Wizards

David Elfin On Sports: Wizards Long-Term Plan Continues Through Lockout

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Team President Ernie Grunfeld, John Wall #2, Owner Ted Leonsis, Jordan Crawford #15 and head coach Flip Saunders of the Washington Wizards stand with Owner Ted Leonsis pose for a portrait during the Washington Wizards uniform unveiling. Credit: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Team President Ernie Grunfeld, John Wall #2, Owner Ted Leonsis, Jordan Crawford #15 and head coach Flip Saunders of the Washington Wizards stand with Owner Ted Leonsis pose for a portrait during the Washington Wizards uniform unveiling. Credit: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

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No one in the NBA is happy that the league has joined the NFL in reaching lockout status in its failed talks with its Players Association. A year ago Saturday, the sports world was focused on “The Decision” as LeBron James, one of the league’s top stars, announced on national television that he was transferring his gifts from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat.

Today, as is the case with football, the focus in basketball is on trying to put together a business model that works for both sides. And given that the NFL lockout is a week shy of four months and that the NBA – unlike the NFL – has true financial woes and an offseason that’s three months shorter, the chances of an on-time opening in October don’t appear very promising.

However, the Washington Wizards should be less aggrieved than other franchises about free agency and other league business being put on hold.

In the first place after going just 23-59 last season, their third straight year out of the playoffs, the Wizards realize that they’re not going to be a contender when the NBA returns, hopefully in 2011-12.

Other than Rashard Lewis (whose massive contract they assumed in order to dump the major headache known as Gilbert Arenas on the Orlando Magic), oft-injured Josh Howard and reserve guard Maurice Evans, the Wizards don’t have a player with more than four years of experience. What’s more, Howard and Evans don’t have contracts and might not be re-signed.

Point guard John Wall, Washington’s focal point, is just 20. Fellow 2010-11 rookie standout Jordan Crawford is 22. Scorer Nick Young is 26. Andray Blatche celebrates that birthday next month. Fellow big man JaVale McGee is 23 as is the ever-hustling Trevor Booker. Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack, the players the Wizards chose with three of the top 34 picks in last month’s draft, are all 21.

That’s an average age of 23 for what just might be the nine-man rotation whenever the Wizards play again. That’s about as young a cast of characters as a pro team can have.

With owner Ted Leonsis following the model that worked so well in rebuilding the NHL’s Capitals into a (regular season) powerhouse in three seasons – with Wall filling the Alex Ovechkin role – don’t expect the Wizards to be big players for such free agents as Tim Duncan, David West, Jamal Crawford, Tyson Chandler or former Washington All-Star Caron Butler.

The blueprint that Leonsis has commanded general manager Ernie Grunfeld and coach Flip Saunders to execute is all about a young core maturing over time into a winner.

So while such recent champions as the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics will only get creakier during the lockout, the Wizards can rest relatively easy. After all, time is on their side.

David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.

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