jordan Crawford is their only shooting guard under contract for next season; small forward Chris Singleton is known more for his defensive ability. A wing or two who can actually shoot the rock from distance would be ideal, since only one returning player (Singleton) connected on higher than 30% of his three-point tries.
4. Amnesty Andray:
With about $23.4 million remaining on the final three years of his contract, it's time for the Wizards to bid adieu to the enigmatic Blatche. Since they did not use their one-time amnesty prior to this past season, they can still release him and not have his bloated contract count toward their salary cap.
Young guys like Jan Vesely, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin are capable of replacing Blatche's hot-and-cold production. Lewis is also a candidate to be amnestied, but since he is in the final year of his contract, Washington might be better letting his contract play out even though he is scheduled to make a baffling $23.8 million next season. The team also has the opportunity to buy out the final year of Lewis' deal for a cool $13.7 million.