So the Wizards have nearly finished compiling their roster for the upcoming season, and any additions they make from this point are likely to have little impact. If I had to give a letter grade for the offseason, it'd be a B- ot a C+. The team largely kept its roster intact, which might seem a problem for a squad that finished seventh in the conference and got swept out of the first round of the playoffs. But even though the Wizards added no impact players to the roster, I'm feeling optimistic about 2007-08. Here are my thoughts on how the roster moves will affect the upcoming season:
-- The signing of Andray Blatche is the key offseason move. Locking up a 6-11 dude with basketball skills who runs and jumps like a gazelle for 5 years at $15 million seems like a terrific deal. The Wizards' main weaknesses have been defense (especially shotblocking) and rebounding, and if he can provide those up to what seems to be his potential, Blatche could be a huge upgrade to the lineup.
-- There's been plenty of criticism of the DeShawn Stevenson signing, but he's a very solid member of the team -- a good shooter and defender who doesn't try to do too much and is willing to play a role. Everyone seems concerned by the player upgrades in Boston, Orlando and New York, but the Wiz were atop the Eastern Conference when healthy last season, with some huge wins against the league's best teams. Keeping that unit together -- while Miami and Detroit get older, and Boston and Orlando learn how to incorporate their new pieces -- seems like a smart move to me.
-- The new players -- Nick Young, Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov -- are certainly promising, but none is an impact player, and it seems likely we'll be waiting until next season for them to pay significant dividends. Of the three, McGuire strikes me as the most likely to contribute sooner rather than later.
-- The bench looks to be stronger than last season. Two weak second-unit regulars -- Jarvis Hayes and Michael Ruffin -- are gone. Their minutes likely will go to Darius Songaila, Blatche, and perhaps one of the rookies. I am concerned that Antonio Daniels is the only proven guard off the bench. It seems we can get away with a three-guard rotation in the short term, but over an 82-game season, we'll need a fourth guard we can rely on, and perhaps a fifth. I doubt Nick Young is ready to be that guy, and I'm nearly certain Donnell Taylor never will be. I wish Roger Mason was coming back.
-- The resolution to the Juan Carlos Navarro situation was disaapointing, but I don't know if it was realistic to have expected much better. If JCN emerges as a Ginobili-like star for Memphis, the deal we got for him will be very unsatisfying. but as it is, we'll get a mid-first rounder in one of the next few seasons for a second-round pick we'd pretty much written off as ever coming to Washington. That's not too bad, in my book.
-- The biggest dissapointment of the summer has been the lack of a resolution to the problem at center. The open feuding between Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas boiled over into fisticuffs several times during the last few seasons. In an optimal situation, one of them would have gone elsewhere this summer, but that didn't happen, meaning the tension and the problems around it remain. The team plays much better with Haywood on the court, in my opinion, but every season, he seems to languish through prolonged stretches of uninspired play, then he sulks when Eddie Jordan holds him accountable for this loafing. The strained relationship between Haywood and Jordan seemed to cast doubt on whether they could work together any longer, but it looks like they'll have to find a way to put their differences aside. When Haywood plays well, he's a slightly-below-average starting center, which given the high caliber of the players around him makes the Wizards a formidable team. The question is what the Wizards are going to get from him after a season in which he alienated himself from his coach and perhaps some teammates.
In all, I'm pretty optimistic about the upcoming season. I think 50 wins is a reasonable goal, and a first-round playoff exit would be a major disappointment.