Gilbert's Arena

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: