Gilbert's Arena

Friday, September 01, 2006

Team USA Fails Again...

Watching the US team lose to Greece felt like watching a McDonalds All-American team get smoked by 5 old guys in rec-specs at the YMCA. Athletically, Greece was a joke compared to us, but they figured out our weakness and then exploited it ruthlessly.

USA went up 12 in the 2nd quarter, behind pressure defense that was suffocating the Greeks, and it looked like we were about to run them right out of the building. But then Greece figured out that all they had to do was run a high screen and roll EVERY FREAKING TIME, and they proceeded to wax the floor with us for the final two and a half quarters. They literally ran the exact same high screen and roll play on EVERY possession. Results varied from the ball-handler popping a three when we sagged under, the ball-handler driving to the basket for a layup when we fought over the screen, the screener stepping back for a spot-up jumper when his man jumped out on the ball-handler, or the screener rolling hard to the basket for a layup when we switched. It honestly seemed like Greece must have scored on 20 consecutive possessions in the 3rd quarter.

Beyond the failure to defend the pick-and-roll, there were definitely some other problems. For one, our horrendous free throw shooting killed us. We shot 20 for 34 (58%). We still could have won this game if we had respectable free throw shooting. But more importantly than that, this team just had NO idea how to attack a defense as a team. Our half-court offense was a joke. In fact, I would feel uncomfortable even saying that we had a half-court offense. Unlike in past years, we had guys who could spot up and hit jumpshots, but it doesn't matter if you're not creating open looks through your offense. NBA players only know how to attack 1-on-1, NBA-style. But is it their fault? NBA defensive rules are such that NBA offenses focus on creating mismatches in isolation. You pick which one or two defensive players you want to attack and you pick which one or two guys you want to attack them with. So how you can you take these guys out of their system, throw them onto a team with a bunch of other guys accustomed to that system, and then expect them to know how to attack an entire defense using their entire team in the offensive scheme after 3 weeks of practice? It's just not gonna happen. Combine that with the fact that alot of these guys never learned to play team basketball in high school, and alot of them skipped college or only played for a year or two in systems that were tailored to their individual abilities, and you start to wonder if any Team USA will ever be able to play the game the right way to win internationally. The only hope is that the new Team USA system of 3-year commitments will allow these guys to gel over the next few years, and hopefully begin to add more complexity to their offensive system than just standing and watching Melo, Wade, and James go 1 on 5.

In other news (sort of)...

Just as I expected, Gilbert Arenas's supposed groin injury was a load of BS from Team USA that was designed to let Gil exit the team gracefully without getting formally cut:

Not surprisingly, Gilbert isn't too happy about it, and he's blaming the assistant coaches, Mike D'Antoni of the Suns and Nate McMillan of the Blazers. He feels like the roster was pre-set before training camp, and that he never really got a fair shot at making the team. But most importantly for Wizards fans, Gilbert is already talking about how he feels disrespected and how he's going to take it out on the league this year. He especially felt slighted by the fact that he's one of the top scorers in the game, yet he was asked to change his game to fit in, whereas LeBron, Melo, and Wade were allowed to be themselves.

Heres a nice juicy quote from Gil that should get any Zards fan REALLY fired up for the 06-07 season...

‘‘I’m going to be the silent assassin,’’ Arenas said. ‘‘I can’t wait to play the Suns and Portland . . . against D’Antoni, I’m going to score 100 in two games.”

Gilbert's dropping AT LEAST 30 a game this year, no question!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Arenas won't play in the World Championships

With the deadline looming for the USA team to trim their final roster from 14 to 12, Gilbert Arenas made the decision easier for USA officials by pulling out of the tournament with an apparent groin injury. According to National Team Managing Director Jerry Colangelo, Arenas strained his groin in practice on Monday and was sent home as "a precautionary move" since "he has had a history regarding groin pulls". To be honest, I think that Gilbert was going to be cut in the next few days anyway, so this may just be a way to save him some embarrassment. Coach K has been playing Arenas and Bruce Bowen (the likely final cut) less and less, with the pair bottoming out at 6 minutes each in Sunday's win over Lithuania. Every other player got between 10 and 20 minutes.

Coach K has settled into a rotation with Chris Paul running one unit and Kirk Hinrich running the other, and frankly I don't blame him. Both Paul and Hinrich are pass-first point guards, and with the amount of scoring talent on the roster you need a PG who will distribute the ball, not a scoring combo guard like Gilbert. Another factor is that Coach K has stressed intense, full-court, defensive pressure on the ball, and Paul and Hinrich are both much better individual defenders than Gilbert. The final factor is that both Paul and Hinrich can stroke the open 3, so Gilbert doesn't even have an advantage over them in that department.

As strange as it sounds at first, I actually see the fact that Antawn Jamison will be the lone Wizard representing the US in international play this summer as a good sign. It shows that Jerry Colangelo built this team to win in the international game, rather than assembling a roster for star power. Jamison is not nearly the NBA star that Gilbert Arenas has become, but he's a much better fit for this international team than Gilbert would be. As much as Jamison struggles to defend quicker 3's and stronger 4's in the NBA, he can comfortably defend most 4's internationally because they are typically similar to him in terms of size and athleticism, and many prefer to face the basket and shoot jumpers. Additionally, on the offensive end his deadly spot-up shooting is invaluable because it will prevent teams from just sagging back in zones as they did against Allen Iverson, Richard Jefferson, and company in '04.

> In other news...

1. The Zards are still undecided on whether or not to leave Oleksiy Pecherov in Europe for another year. Apparently his rights are owned by a team in the Ukraine, and he was merely on loan to Paris Basket Racing last year. If he stays overseas, the Ukrainian team wants him to play for them, where the level of play is significantly lower than it is France. So now the braintrust is debating whether its worth it for him to get alot of playing time against Ukrainian competition, or if they should just buyout his contract and let him work against our big men in practice every day (and potentially play some games in the D-League).

2. The always amusing acerbic wit of Tom Knott was on full display today as he ripped Isiah Thomas for signing Jared Jeffries. A sample:

<< "What Jared brings to us more so than talent, he brings chemistry," (Isiah) Thomas said. Jeffries also brings an unsettling number of rim-busting layup attempts. This proclivity is not helpful to team chemistry or to a team's points on the scoreboard. >>

Knott also praises Ernie Grunfeld for not matching, predicting that the Zards would have been paying Jeffries big money to be our 8th or 9th man by 2008.

3. Wizards jerseys are only $39.99 during's summer clearance sale. You can also get Arenas or Jamison USA jerseys HERE. I'm excited to pick up the white Arenas #10 USA jersey. But then again, I'm someone whose jersey collection is extensive enough to include Tim Legler and Detlef Schrempf, so you may feel differently.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Off-Season Round-Up

With Ernie Grunfeld’s recent announcement that this is the team we’re going to camp with, I think it’s about time to do our off-season wrap-up. Here’s what’s gone down over the past few months:

> Eddie Jordan signs a 3-year extension

Locking up Eddie was the key move to our off-season. When was the last time we had a coach who stopped by for longer than a cup of coffee? Here’s Ernie Grunfeld’s take:

"We have a very young and talented team that has made great strides under Eddie's leadership. This contract extension will provide our team with the kind of continuity and stability that we will need to have continued success in the future."

It sounds a bit cookie-cutter, but its true. We’re building a team that fits Eddie’s system, and we’re developing young players who should get better each year.

> Free Agency: Jeffries out, Songaila and Stevenson in

As I said at the end of the season, I expected Ernie to let Jared walk, because somebody out there would offer him more than he was worth. Well, once again, that somebody was Isaiah Thomas, and Knicks fans don’t seem particulary excited about, comparing Jeffries to surprise (to put it nicely) 1st round pick Renaldo Balkman ( Isaiah see’s alot of value in JJ because he’s tall and versatile (and has a good attitude), but the reality is that he just does a lot of things decently. If you’re gonna play a guy 30 mpg who stinks offensively, he better be awesome defensively or on the boards. Jared was merely solid and versatile.

Jared got the full mid-level from the Knicks, as well as some other sweeteners in the deal that only a rich team like the Knicks can pull off, like 80% of his salary getting paid upfront each year. Instead of throwing cash at Jared, the Wizards went out and got incredible deals on 2 players who fit exactly what we need, and for less combined than it would have taken to keep just Jeffries.

First of all, we added a big man whose skills perfectly fit our offense. Darius Songaila had his best year as a pro for the Kings, and its no coincidence that the Kings run the same high-post offense that we do. Songaila has nice range on his jumper, and is very comfortable facing the basket from the top of the key, and at a well built 6’10" he’s comfortable guarding opposing 4’s and 5’s. Don’t be surprised if we go small with Songaila logging minutes at Center over Haywood. The price tag on Songaila? Just over 4 mil a year, a steal.

As for DeShawn Stevenson, I’ve never been a huge fan, but at the price we got him I’m ecstatic. We essentially signed him to a 1-year deal at the veteran minimum ($932,000). All he’s being asked to do is guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player, and he’s a better perimeter defender than last year’s stopper Jeffries. Also, like Ernie said after the signing, DeShawn wants to be here and JJ didn’t: "We feel that we have plenty of players on this team to pick up (Jeffries’) slack. We want players who want to be here and are excited about the situation here."
I also love the fact that Stevenson is both clear on and enthusiastic about his role: “They told me they felt that if they had a defensive stopper in the playoffs for three plays they would've went farther. I'm not saying I'm the best defensive player in the world, but I'm going to go out there and do what I've got to do… (The Wizards) don't have a guy right now who's going to go out there and focus on defense. They have a lot of scorers. I am starting to come into my own, and I know my niche in the league. I have been working on my game, and that is what you have to do to get better in this league. I feel this is a great team for me, a great fit."

I also believe that the unspoken motivation behind letting Jeffries walk was Andray Blatche’s play in summer league. The highlight was a 38-point explosion against the Memphis Grizzlies. In 4 games in the LA Summer Pro League, Andray averaged 27 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a block. In the games I saw on NBATV, he continued to show incredible athleticism and quickness for someone 6’11”, and he clearly looks most comfortable playing on the perimeter offensively. The Zards brass are not going to come right out and say that they want Andray to play a bigger role this year, it would be unfair to put pressure like that on such a young kid, but they are in a nice position now where they’d love to see Blatche step up and seize playing time, and if he’s not ready they can lean on Jarvis Hayes and Stevenson to take over Jeffries’ minutes for at least one year (both will likley be FAs next off-season).

> NBA Draft: Zards take two big Euros

Our first round pick was a 6’11” Ukrainian named Oleksiy Pecherov. As I predicted, we went for a face-the-basket 4/5 with excellent range on his jumper. Oleksiy is still under contract in Europe with Paris Basket Racing (Tony Parker’s former team), and given the signing of Songaila who has similar skills, I expect that he will be sent back to France for another year or two of playing time and seasoning. I saw Oleksiy play in 2 summer league games for the Zards, and I liked what I saw. First of all he’s big and rugged. He’s definitely big enough to play Center in the NBA, and he’s not afraid to use his body. He got physical around the basket, and did a nice job on the boards. Second of all, he has range and he’s not afraid to use it. He was letting fly from the NBA 3-point range with no qualms. But despite this perimeter orientation, he didn’t let his size go to waste on the perimeter. Whenever a shot went up, even if it was his own shot, he crashed hard to the rim. He really seemed to like to mix it up, just as much as he liked launching threes. And finally, he could put the ball on the floor. Its amazing to see a guy that large drive into the line and use two or three dribbles, and Oleksiy did it several times with confidence. Final verdict: he’s only 20 years old, he’s gonna log plenty of playing time in France this year, and I really like his prospects down the line to be a Mehmet Okur type offensive player, but with more of an inclination to bang defensively and on the offensive boards.

Our 2nd round pick has a very similar scouting report to Pecherov. He’s a 6’11 forward from Belarus named Vladimir Veremeenko, who has 3-point range, and is comfortable putting the ball on the floor. From what I can tell though, he seems to be a bit more of a 3/4 (slighter build, less inclination to scrap inside) whereas Pecherov is more of a 4/5. There has been very little chatter about Veremeenko, most likely because didn't play in summer league, is under contract with a team in Russia, and is expected to stay there for the time being.

> Gilbert and Antawn are playing in the World Championships

Both of our boys made the cut and will be traveling on the 14-man roster to Asia. I was in Las Vegas last week for the first exhibition game against Puerto Rico, and the team was very impressive. It’s easy to say that it was just Puerto Rico, but that was the same team that beat us 92-73 in the ’04 Olympics. That said, everything changes when we play in foreign arenas.

In Vegas, the team looked VERY different from the ’04 squad. We played defense hard, applying full-court pressure, and bodying up tight in the half-court. Other than Carlos Arroyo, the ball-handlers for Puerto Rico couldn’t take the heat. Our big men were also prepared to contest the perimeter, which is important when we face teams filled with 6’11 jump-shooters. Offensively, we had shooters and pass-first point guards. Chris Paul, LeBron, and Kirk Hinrich were looking to get everyone involved, and guys like Arenas, Jamison, Carmelo, Joe Johnson, and Shane Battier were spotting up and hitting 3’s. We used our defense to create turnovers, and then we pushed the ball in transition to utilize our athleticism. It was EXACTLY how the U.S. needs to play if we want to dominate.

Now on to the big question for Zards fans… how much playing time are Gil and Tawn gonna get? Judging from the first two games (the second was a drubbing of Yao-less China), its impossible to tell, as Coach K split the team into two shifts of 7 and alternated them each quarter. On Tuesday however, against a Brazil team featuring Leandro Barbosa, former Spur Alex Garcia, NBA prospect Tiago Splitter, and Anderson “Side Show Bob” Varejao, Coach K seemed to go with more of a set rotation. Unfortunately Gilbert got treated like he does in the All-Star game, logging a team-low 6 minutes. The starters were Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony (has been on fire offensively in the exhibition games), Lebron, and Dwight Howard (who was an absolute rebounding monster against Puerto Rico), but Elton Brand, Joe Johnson, and Kirk Hinrich came off the bench to log significant minutes along side Lebron and Chris Paul. Hopefully Coach K was just giving Hinrich an extended look, and those minutes will go to Arenas once the World Championships roll around. Given Hinrich’s significant defensive advantage over Arenas however, I wouldn’t count on it.

> 2006-2007 schedule

The Zards schedule was released about a week ago, and our opening game will be a rematch on national television (ESPN) against the Cavs. The excitement of last season's first round match-up with Cleveland clearly caught the attention of the rest of the league, and it looks like the NBA wants to push a nice little rivalry between the teams, and between Gil and LeBron.

We are scheduled for eight games on ESPN, one on TNT, and at least one on ABC. That means that on average the Wizards will be on national TV at least once or twice a month. Bring on the national exposure!

> Expected 06-07 Rotation

1: Arenas, Daniels
2: Hayes, Stevenson
3: Butler, Blatche
4: Jamison, Songaila, Ruffin
5: Haywood, Etan
Pine: Booth, Taylor, Ramos
15th Roster Spot: Is it a camp battle between Awvee Storey and Billy Thomas, or will Grunfeld unearth someone new?

The Wizards potentially have a rotation that could go 11 deep this year, with Calvin Booth, Donell Taylor, and Party John Ramos the only players guaranteed to ride pine. Like I said before, don't be surprised if you see a line-up with Songaila starting at the 5. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Stevenson start at the 2 as a defensive stopper, with Jarvis Hayes coming off the bench as a primary scorer in the 2nd unit.


In the meantime, enjoy Gilbert and Antawn in the World Championships:

And don't forget to vote on the newest Wizards dancer:

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ladies and gentlemen, the Gilbert’s Arena mock draft!

This draft lacks a clear hierarchy at the top, but it’s incredibly deep. There are going to be some excellent players that come out of the late 1st round and the 2nd round of this draft.

My mock is a combination of who I like personally and who I think teams will actually take. Sometimes I go for who I would take. Other times, I just don’t think the drafting team would agree with me, so I try to read their mind. The blurb for each pick should make my rationale more clear.

It’s probably a bad idea to permanently post something like this on the internet, so that people can see what an idiot I am for years to come. Oh well, here goes nothing:

> 1 – Toronto: Andrea Bargnani – Combo Forward, Benetton Treviso (Italy)

Obviously I’ve never seen Bargnani play, but Brian Colangelo seems like someone who would jump at the opportunity to draft the next Dirk. And unlike Darko Milicic when he went #2 to the Pistons, Bargnani is actually a solid contributor for one of the top club teams in Europe. So in terms of immediate impact, don’t think Darko, think Pau Gasol. Comparison: Dirk

> 2 – Chicago: LaMarcus Aldridge – PF, Texas

LaMarcus Aldridge fits an immediate need at the 4 for the Bulls. Tyson Chandler is a defender and rebounder at the 5, so the Bulls are in desperate need of a scoring big-man to fill the hole left by Eddy Curry’s departure. Aldridge has a nice mid-range post-game that reminds me in a lot of ways of Jermaine O’Neal. That said, the Bulls might want to trade this pick for a veteran, given the overall youth of the squad. Comparison: Jermaine O’Neal

> 3 – Charlotte: Tyrus Thomas – PF, LSU

I’m not as high on Tyrus Thomas as everyone else seems to be. Some people compare him to Shawn Marion, but I don’t see Marion’s ball-handling skills or jump-shot. And until I see an indication that Thomas can develop his non-athleticism skills, it seems like a huge risk to spend a pick this high on him. Ideally, he’d go back for another year, and we would see what kind of skill progression he is capable of. At the moment, the player he most reminds me of is another undersized, low-skill, high-athleticism PF, Kenyon Martin. Comparison: Kenyon Martin

> 4 – Portland: Adam Morrison – SF, Gonzaga

I think Adam Morrison is going to be a bust, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Portland took him here and turned around and dealt Darius Miles to try to win back some fan support. It’s tough to be an All-Star swingman at the NBA level when you have a 12-inch vertical and a complete lack of lateral quickness. Morrison’s not going to overpower anyone either, so I’m not exactly sure how he’s going to score at the pro level. And he can’t guard anyone either. So yea, good luck with that. Comparison: Ed O’Bannon

> 5 – Atlanta: Randy Foye – Combo Guard, Villanova

Foye could be very successful at the NBA level if he lands with a team that doesn’t try to force him into a specific PG or SG role. He just needs to be a Guard. Atlanta could pair him with Joe Johnson in the back court, run a fast-paced offense, and really have an exciting young team along with Josh Smith and Marvin Williams. It’s tough to come up with a good NBA comparison for Foye, because I really think he’s a unique player. Comparison: Gilbert Arenas

> 6 – Minnesota: Rudy Gay – SF, UConn

Nobody’s gotten a more unjustified bad rap this season than Rudy Gay. As the youngest core player on a stacked team with a strict coach, how can you expect him to take all the shots and demand the ball in clutch situations? Cocky, veteran leaders like Marcus Williams and Rashad Anderson aren’t about to just turn the reins over to a 19-year-old, not matter how talented. Even so, playing within the UConn system and letting the game come to him, Gay led the Huskies in scoring and steals, and finished just behind Armstrong and Boone in rebounds and blocked shots. His game is perfectly suited to the 3 position in the NBA, and the Wolves should pounce all over him if he’s available at #6. Comparison: Rashard Lewis

> 7 – Boston: Rajon Rondo – PG, Kentucky

Rondo is a tremendous athlete and energetic floor leader who was trapped in the wrong offensive system at Kentucky. In an open-court game, his defensive tenacity and speed would be devastating. His upside reminds me of TJ Ford or Tony Parker, however he is a far better rebounder than either. Like Ford and Parker, his shot is pretty awful, but on a team like Boston he could get to the rim or feed shooters like Pierce, Szczerbiak, and West. Comparison: TJ Ford, Tony Parker

> 8 – Houston: Brandon Roy – SG, Washington

Brandon Roy keeps getting mentioned as a higher and higher pick, and I’m not exactly sure why. He’s a nice player, but he doesn’t do anything particularly well. He’s not overly quick, he’s not particularly athletic, he doesn’t handle the ball or see the floor like a PG, he’s a little short to play SF, and he’s not a lights out 3-point shooter. So where’s his niche in the NBA? I don’t see him being anything better than a nice complimentary player on a good team. Is that worth a top-10 pick? Comparison: Mo Peterson

> 9 – Golden State: Marcus Williams – PG, UConn

Marcus Williams is old school. He plays at a steady place, looks for his teammates first, and will make you pay if you leave him open. And when its crunch time, he has no fear of taking the shots. Throw in his high dribble, and there are two obvious old school comparisons for Marcus... Comparison: Mark Jackson, Rod Strickland

> 10 – Seattle: Shelden Williams – PF, Duke

I expect a tremendous instant impact from Shelden Williams. Much like happened with Carlos Boozer, I think we get so overexposed to Duke big men that we forget what they are capable of and start looking elsewhere for guys with more upside. In reality, how is Shelden Williams any different from Emeka Okafor two years ago? Similar height, same shot-blocking defensive impact, and both have efficient post games that feature a jump-hook. Comparison: Emeka Okafor

> 11 – Orlando: Rodney Carney – SF, Memphis

In my mind, Carney is the most overlooked player in the draft. I would have no qualms taking him in the top-5. He’s an absolute FREAK of an athlete, and he improved his 3-point shooting ever year, to the point where he now hits at a 40% clip. With his size, speed, jumping ability, and jump-shot, how can you stop him from scoring? Comparison: Jason Richardson, Shawn Marion, Richard Jefferson

> 12 – New Orleans: Patrick O’Bryant – C, Bradley

I wouldn’t be shocked if O’Bryant ends up going higher, due to the dearth of legit Center prospects in this draft. Especially if he impresses in workouts. From what I saw of O’Bryant in the NCAA tournament, he could be an impact pivot player in the league. He looks to be a legit 7-feet, and was very nimble and athletic. Comparison: Robert Swift (I’m high on Robert Swift’s potential, so that was a compliment)

> 13 – Philly: Kyle Lowry – PG, Villanova

I’m not sold on Lowry’s NBA potential yet, as I think he benefited from all the attention that Randy Foye and Allan Ray drew, and I’d like to see how he could step up on his own. However, if the Sixers decide to move Iverson, a local product with an NBA body, quickness, and strength like Lowry could be a tempting replacement. Comparison: Jameer Nelson

> 14 – Utah: Ronnie Brewer – SG, Arkansas

For some reason, I’ve just never seen this guy play. I guess they just don’t show a lot of Arkansas games in the northeast? Utah needs a SG badly, and I feel like saying JJ Redick to Utah is just a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that Utah is a Mormon state and once featured a white-wash backcourt of Stockton and Hornacek. Comparison: N/A

> 15 – New Orleans: Shawne Williams – SF, Memphis

A ton of talent, but seems undisciplined and raw. Definitely a boom or bust pick, and 15 seems like a good time to try it. Comparison: Eddie Robinson

> 16 – Chicago: Hilton Armstrong – C, UConn

He’s big. He’s athletic. He can rebound. He can block shots. He has no offensive game to speak of. Comparison: Joel Przybilla

> 17 – Indiana: JJ Redick – SG, Duke

JJ should stick around the league for a long time due to his 3-point shooting, but I don’t know if he’ll be a starter since his lack of quickness could spell doom on the defensive end. Comparison: Voshon Lenard, Jeff Hornacek

> 18 – Washington: Alexander Johnson – PF, Florida State

This may seem a bit high to some who don’t know his name, but I think he could really be a nice fit for the Zards. He’s 6’9, he can run the floor, he’s extremely athletic, he has range out to the college 3-point line, and he showed his dedication last off-season by hiring a dietician and slimming down to 225. I harped all season on the need for the Zards to ditch B-Wood for more athletic big-men who can run the floor with Gil/Caron and hit a jumper from the high-post to open up our half-court Princeton sets. Johnson is exactly that kind of player. Comparison: David West

> 19 – Sacramento: Tiago Splitter – PF/C, Tau Ceramica (Spain)

I haven’t caught any Tau games lately, but I’ve read that Splitter is a tough, strong PF. It seems like he’s been a draft prospect for the past 5 years. Apparently he still has a huge buyout, so he’d have to go to a team like Sacramento that can afford to wait on him. Comparison: N/A

> 20 – New York: Mardy Collins – Combo Guard, Temple

Whenever I’ve watched Temple games, I’ve been underwhelmed by Collins. He’s not particularly great in any aspect, but he’s 6’6” and can play the point, and you know how NBA scouts inexplicably get their knickers in a bunch when it comes to tall PGs. Comparison: Reece Gaines, Jeryl Sasser

> 21 – Phoenix: Jordan Farmar – PG, UCLA

He’d be a nice back-up and potential long-term replacement to the injury prone and aging Steve Nash. Especially since it’s becoming more and more clear that Leandro Barbosa isn’t really a PG. Comparison: Mike Bibby

> 22 – New Jersey: Olexsiy Pecherov – PF, Paris Basket Racing (France)

The Nets need a skilled PF, and scouts say this guy should fall in this range. Comparison: N/A

> 23 – New Jersey: Leon Powe – PF, Cal

I love Leon Powe. He’s tremendously skilled and a rugged rebounder. If it wasn’t for his knee injury after his freshman year, he could have been a potential top-5 pick. I expect the Nets to use both their picks on big guys, and Powe could be a steal in this spot. NBA Comparison: Ike Diogu

> 24 – Memphis: Mohamed Saer Sene – C, Verviers-Pepinster (Belgium)

There’s a lot of hype surrounding Sene at the moment. Supposedly he’s tremendously raw offensively, but an outstanding defensive force and an extremely active player. Comparison: Theo Ratliff

> 25 – Cleveland: Shannon Brown – Combo Guard, Michigan State

Lacks the size to play the 2 and I don’t think he handles well enough to play the 1, but he’s a great athlete and an excellent scorer. He could fit well with a player like LeBron who dominates the ball in most cases anyway. Comparison: Bobby Jackson

> 26 – LA Lakers: Quincy Douby – Combo Guard, Rutgers

If he played somewhere other than Rutgers, Douby would be getting more hype. He can shoot the lights out from three, and he’s also very versatile in his ability to defend and play some point guard. He’d be a nice pseudo-point guard in the triangle offense. Comparison: Ron Harper, Derek Anderson

> 27 – Phoenix: Maurice Ager – SG, Michigan State

Ager was the best player on a team that featured two other potential first rounders, Shannon Brown and Paul Davis. He has the size, athleticism, and jumper to succeed at the 2 in the NBA, so why is nobody talking about him? Is this another Michael Redd situation where people inexplicably ignored him in the period leading up to the draft? Comparison: Latrell Sprewell

> 28 – Dallas: Guillermo Diaz – SG, Miami

Diaz is an undersized, athletic, gunning SG with a questionable attitude. Somebody will take a chance on him. Comparison: Dejuan Wagner

> 29 – New York: Cedric Simmons – PF, NC State

Has been rated a lot higher than this in most mock drafts, but I don’t see it. He had one good game against Duke, but I don’t think it was indicative of his level of play all-season. He seems to be a bit slow-footed to me, and I’ve never seen the “excellent athleticism” that he’s reported to have. Comparison: Melvin Ely

> 30 – Portland: James White – SF, Cincinnati

Coming out of high school, James White was overrated. He was a tremendous athlete with very little skill or basketball acumen. Everyone wrote him off after he was an early bust, but he quietly improved his game from year to year, and he finally put it all together last year for Cincinnati. Comparison: Stacey Augmon

My favorite sleepers:

> PJ Tucker – SF, Texas

He can flat out play, and he was the unquestioned leader of a stacked Texas squad. In my mind, he’s this year’s Josh Howard, in similarity of both game and circumstance. Teams will overlook his success at the college level, and they’ll all be surprised when he continues to do the same things in the pros that he did at Texas. I don’t see why he can’t find success as a rugged 3 in the NBA. Comparison: Josh Howard, George Lynch

> Mike Gansey – SG, West Virginia

I personally would draft Mike Gansey before I took JJ Redick. He can shoot just as well, but he’s much more athletic and far more versatile. And he’s a scrappy leader. Comparison: Luther Head

> Kevin Pittsnogle – PF/C – West Virginia

Pittsnogle would be a great fit at back-up Center for the Zards. He could stretch opposing Centers all the way out to the NBA three-point line. Comparison: Sam Perkins

> Denham Brown – SG, UConn

He’s a tough defender and he has NBA three-point range. That’s a recipe for a long career. Comparison: Aaron McKie

> Ryan Hollins – C, UCLA

He’s a legit 7-feet and he’s freakishly athletic. So what’s the problem here??? Comparison: Sam Dalembert, Dan Gadzuric

> Gerry McNamara – PG, Syracuse

He’s quick, he’s a leader, he can shoot the lights out, he gets a ton of assists, he comes up big in big games... so why doesn’t anyone talk about him? I don’t see why he can’t at least be a solid back-up PG. Comparison: Speedy Claxton

Some other guys that I think have a chance to stick around the league:

> Dee Brown – PG, Illinois

His jumpshot is inconsistent, and he’s never seemed like a great playmaker at the Point, but his speed and energy alone should make him a pesky defender and fit well with a high-pace team. I would jump all over him if I was drafting early in the 2nd round.

> Richard Roby – SG, Colorado

I’ve never seen him play, but my boy Mike says he’s legit. Apparently he’s got an NBA body and can really stroke it.

> Allan Ray – SG, Villanova

Everyone focuses on Foye and Lowry at Villanova, and it seems like Ray has slipped through the cracks. He’s smaller and not as strong as Foye, but he could be a decent bench scorer.

> Pops Mensah-Bonsu – SF, George Washington

He’s got an NBA body and athleticism. If he can play lock-down defense and continue to improve his skills, he might carve out a nice career for himself.

> Daniel Gibson – Combo Guard, Texas

He can shoot, but he’s tiny as a SG and hasn’t yet learned to run the point. Where do you play him?

> Josh Boone – PF/C, UConn

Big and strong but kind of a stiff. Reminds me of someone like Chris Taft.

> Steve Novak – Combo Forward, Marquette

He’s tall and can launch 3’s, but he’s skinny and slow. Could be useful off the bench.

> Hassan Adams – SG, Arizona

Tremendous athlete, but shaky ball skills. Reminds me of former USC Guard Jeff Trepagnier.

> David Noel – SF, UNC

He won’t blow you away, but he’s strong, smart, tough, and athletic. He’s kind of a poor man’s PJ Tucker, if that makes any sense. He could do some nice things off the bench for an NBA team.

> Daniel Horton – PG, Michigan

I always liked Horton, but he never could win at Michigan and was always overshadowed by other Big Ten PGs. When he gets away from the mediocre coach and mediocre talent at Michigan, I’m hoping Horton will show what he’s capable of.

> Eric Williams – PF, Wake Forest

He’s undersized at the 4, but he uses his body well to get off his go-to hook in the post. In the end though, his lack of size and lack of athleticism are probably the kiss of death. Think Lonnie Baxter.

> James Augustine – PF/C, Illinois

If he can hit 10 to 15 footers with consistency, run the floor, defend opposing 5’s, and rebound his position, Augustine will stick around.

Bum City:

> Aaron Gray – C, Pitt

Too slow-footed and lacks touch. He missed WAY too many easy shots at the college level.

> Paul Davis – PF, Michigan State

He was outrageously hyped out of high school, but his mediocre athleticism doomed him. I don’t see how any part of his game translates to the NBA, other than the ability to occasionally hit a 15-footer.

> Nick Fazekas – Combo Forward, Nevada

Similar to Steve Novak, but taller, skinnier, and more awkward.

> Darius Washington – PG, Memphis

I wouldn’t touch this guy with a 10-foot pole. He thinks he’s Allen Iverson, but he’s not nearly as talented, and he plays out of control.

> Carl Krauser – PG, Pitt

He’s had an eye on the NBA for a long time, but he never developed his jump shot, and he lacks top-end quickness.

> Taquan Dean – SG, Lousville

I just don’t think he can compete athletically at the 2, and he never showed any PG skills.

> Marco Killingsworth – PF, Indiana

Undersized, a bit stiff, and can only use one hand.

> Mustafa Shakur – PG, Arizona

Shakur is another extremely hyped high school player who never developed his game at the college level. His jump shot is iffy and he lacks NBA quickness.

> Craig Smith – SF?/PF?, Boston College

Has an outside shot if he can slim WAY down and convince someone he can play the 3.

> Aaron Afflalo – SG, UCLA

He’s a nice complimentary college player.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ernie Grunfeld talks to the media

Inside Hoops recently posted a full transcript of Ernie Grunfeld's post-season press conference. Here is the full transcript, interspersed with my reaction to and analysis of each of his statements:

On the end of the season: “I think right now we are all disappointed on how the season ended for us. We played a very exciting series against Cleveland. I just finished meeting with most of our players and they all feel like we should still be playing -- and that’s good. The series hurt them and bothered them. At the same time, it gave the players added motivation for next year. We are very excited for what the future holds for us. I think the players are going to use this series as extra motivation to come back and be ready for next season. Our players understand what’s expected of them. They are very competitive and they have a lot of pride, and I think they showed that with the resiliency they showed after some tough losses this year.”

I still believe we were the better team than the Cavs, and look what they’ve gone on to do against Detroit. Say what you will, but this team as constructed could have done some damage in these playoffs (at least until we played the Heat…)

On his goals: “When I first got here we said our goal was to become perennial playoff contenders. We just made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 18 years. I think we have put ourselves in a position where we have achieved some of those goals. I think the nucleus and the core of this team is set going forward, where we can remain competitive. We have a very good core of young players. This is still a very good, young team. I think we learned a lot from this playoff experience and our players still have a lot of room for growth.”

It's crucial that Zards fans maintain perspective on how far we've come in just 2 years. Let’s take things one goal at a time. Goal #1 was to become a perennial playoff team. Check. Now we have to build our young nucleus into a championship contender. It doesn’t happen overnight.

On the focus of the off-season: “The main focus we are going to have for this off-season is to have our player development in place. That is the only thing we can control. We can’t control what type of trades there may be out there or things of that nature, but player development is in our own hands and our players still have room for growth. I think overall we are heading in the right direction. I think this year’s team has shown that when we play up to our abilities we can compete with anyone in the league. We have had some big wins over the top teams in the league this season. We have shown that we can play at the highest level. I am excited about next year and I am excited about the future of this franchise.”

A basketball skill-set is not a static thing. People underrate development, both on an individual basis and a team basis. Most basketball players don’t peak until their late 20’s. And basketball teams only improve as teammates get used to playing with each other, learning each others strengths and weaknesses, etc.

On the biggest area for improvement: “We all know, the coaching staff and the players included, that we have to become a better defensive team. I think everybody realizes that and it is something that we have to continue to work at. Defense is a team thing. If you look at the Detroit Pistons or some of the other better defensive teams you have to play overall team defense. If you are naming individual defensive players there isn’t a player in this league that is going to shut down another player, except for maybe Bruce Bowen. Besides that you have to help your teammates. I think we have several players on this team that have the ability to be very good team defensive players. Caron and Antonio have shown the ability to be good defenders. Jared is a defensive player and we have shot blockers back there. Everybody has to improve overall, individually, and from a team standpoint. I think the coaches and the players realize that. Eddie has said that several of the players, like Antawn and Gilbert, have said that if we are going to make another significant move we have to improve defensively.”

Our team defense breaks down for 2 reasons: individual weak links and incessant switching.

First of all, Gilbert and Antawn play HORRENDOUS on the ball defense, which puts far too much pressure on the rest of the team to rotate and cover for them. Antawn just doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stay in front of 3’s or the strength to bang with 4’s, which is why I think he’ll be more suited to an instant-offense role off the bench as he moves into his 30’s. Gilbert on the other hand, SHOULD be an excellent defender. I just don’t think he focuses on it, or necessarily realizes that he’s not playing up to his potential. Hopefully this will come with age and maturation.

And then of course, there’s the incessant switching. When you already have weak individual links in the defense, and then you switch on every single screen, it further increases the amount of scrambling we end up doing. We give up an insane amount of easy buckets due to confusion on a switch or a horrendous mismatch created by switching. The switching also enables guys like Gilbert to feel comfortable laying off a defender and sagging under screens. It promotes defensive passivity. We need to change our defensive mindset, by locking up man-to-man and fighting through screens. Take responsibility for your man and lock him down. Defense is as much a mindset as a skill. Switching should only be employed as a secondary strategy to throw different looks at an offense.

On the future: “I think we’re getting closer to where we want to be, and I think we’ve shown that we can compete against the best teams. We can go win a road game in Phoenix or win a road game in Denver, and beat San Antonio and beat Detroit in Detroit. I think that one of the things that we have to do next year is play more consistent basketball through the course of the season. But when you make changes it takes time for the cohesiveness to come together.”

I would like to think that our inconsistency in this manner (beating champs, losing to chumps) is entirely due to immaturity. It’s so easy to forget how young we are. As a team we need to learn to come to play every night, and our best player (Gilbert) needs to learn how to help the team win when his shot’s not falling. He needs to be better at getting his teammates involved and taking over the game in other ways than burying 3’s.

On contending for a Championship: “It doesn’t happen over night. You get knocked around a little bit before you start knocking everyone else around a little bit. It depends on how our players develop. It depends on how much we improve as a unit. Just because you have some core players that you feel comfortable with, doesn’t mean that you don’t tweak the roster a little bit to improve in certain areas. That’s what we do, but having said that, I feel comfortable with what we have and we’re confident that when these players are hitting on all cylinders, we can compete with anybody in the league.”

It doesn’t happen overnight, unless you’re LeBron James.

On making the playoffs again: “We wanted to be a playoff team. You don’t go from not being in the playoffs for four or five years to winning a Championship overnight. It’s a process. You have to build it. You have to get a core group together, and then you have to keep that core group together. You just have to pay your dues in playoff type situations. Sometimes they aren’t pleasant. This was not a pleasant series for us but I think it’s a series that we can learn from and will learn from. We put ourselves in a position to advance, but unfortunately some things did not go our way down the stretch. I’ve never seen a playoff series where you lose three one-point games all on buzzer beaters, but those are the kind of things that we can’t let happen in the future. I think our players learned from that and hopefully we won’t repeat those things next year. We’ll give Cleveland credit. They made the big shots when they had to, and from a fans standpoint, it was an incredibly exciting series -- hard fought, exciting plays, a lot of energy, a lot of intensity, and hopefully we can play Cleveland again in the future. That’s the way rivalries are built. Rivalries are not built in the regular season. They are built in the playoffs.”

I’m a little nervous about our tendency to say: “We should have won this series, but we just missed shots at the buzzer.” When you’re going up against a great player like LeBron, you can’t give him the opportunity to win games at the end, and you can’t give the refs the opportunity to take the game away from you either. You have to go out and win the game in the first 47 minutes. We had control of several games in this series, only to let the lead slip away before falling to LeBron and the refs at the buzzer.

On Eddie Jordan: “I think Eddie has done a terrific job here. We went to the playoffs each of the last two years. The players have improved. We fought hard every night, and I think he has done a very good job for us.”On Eddie Jordan’s contract: “We’ll have internal discussions about that. We’ll sit with Mr. Pollin as the summer progresses and we’ll have discussions about that. We’ll have discussions about our players and we’ll have discussions about what direction this team is going. There is no timeframe for anything. Right now we are still hurting and smarting from the playoff elimination and I think that’s healthy. All of these issues will take care of themselves as the summer goes along and we’ll continue to have our internal discussions.”

I really can’t get any kind of read on what Grunfeld’s thinking regarding EJ. Part of me says that he’s going to renew his contract, but hes just being Grunfeld, not revealing his hand to the media, being patient, waiting to see how things shake out this off-season. Or maybe he’s planning on replacing him with a guy of his choosing (Pollin hired EJ before he hired Grunfeld), so he’s just biding his time to see what the coaching market looks like? I don’t know, but personally I would reward EJ for taking this team from Hawks/Raptors territory to the playoff promised land, and helping Gilbert turn into an All-Pro, Antawn into an All-Star, and Caron into a potential All-Star.

On the team: “I’m comfortable with what we have because I think we’ve shown that we can compete at the highest level – against anybody. Having said that, you always look for things to see if you can make your team better. I think we’ve shown in our three years here that if the right opportunity presents itself that we’re not afraid to pull the trigger. The only thing that we can control is what we have under our roof currently. I feel good about what we have under our roof currently and we have to take a very aggressive stand in terms of developing those players and making them better and making them more cohesive. It will help having another year under our belt to learn each other. This playoff run wasn’t just about the playoffs itself, but in fighting to get to the playoffs and fighting to get home court advantage and fighting to get the best possible seed. This group went through a lot of tough times together. They played some big, big must win games – not only in the playoffs but in the regular season, and I think that’s going to be beneficial to this group in the future.”

Ernie’s starting to sound like a broken record, but I find it reassuring that he’s so adamant about taking the prudent long-term strategy: be patient, plan on building around our core, but don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on the right opportunity.

On the core: “Gilbert Arenas has made great strides in the last three years. He has become a real superstar in this league and everybody has acknowledged that. He is a great competitor. Players like Caron (Butler), Antawn (Jamison), and Antonio (Daniels) have provided a lot for us and they can still get better. We have young role players in Jared Jeffries, Brendan (Haywood), Etan (Thomas) and Andray Blatche and Donell Taylor -- who are both very young. We feel like this core can stay together for quite some time. Obviously we are always looking for ways to improve and tweak it, and the draft is coming up, so we will see what that holds for us.”

Average age of Ernie’s core (as listed above): 25

On Caron Butler: “Caron brings a lot to the table. He’s an extremely well rounded player. He can do a lot of different things out there on the floor. He’s very tough and hard nosed. He has a swagger about him -- a confidence that is very important. That rubs off on his teammates. And he fills up the stats sheet. He gets his points and rebounds. He had 20 rebounds in that last contest – that’s unheard of for a small forward, but he’s that type of player. He can get his own shots. He gets steals and he gets assists and I think if he can continue to improve, he has All-Star potential.”

Prediction: The next non-Gilbert Wizards All-Star won’t be Antawn, it will be Caron. Kwame for Caron was an absolute STEAL.

2 key indicators:

1) Caron’s improvement as his first season with the Zards went on:

February – 17 pts on 47% shooting, 7 boards, 1.5 steals
March – 19 pts on 47% shooting, 7 boards, 1.5 steals
April – 23.5 pts on 51% shooting, 9 boards, 3 steals

2) Larry Hughes’ year-to-year improvement as he got more comfortable playing in EJ’s offense with Gilbert and Antawn. I expect similar improvement from Caron, since so much of our offense is reading and reacting based on a) the defense and b) the movements of your teammates:

Hughes 03/04 – 19 pts on 40% shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
Hughes 04/05 – 22 pts on 43% shooting, 6 rebounds, 5 assists

On Jarvis Hayes: “He’s doing extremely well. He’s right on track. I met with him today and his attitude has been terrific. Injuries are something that you can’t ever tell about but our doctors tell us that he should see a 100% recovery. He’s going to start running full speed in another three or four weeks so we have four or five months to get ready for the regular season. He’s shown that he has legitimate NBA talent. He’s very versatile. He’s a good defender. He can really spread the defense with his outside shooting ability, and he’s very athletic. He’s a very solid NBA player and we’re excited for him to be 100% healthy.”

As I’ve said before, Jarvis could be a real key for the Zards next year. Losing Caron for 5 games at the end of the season really shined a spotlight on how lackluster our scoring punch is beyond the Big 3. If we let Jared Jeffries go, Jarvis could even wind-up starting for us on the wing next to Butler. At the very least, he’ll be one of our first options off the bench and a primary scorer in our 2nd unit.

On Jared Jeffries: “Jared is a restricted free agent which means that we can match any offer that he may have. We had discussions with Jared about an extension last summer but we could not come to any kind of terms. At the appropriate time we will sit down with him and his representatives and see where we are. I think Jared showed improvement this season. He is a very versatile player and a very solid contributor for us.”

I believe Ernie when he claims to have no idea how the Jeffries situation will play out. Jared obviously has value to our team due to his work ethic, team-first attitude, and versatility, but Ernie WILL NOT overpay to keep him. I’m sure that Ernie has an exact price in his mind for what Jeffries is worth to the team without jeopardizing our future cap flexibility (much like with Larry Hughes last year), but due to the fact that we can match any offer, I am sure that he will let the market set the price for Jared. Given that this year’s free agent class is one of the worst in recent memory, and Jared is 24-years-old and 6’11”, I am willing to bet that someone will sign him to an offer sheet that’s higher than we’re prepared to match.

On the frontcourt: “I think our big people had some success – and we’d like to see more consistency from them. That is one of the toughest positions in this league to fill. If you look around the league, I think the game has changed drastically over the last five or six years. Very few teams have dominant big men. You might have two or three low-post dominant players in the league – Shaq, Tim Duncan, Yao Ming – after that, players become more perimeter oriented. I think the game has changed because of the zone. If you look at some of the best teams in the league, like Dallas and Phoenix, they didn’t have any kind of low post presence to speak of this season. Brendan Haywood had some good moments playing against Ilgauskas. He neutralized Ilgauskas in the playoffs and Ilgauskas was really their second option. For us, that was a nice performance from that standpoint. I think he has room for growth. Etan had a lot of injuries last year. He had some situations that he had to deal with and I think he has the opportunity to provide some good things for us. We all know that the strength of our ballclub, especially from an offensive standpoint, comes from the perimeter from Gilbert, Antawn and Caron. They are the highest scoring trio in the league and there is a lot to be said for that. Our offense comes through them, but we do need more from our big people up front and I think that the players that we have, have the ability to improve and to get better. We didn’t have a real problem in the regular season as far as rebounding, but I don’t think anybody questions that from a defensive standpoint we have to do a better job overall protecting the paint.”

Ernie makes an excellent point that the game is changing in terms of big men. That’s why I think we should trade Haywood now, to a team that doesn’t necessarily recognize the decreased value of a traditional 7-foot sloth. He’s just 26, his contract is extremely reasonable, and GMs like Isiah Thomas and Billy Knight are still running teams (into the ground). There are two kinds of big men we should focus on in the draft, trades, and free agency:

1) High-post jump-shooters:

a. Why? It will open up our offense far more than a traditional post scoring threat. The Princeton O is designed to set-up high and free up the baseline for backdoor cuts, lay-ups, and attacking perimeter scorers. A jump-shooting big man would draw opposing shot-blockers out of the paint, and make Gilbert, Caron, Antawn, and AD that much more effective.

b. Who? Brad Miller, Primoz Brezec, Joakim Noah, Marcus Camby, Mehmet Okur, Eddie Griffin, Zach Randolph, David West, Rasheed Wallace, Troy Murphy, Brian Cook, Channing Frye, Kevin Pittsnogle

2) Athletic big guys who run the floor, rebound, and finish at the rim:

a. Why? They fit in well with our running game. They can get up and down the floor with Gilbert, Caron, and AD, and they can get their points by finishing on the break-up, following up missed shots when our guards attack, and tracking down long rebounds off missed perimeter jumpers.

b. Who? Marcus Camby, Tyson Chandler, Stromile Swift, Chris Wilcox, Nene, Dan Gadzuric, Hakim Warrick, Drew Gooden, Eddie Griffin, Anderson Varejao, Darko, Jason Maxiell, Ronny Turiaf

On competition for playing time: “I’m glad that players aren’t happy when they’re benched because that tells me that they care enough to get their positions back. This is a competitive situation and the coach is going to put the players out there that he feels is going to help him win the most. I think it was a healthy competition during the season between Brendan and Etan. Etan started at the end of the season a little bit and Brendan started most of the year. Brendan is a professional. He works hard and he is going to show steady improvement. He is only 26 years old, as is Etan, and they still have plenty of room for growth.”

I’ve said it a million times this season… we are a much better team with Etan or Ruffin in there (or even with Jeffries at the 5) letting the Big 3 take the shots, focusing on rebounding position and running the floor, than we are with Big Wood posting-up and taking 8-foot fade-aways.

On ways to improve: “We have our first round pick this year and we have our second round pick. Last year we only had a second round pick and we got Andray Blatche -- who we feel has a lot of potential. This is going to be a very important summer for him and a very important summer for Donell Taylor and Peter Ramos to see what they can do and what they can give us. We’re going to spend a lot of time with them. They are going to be playing in summer league. They are going to be here working out – working on their individual skills, getting stronger, getting in condition. I think that for those that saw those young players play, they had some real good moments. Obviously they need more playing time and they need to be part of the mix. They need to get their confidence level up and I think that those players have a chance to be solid NBA players.”

This is a big summer for Blatche. He has as much potential as anyone in last year’s draft; I honestly believe that. I’d put him up there with Bogut, Williams, Williams, Paul, Villanueva, Frye, Bynum, and Green. How many guys in the league at Blatche’s size have his combination of skill and athleticism? I want Blatche to show this off-season that he’s willing to work to improve his game and earn a spot in next year’s rotation.

On potential additions in the off-season: “I think we’ve shown that we’re not afraid to pull the trigger, but the Yao Mings and Shaquilles don’t just grow on trees and plop into your hands that easily. To get something really good, you have to give up something really good also. If we were going to get one of those types of players, another General Manager isn’t just going to hand me something on a silver platter. We want to improve in every area, and I think we have people in place to do the job.”

It's so nice to finally have a GM who knows what he's doing!!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What to expect from Gilbert's Arena this off-season

As you’ve probably figured out by now, my posting in the summer months is going to be a lot less frequent. Between my trip to Germany for the World Cup, moving across the country (Boston to San Fran), and the fact that the Wizards aren’t actually playing any games, it’s going to be tough to maintain my in-season posting regimen. That said, I will try to react to any Wizards news that does pop-up, and of course I will try to post about the draft and free agency.

Going into the off-season, here are some dates to keep in mind:

> NBA Draft: June 28

> NBA Free Agent Signing Period: starts July 12 (negotiations can start July 1)

> Training Camps Open: October 1

And some key issues to keep in mind:

> Eddie Jordan’s contract is up

> Jared Jeffries is a RFA

> Our big men suck

> We don’t play any defense

> The Free Agent pool is terrible

> We have the 18th pick in both the 1st and 2nd round

And don’t worry, even if I disappear for long stretches of time, I’ll be back in full force next season.

Around the Web:

> Gilbert made 3rd team All-NBA. There is no doubt in my mind that he will use the fact that he was the lowest vote-getter on the All-NBA teams to motivate him for next season. On a side note, the NBA should really get rid of the silly rule that you have to vote for a true Center on each of the three All-NBA teams. The position’s practically dead, and pretty much will be (except for Yao) once Shaq’s gone. At least let guys like Dirk and Gasol, who often play as the only big man on the floor for their team, qualify at Center. Or else, let voters decide who they think qualifies at each position, like the NBA coaches can when selecting All-Star reserves.

> The NBA rumor mill is already sending Eddie Jordan to the Kings, because he runs the Princeton O and used to coach in Sacramento. I hate how the media just runs with BS stories like this.

> Tom Knott addresses the Ernie to Sacto rumor HERE.

> Grunfeld expects few roster changes:

"We had a lot of new pieces this year and I believe in continuity," he said. "I believe in consistency and that you can't make wholesale changes every year and expect to have that good chemistry.”

As I stated in my Epic Off-season Analysis, this is exactly the strategy we should be taking this off-season. We just need to have patience. If a good deal for us pops up, we’ll take it. But otherwise, we need to think long-term. It’s great to have a GM that we can really trust with the future of the team.

> After watching the Pistons-Cavs series, Joe Gross makes a plea for the Wizards to focus on defense this off-season. I certainly agree with him to a certain extent, but I really hope we keep our up-tempo style in the process. I’m a big proponent of basketball as a “beautiful game” (Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy deserve lifetime bans for their mid-90’s thuggery, in my book), and watching the “small ball” in Round 2 of the Western Conference playoffs has been a thing of beauty. Mike D’Antoni and Avery Johnson are proving themselves as phenomenal coaches. D’Antoni has shown an uncanny ability to get the best out of each one of his players by focusing on what they CAN do, rather than on their shortcomings (Raja, Diaw, House, Tim Thomas). Avery Johnson has devised a plan to attack the Spurs with quickness and full-court speed that has the Spurs reeling. By contrast, the Eastern Conference playoffs (especially some of these Pistons-Cavs slug-fests) have been relatively tough to watch.

> Gilbert’s dunk on LeBron from Game 2:

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Epic Off-season Analysis

A) What we have…

The Core (average age = 26.3): These are the guys who shouldn’t be going anywhere this off-season. Looking at this list though, one thing is clearly missing… SIZE.

> Gilbert Arenas (age 24), Caron Butler (26), Andray Blatche (19): Arenas, Butler, and Blatche should be on this team for the next 5 years at least.
> Antawn Jamison (29): Jamison shouldn’t be going anywhere yet, although his expiring contract NEXT off-season will be enticing trade bait.
> Antonio Daniels (31): We signed AD to a 5-year contract last year, so he’ll be around for the next few years as a veteran leader.
> Michael Ruffin (29): In my mind, Ruffin has earned a spot as a bench big-man for the next few years. He won’t demand a big contract, and he’ll always know his role.
> Eddie Jordan: It’s time to give Eddie a contract extension. The grass is always greener on the other side, but I think we need to reward the man for bringing us back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in my lifetime.

Question Marks:

> Jared Jeffries (24): Jeffries is a restricted free agent, giving us the right to match any offer. As a 24-year-old with his size and athleticism, he is certain to receive at least a Mid-Level offer from someone. But is he really worth it?
> Brendan Haywood (26): Haywood is a reasonably priced, relatively young Center. His development has been frustrating. Should we trade him now while other teams still see his potential?
> Etan Thomas (28): We overpaid Etan a few years ago, and his contract is the only bad one on the team. Will anyone take him, and would it cost too much to get rid of him? Maybe we should try to get him playing better next fall, and then look to deal him at the deadline. Why sell low?
> Jarvis Hayes (24): Who knows what to expect from Jarvis at this point. He’s still young, so we still have time to find out what we have.

Developmental Squad:

> Donell Taylor (23), Peter John Ramos (20): These guys need a few more years before we’ll know if they can develop into NBA rotation players. The coaching staff will be working closely with them over the summer.

Roster Filler / Spare Parts:

> Avwee Storey (29), Billy Thomas (30): At age 29 and age 30, Storey and Thomas are likely to be replaced by young guys with higher ceilings. I expect that our 1st and 2nd round picks will take their roster spots.

B) And now on to our options…

Free Agent Big Guys (RFA = Restricted Free Agent):

> Ben Wallace: Big Ben isn’t going anywhere.
> Al Harrington: Is Al Harrington really worth the price he’s going to demand?
> Nazr Mohammed: Mohammed isn’t any better than Haywood.
> Joel Przybilla: Przybilla is a terrific shot-blocker, but you know somebody will overpay for him (Toronto?)
> Nene (RFA): With K-Mart on the outs, the Nuggets are expected to lock up the young and talented Nene, despite injury troubles.
> Drew Gooden (RFA): Say what you will about Drew Gooden failing to live up to the expectations of a top-4 draft pick, but he’s quietly developed into one of the better offensive rebounding PFs in the league. Does Cleveland want to pony up to keep him? Maybe they think Varejao can step in? He could be an interesting sign-and-trade option.
> Chris Wilcox (RFA): A lock to resign in Seattle.
> Reggie Evans: We have him already. His name is Michael Ruffin.
> Zo Mourning: Old. Sick.
> Lorenzen Wright: His best days appear to be behind him.

Rumored to be Available:

> Kenyon Martin: His attitude doesn’t worry me, because George Karl is a dick. K-Mart’s knees however, do worry me.
> Kevin Garnett: We don’t have enough to make this happen. It would take a big package of talented youth from a team like Golden State, Chicago, or Boston.
> Jermaine O’Neal: I don’t see why they would trade him. I think it’s just media BS. He’s not the problem with the Pacers.
> Zach Randolph: His skills are immense, but his attitude is a significant question mark, and his contract is HUGE. Maybe he’d be fine if he got away from the train wreck that is the Jail Blazers?
> Darius Miles: I don’t like his game (or lack of a game, to be more precise). He’s also completely insane.
> Stromile Swift: Physical specimen who has struggled to put it together in Memphis and Houston. However, I honestly think that Houston’s and Memphis’ slowdown offenses are a HORRIBLE fit for him. Stro’s per-40-minute numbers have always been solid, but he’s never gotten more than about 20 mpg. He reminds me of Chris Wilcox, and look what Wilcox did when he finally got extended playing time in a system that suits his skills (31 mpg, 59% shooting, 14 pts, 8 rebounds).
> Jamaal Magloire: With Bogut’s development and the presence of Dan Gadzuric on the bench, the Bucks are rumored to be dangling Magloire. He is overpaid, though.
> Carlos Boozer: Boozer has been rumored to be on the trading block seemingly since the day he set foot in Utah. However, I really don’t see him going anywhere, given his stellar play over the 2nd half of last season (18 points and 9 rebounds per game in his last 30 games). If Utah could find a 2-guard, they could be one of the top 5 teams in the West with Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Boozer, and Mehmet Okur.

Potential Deals:

(Note: I am not implying that these are all good ideas for the Wizards. I am just listing deals that could be possible.)

> Denver – Kenyon Martin for Haywood/Thomas/Hayes: Hayes gives Denver the perimeter shooter they’ve been looking for at the 2, and Haywood and Thomas help with Denver’s interior depth. Given Camby and Nene’s fragility, this could make some sense for the Nuggets.
> Golden State – Haywood for Murphy (must include others to make contracts work… Hayes/Etan/Booth?): Golden State wants to get rid of Murphy’s contract and turn the PF position over to Ike Diogu. Would Haywood get it done? They might see him as a significant upgrade over Adonal Foyle at the 5.
> Houston – Stromile for Wood: This could make a lot of sense for both teams. Swift would fit our up-tempo style, and the Rockets currently have the decrepit Dikembe Mutombo backing up Yao (not to mention Yao’s foot problems).
> Milwaukee: Trade scenarios work, involving Magloire/Gadzuric and Haywood/Thomas. Plus, Milwaukee was the team that tried to sign Etan Thomas two years ago. But do any of these deals really make sense? It would basically just be rearranging similar parts.
> Portland – Thomas/Haywood/others for Randolph: Randolph’s reputation has taken a big hit, enough so that there may not be many suitors for him. If Portland really wants to dump him, a package of good-guy big-guys might get it done. Randolph’s only 24, he’s a 20-10 machine, and his high-post game is ideal for our offense. If Portland would take this package, I would seriously consider it (after doing some hardcore background checks on Randolph). Randolph was a model citizen at Michigan State, so maybe he just needs to be in the right environment.
> San Antonio: Here’s a thought out of left field… what would it take to get Luis Scola’s rights from the Spurs? Luis Scola is one of the best PFs in the world, and given the success of his Argentinean teammates (Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni), as well as his domination of Ben Wallace and Jermaine O’Neal in the 2002 World Championships, there’s no reason to believe that his game won’t translate to the NBA. With Nazr Mohammed expected to leave the Spurs, and Rasho Nesterovic and Fabricio Oberto the only big-men remaining, the Spurs would certainly be interested in Brendan Haywood. If we could work out a deal to get Scola to come to the US in advance, I would gladly give up Haywood and our 1st round pick.
> Utah: Will they shop Boozer? Would they be interested in a sign-and-trade of Jeffries, packaged with Haywood, and possibly our first-round pick?

Thinking outside the box:

> Trade Jamison to get into the top 10: If we could move up and get our hands on someone like LaMarcus Aldridge or Andrea Bargnani, would it be worth the risk? A core of Arenas, Butler, Blatche, and someone like Aldridge would be as talented and promising as any in the league. We could also use 2 first-round picks to facilitate other deals. Some teams in the lottery that might be willing to trade picks/youth for Jamison:
1) Minnesota: The T-Wolves would kill for Jamison, given the rapidly closing window of Kevin Garnett.
2) Houston: Could we get Swift and their lottery pick (plus cap-filler)?
3) Boston: They have been stockpiling young talent, most notably Al Jefferson and Gerald Green. However, Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak aren’t getting any younger. Would the Celtics jump at the opportunity to turn some of their youth into a veteran scorer like Jamison?
4) Chicago: They have been desperate for a PF who can score, would Antawn fit the bill? He might be a nice offensive balance on their front line to Tyson Chandler’s defensive presence.

> Stick with what we’ve got: That’s right, do nothing. Roster consistency is extremely underrated in the NBA. Sometimes it pays to just take some time and let your players develop both as a team and as individuals. Given the relative youth of our squad, this might not be such a bad idea. If we let Jeffries go, we could focus our coaching staff on developing Blatche, and hopefully prepare him for 20 minutes per game. We could use the 1st round pick on a young big guy with a game that suits our system. Standing pat wouldn’t be the worst thing that ever happened, and next off-season Jamison’s expiring max contract becomes a huge trading chip.

C) In the end….

We don’t have much money to sign a FA (although we could use Jeffries in a sign-and-trade), and the pickings are pretty slim anyway. I think Jamison stays for now, since his value will be much higher a year from now when his contract is expiring. I think we’ll let Jeffries go because Grunfeld is not going to overpay to keep him (see Larry Hughes). With Hayes returning and increased time for Blatche, we should be able to replace Jared. We need Etan to work hard in the off-season to get his game back where it was in 03-04. Haywood will probably stay (although I wouldn’t mind a Haywood-Swift deal). Given Wood’s reasonable salary, he’s actually a very good value for us despite his inconsistency. We’ll use our #1 pick (18th overall) on a young big-man (don’t worry, I’ll do a draft preview). Will we use the Mid-Level Exception? Not if it means we’re overpaying someone in a weak FA market. Fiscally, it might make sense to refrain from using it, and focus on next off-season for re-signing Arenas, clearing Jamison off the cap, etc.

So, here's next year’s projected roster:

1 – Arenas, Daniels
2 – Hayes, Taylor
3 – Butler, Blatche
4 – Jamison, Etan, 1st Rounder
5 – Haywood, Ruffin, Ramos, Booth, 2nd Rounder

Arenas will be one year better. Caron Butler should be a bigger factor in his second full season with the team. The return of Jarvis Hayes will give us another scoring option on nights when any of the Big 3 struggle. Jamison will be his usual 20-10 self. And between Haywood and Ruffin, we should manage to get effective interior play.

Making panic moves now for the sake of change could be devastating to the long-term future of the team. As constituted above, this team should win at least 45-50 games, and we would be set up nicely for what should be a FAR more interesting off-season in 2007 (Jamison’s expiring deal, ridiculously loaded draft, tantalizing free agent pool).

Maxico's Reasons for Optimism

(Note: My boy Maxico talked me down off the ledge after Game 6, so I thought I'd give him a forum to do the same for my readers. Enjoy!)

Who am I? I’m the one on the phone with Coach ten minutes after Game Six telling him, “Flush the entire bottle of Quaaludes down the toilet before you get any ideas!” Don’t get me wrong; I was devastated like the rest of you. Just like many of Gilbert’s Arena’s loyal readership, I shared the following regimen of self-therapy:

> Got ridiculously drunk.

> Watched Sean Taylor’s Greatest Hits about 27 times.

> Sold my car to finance a hit on Damon Jones.

Yeah, it sucks. We all wanted to see Gilbert Arenas play the role of God, show America that he can go toe-to-toe with LeBron, and lead his team to a series victory all the while. If we were lucky, maybe we could steal a victory or two from Detroit and garner some legitimate national attention. But instead, the enduring images of the Zards this summer will be of two missed free-throws, and "Mr. 14 Seconds" wide open in the corner.

If you read Mike Wise the day immediately following the game, you might start telling yourself that this loss destroyed the team’s psyche, we missed out on a one-time-only opportunity, and this team is still hundreds of miles from greatness. Let’s not be so reactionary. I (and hopefully I’m not alone) think a lot of positives came out of this series:

1) Gilbert Arenas DID go toe-to-toe with LeBron James. They had a fantastic scoring duel, and Arenas cemented his spot as a top 15, maybe top 10, player in the NBA. Sure LeBron’s points/gm eclipsed Gil’s, but Arenas still outscored Dirk, still outscored VC, still outscored Kobe. He hit THE most amazing shot to end regulation in franchise history (If there actually was a more meaningful/miraculous shot than the game sixer, please let me know. You just don’t see so many Bullets games on ESPN Classic!).

I guess it’s too bad that he had to miss those free-throws. Now that’s what fans and the media will remember about him from this series. And as we all know, when Gilbert’s talent is questioned, his confidence crumbles and he regresses as a player. Oh wait….IT’S THE EXACT OPPOSITE!

So what do we know? Gilbert’s a franchise player who is insanely driven to improve his game, despite the fact that he can already score with anyone in the league, and now the chip on his shoulder is (somehow) even bigger. If that doesn’t give you some assurance going into next year, maybe this will:

2) The emergence of Caron Butler. Did you hear that Caron sleeps with a nightlight? It’s not because he’s afraid of the dark; it’s because the dark is afraid of him. Seriously though, how excited are you that this guy is on our team? He scores, he brings energy, he intimidates, he fights for every ball. Coach has touched on this, but late in the season when Tough Juice was out, the Zards looked lost. When he’s on the floor, we play with a whole different swagger. He has surpassed Jamison as the 2nd most important player on the team, and next year look for him to put up All-Star type numbers. In a lot of ways he’s the perfect complement to Arenas. Whereas Gilbert whines to the refs, Caron pushes opposing players to the ground. When Caron’s having an off-shooting night, he doesn’t jack up a shot every time the ball touches his hands hoping to find a rhythm; he turns into the scrappy rebounder who still gets his on put-backs and free-throws.

Our young core is Gilbertology and Tough Juice. If all goes as planned, they’ll be our core for the next half decade, and that may be just a tad more exciting than the prospect of Googs and Calbert Cheaney. Still not convinced?

3) We have a competent GM and coach. Former Bull’s vice president of basketball operations Jerry Krause once infamously said, “Players don’t win championships. Organizations do.” Although that's a pretty ridiculous thing to say when Michael Jordan is on your team, the impact that the front-office can make in NBA basketball definitely is uncanny. Look at the nearly seamless track-records of success in cities like Detroit, Sacramento, and San Antonio over the past few years. All of those teams have seen dozens of players come and go in the turbulent waters of free-agency and salary caps. What is the constant? Men who know what they’re doing are making shrewd personnel decisions, and they always seem to right the ship. Conversely, if Wes Unseld is running the show, it means that any coup he will pull off (Chris Webber!), he will undoubtedly squander (Mitch Richmond. Otis Thorpe.). For the first time since I don’t even know when (the late 1970's maybe?) we have a front office that has a plan and has the know-how to pull it off. I’m not claiming to be Dr. Jack Ramsey, but it’s abundantly evident that before we can be elite in this league we need an athletic big man. Do you think that Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan don’t know this? I’ll leave the off-season blue print for Coach to outline (Coach sez: "Coming later this week!"), but I am supremely confident that the Zards brain trust will once again take advantage of the Mitch Kupchacks of the world this summer.

This is just the beginning of a long run of success. I’m not saying dynasty, I’m not even saying Eastern Conference Champions, but for years to come we will have playoff-caliber basketball inside the Beltway. And after the debacle that was 1988-2004, this prospect is definitely something to be excited about. And if you still are unable to rouse yourself from the depression of a devastating first round playoff loss, I advise you to go to this site immediately.