Reporting David Elfin
Thanks to the surprising end of the NBA lockout earlier this month, another Wizards season is upon us.
The good news for Washington fans is that the Wizards figure to lose fewer games this season, which begins Monday at home against New Jersey, than the 59 they did in 2010-11.
The bad news is that the main reason that Washington figures to lose less often is because the lockout shortened the season from 82 to 66 games.
Chris Singleton, a rookie forward from Florida State, should be a nice complimentary piece for coach Flip Saunders – a winner until he arrived in Washington in 2009 — but it’s hard to see him playing as major a role as rookie guard John Wall did last season. And considering that the Wizards won three fewer games with Wall as their focal point than they did with a veteran-run team the previous year, Singleton doesn’t figure to be a serious difference-maker. Nor do fellow newcomers Jan Veseley, the forward, from the Czech Republic and Shelvin Mack, the rookie guard from Butler.
Even though 32-year-old forward Rashard Lewis is Washington’s only player making megabucks by NBA standards (his $21.14 million salary is more than three times that of any teammate), general manager Ernie Grunfeld’s only free agent signees were reserve center Ronny Turiaf and guard Roger Mason – back for a second stint in his hometown.
So they’re basically the same old Wizards of Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee, the trio whose careers have been more flash than substance. Having shooting guard Jordan Crawford, acquired from Atlanta on Feb. 23, playing alongside Wall for a whole season should help, but not enough to get the Wizards back to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
I mean, can anyone seriously envision this roster competing with the likes of the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks or even the Hawks? Milwaukee, Detroit and Orlando (as long as Dwight Howard stays put) also seem sure to finish ahead of Washington. If Philadelphia’s pair of preseason victories over the Wizards are any indication, the 76ers are also more than a notch ahead of them as well. And the Nets and Indiana could well be, too.
With the Wizards/Bullets having missed the playoffs during 19 of the last 29 years while winning just one postseason series during those nearly three decades, expectations are about as low in Ted Leonsis’ second season as the franchise’s owner as the Dead Sea (the lowest point on Earth).
So Washington fans aren’t dreaming of meaningful April games at Verizon Center, let alone a championship to match the one the Bullets won in 1978 before any of the current Wizards were born.
If the Wizards begin to jell with a Wall-led cast that includes a dozen players 26 or younger and win one more game than they did last year – to finish 24-42 – that would be progress for a franchise that has been down-and-out as long as this one.
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.