David Elfin On Sports: Improvement Key For Wizards In Short Season
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This past weekend’s surprising end to the NBA lockout means that the season will not only not be canceled, it will begin with the annual Christmas Day television extravaganza.
That’s great news for fans of such powerhouses as the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat.
Washington Wizards watchers will have to wait one more day as the local hoopsters open their season on Dec. 26 against the New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets.
Wizards fans can take heart from the fact that the abbreviated 66-game schedule makes it difficult for Washington to lose 50 games for a fourth straight season.
Not that the Wizards should be much better than the team that went 23-59 last year. However, if rookie forward Chris Singleton is as good as many NBA observers expect, he should team with guards John Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, and Jordan Crawford, a revelation after being acquired in a salary dump trade with Atlanta on Feb. 23, to give Washington three solid starters.
Of course, getting more out of big men JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche is a continuing headache/project for coach Flip Saunders.
Overachiever Trevor Booker, Frenchman Kevin Seraphin and the over-the-hill Rashard Lewis are also all under contract with Washington.
Singleton and fellow draft picks Jan Vesely (who, like Booker and Seraphin, played overseas during the lockout) and Shelvin Mack should be signed before the Wizards open training camp a week from Friday.
General manager Ernie Grunfeld has made qualifying offers to streaky scorer Nick Young and scrubs Othyus Jeffers (who’s recovering from ACL surgery in July), Hamady Ndiaye and Larry Owens but didn’t try to re-sign veterans Josh Howard and Maurice Evans or Chinese stringbean Yi Jianlian.
The free agent signing period begins a week from Friday, but the Wizards aren’t expected to make a big splash.
After all, a franchise that has won a lone playoff series during the last 29 years and missed postseason during 19 of the other 28 seasons isn’t exactly prime territory for a player looking to get noticed or win a championship.
In 11 seasons from 1969-79, the then-Bullets had 10 winning years, made the playoffs each spring and won four Eastern Conference titles (1971, 1975, 1978, 1979) and an NBA championship (1978).
In more than three decades since, the franchise’s highlight was beating the Bulls in the first round in 2005. But even that minor accomplishment was long enough ago that Wall was only a high school freshman back then.
No players remain in Washington from those 2005 Wizards and knuckleheads Blatche and Young are the only players on the roster who’ve ever suited up in a postseason game for the franchise.
Other than the Heat and Bulls and the rising Atlanta Hawks, the Eastern Conference isn’t what it was even a couple of years ago, but it’s very hard to see the Wizards passing the Celtics, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers Indiana Pacers or Milwaukee Bucks to grab a playoff spot.
Going 30-36 would qualify as serious improvement in Wizards World, but it would still almost surely mean failing to reach postseason for the 19th time in the last 24 years.
For a franchise as downtrodden as the Wizards and with as many young players as they have, the lockout wouldn’t have been so bad as their foes would only get older and creakier.
But the NBA is back which is fine for owner Ted Leonsis’ bottom line, but not so good for the fans who would like to see a winner in Washington sometime before Wall can longer do the dougie.
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 author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.