The long-term roster plan post

For college students, Thanksgiving is the chance to recharge your batteries so you can finish the semester.  It's a time to reflect and then move forward.

During that reflection period, I couldn't help but also think about the Wizards.  And when I did, the inevitable question was what to do with our roster going forward.

Before the injuries to Brendan Haywood and Gilbert Arenas, I thought the plan was pretty simple.  I figured we'd just go with what we had in 2009, assuming that, with good health, this team could win 45-50 games and challenge for the second round of the playoffs.  Then, in the summer of 2009 and during 2010, we could pawn off two of our 2010 expiring contracts (Etan Thomas, Antonio Daniels), throw in a youngster or two and make a move for an impact player on a team looking to rebuild and join the 2010 frenzy.  We'd then contend with our Big 3+1 until Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison's contracts ran out in 2011 and 2012, respectively.  Seemed like a fairly reasonable four-year plan.

But that plan rested on three assumptions that have not come to fruition.  One, of course, is that we would be pretty good this year, which isn't happening even though we're clearly not this bad.  Two, because we would remain pretty good, Eddie Jordan would remain our coach.  This is key because, as of right now, we have a roster that's very suited to running the Princeton offense (more on this later).  Three, we would stay healthy enough to be pretty good, which hasn't happened yet.

So in light of our 13-game start, we might need to rethink some things about this plan.  Not everything, mind you, but some things.  New sitations are arising and we need to address them in some way.

Make the jump for more.

First off, lights, camera, salaries!  Click to enlarge.

Contracts_medium

The point of showing this is twofold.  One, we're not getting far enough under the cap in 2010 to join the free agent frenzy.  The only way it could happen is if we trade Antawn Jamison and Darius Songaila/DeShawn Stevenson for contracts that expire before 2010 and elect not to re-sign Haywood or extend Nick Young.  We currently are about 3.75 million under the projected cap in 2010, but that's misleading.  First off, we're adding at least two draft picks to that number, which probably puts us over the cap.  Second, the projected cap number on there is based on the CBA growing at the same rate it did last year, which is unlikely to happen because of the economy and the renegotiation of the CBA.  More importantly, that would give us just seven players under contract, and that seven includes Young and Haywood.  

Two, whether we like it or not, Gilbert Arenas is probably in for the long haul.  Trading Gilbert probably isn't going to be an option until much later in his contract.  Either he stays injured, in which case nobody will want him, or he recovers, in which case we'll want him because he's playing well.  If it's somewhere in the middle, then he still probably won't be traded by 2010 because most teams are going to be trying to trim salary to get in on the free agent market.  I happen to think that Gilbert needs to be a part of whatever plan we have anyway, since he's 26 and was so key to our success prior to last season, so I don't have a problem with this reality. 

So now that we know our salary, let's break this roster down into groups. 

The true untouchables: Gilbert Arenas, JaVale McGee

We've already talked about Arenas, so I won't go any further.  But any rebuilding plan we have must include McGee as well.  Guys with his athleticism and height don't grow on trees, and unlike Kwame and (possibly) Andray Blatche, it seems he has the dedication to get better.  We can't let that go for any reason.

Gone only if we completely flounder: Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood

Butler's not a cornerstone like Arenas, but I'm having a hard time finding a situation where trading him makes much sense.  I might give him up if we could get a comporable player who's younger and more durable while being in a similar salary bracket, but because Butler is underpaid for his production, those guys aren't easy to find.  Off the top of my head, the only names that remotely make sense are Josh Howard, Tayshaun Prince or Hedo Turkoglu.  And in the case of Prince, we'd need to get one of Detroit's young bigs as well in return for pawning off one of our bad contracts, since Prince isn't nearly as good as Butler.  So that's probably not happening.

I suppose Butler could also go if necessary to get a superstar big man, but those guys don't exactly come on the market very often.  One thing's for sure, though: because of his age and contract status (three more years at a really good price), trading Butler to rebuild makes little sense.  Either keep him and don't re-sign him or trade him to make an upgrade, which isn't easy considering Butler's status as a player.

Haywood's necessary because he's our best defender.  He's a free agent after 2010, but we need to lock him up at a decent price.  Even if Haywood becomes a backup center, you need guys like that to compete.  The only way I'd let him go is if we found a better big to pair with McGee and possibly Blatche, and that's unlikely to happen.

Those four guys will be the biggest parts of our rebuilding plan, at least as far as guys on the roster.  But where does everyone else fit in?

Young guys to trade only for a big upgrade: Andray Blatche, Nick Young

Blatche was in Category 1 entering the season, but McGee's play has surprised me so much that Blatche has been bumped down.  Blatche's slow start to the season hasn't helped matters either.  Still, it's important to remember that Blatche is under contract for just 3 million per season for the next four years.  He's still quite young and if he takes another step forward and just becomes a competent reserve, we still have a bargain. 

That said, I'm not so sure about where Blatche fits in anymore.  I think we all hoped he could be a power forward, but thus far, he's had his most success as a center.  With McGee and Haywood, center's in pretty good hands going forward, so that means Blatche will have to become a power forward again.  And I'm not sure how well he can do that.  Not to mention that, since neither Haywood nor McGee are strong rebounders, a bruising Charles Oakley-type at the 4 is probably a better fit for this team going forward. 

Young doesn't have that problem.  The backcourt is thin, so we probably need him in some capacity.  I'm still dubious of his ability to be a starter on a top-notch team because of his defense and passing struggles, but he can still be valuable as a sixth man.  Because of that, though, I'm reluctant to say he's an untouchable. 

Here only because of their contracts: Antonio Daniels, Etan Thomas

Both expire in 2010, so we should keep them in order to facilitate a trade for an impact player.  There's not much more to say beyond that.

Filler: Oleksiy Pecherov, Dee Brown, Juan Dixon, Dominic McGuire

Pech may have value to other teams, while McGuire may develop enough value for us to keep him around.  But none of these guys are important for the future.  We can do better than all four of these guys at their positions. 

Role players of the previous regime: DeShawn Stevenson, Darius Songaila

My feeling is that both of these guys need to go, but for entirely different reasons.  Stevenson needs to go because he has underperformed.  The initial hope was that he could be the wing that plays 24 minutes a game, gives excellent defense so that Butler's issues can be hidden and can be the yin to Nick Young's yang.  As recently as last season, I thought he could play that role long-term.  But I don't think he can do it anymore because of his declining defense, not because of his offense. 

DeShawn's defense has always been decent rather than awesome, but that's simply not the case anymore.  This season, the Wizards are giving up 19.6 more points/100 possessions with DeShawn on the court.  Even last season, DeShawn didn't have any tangible effect on the team's defensive efficiency.  I don't think DeShawn is as bad as he's been this year, but we need an upgrade on his position going forward.  We need someone who is a little more athletic and can cover 3s as well as 2s.  DeShawn's a little small, which really hurts, and he's too slow to guard the quickest wings. 

DeShawn was a nice find by EG, but he needs to be phased out.  I don't think anyone would take DeShawn now, but once his play picks up, I'd look to move him and get out of his contract.

Darius, however, needs to go because he has overperformed.  Songaila's skills are very useful for a contending team looking to add a piece to his bench, but they're too much of a luxury here, both because of his contract and because of the presence of all our young bigs. 

In terms of his contract, Darius runs all the way until 2011 for just under the mid-level exception.  That's not an albatross, but it's not chump change either.  We can use that money for more useful purposes down the road.  Those include re-signing our impact rookies, signing a backup point guard to eventually replace AD, signing a guy to replace DeShawn or getting a veteran backup center.  All of those are important areas to fill; more important areas that the position Songaila occupies.

To that final point, our frontcourt remains pretty crowded with young bigs.  There's JaVale and 'Dray, plus Pech if we think he's worth anything.  If we go big with our lottery pick this year (which makes a lot of sense), that's another young guy.  For a team that isn't contending, it makes more sense to trot out the young guy for backup minutes to see what they can do.  If we were making a push to be a player in the playoffs, then it's fine to give those minutes to Songaila in an attempt to win, but since we aren't going to be a playoff team most likely, there's no point.  Songaila was also signed to be a Princeton player, so he loses some value now that we're scrapping that system. 

His value is high now because he's playing very well, so I'd see if we can get anything for him.  Denver could use another big, so maybe we can get Chucky Atkins (3.24 million, expires in 09) and Renaldo Balkman (young'in who can be a cheap wing defender) for Darius.  Maybe Toronto will give us Joey Graham and Roko Ukic for Darius (wing defender and potential point guard).  New Orleans doesn't have many assets, but Darius seems like a good fit there.  Ditto for Cleveland, though they'd probably aim higher.  Perhaps we could do Songaila straight up for Sasha Pavlovic (expires in 09). 

Either way, these two role players have long contracts and are blocking key youngsters, so they should go.

That leaves us with...

I don't know what to do: Antawn Jamison

This is tough.  On the one hand, Jamison's still really productive, popular and a huge part of the team.  For all his faults, if we trade Jamison, it may be very difficult to find somebody to fill his spot in the lineup.  We also just re-signed him, so trading him would be admitting to making a mistake.

But I think it might be time to see what we can get for him.  By the time his contract runs out, he'll be 36.  He may be 34 before we morph into a serious contender.  At the time of the re-signing, the feeling was that we were close to making that leap, but this year clearly shows we aren't.  We could potentially put the money of his contract to better use, plus with a high lottery pick, we might be able to replace him pretty easily. 

The key, though, is we can't just give him away.  We need one of two things back in a trade.  Either we need a comporable player who is younger (e.g. Shawn Marion, Andrei Kirilenko, Gerald Wallace), or significant cap room and a promising young guy (e.g. Jamison/Songaila for Wally Szczerbiak/J.J. Hickson). 

What might be out there?  We talked about Cleveland, which would be a really good fit for Antawn.  We could use the same Antawn/Darius package to get Shawn Marion from Miami and then either re-sign Marion or take the cap room.  Portland might want a veteran, in which case we could take back Steve Blake (expiring), Joel Pryzbilla (good second center to play behind Haywood and help develop McGee) and Sergio Rodriguez (promising backup PG).  If the Lakers ever get fed up with Lamar Odom, we could offer Jamison/Songaila for his expiring contract like with Marion.  Toronto could give us Anthony Parker (expiring), Kris Humphries (inside banger) and Graham.

No matter what, Antawn would yield a very nice package that may not be there in future years.  With our team further away from contention than we all expected, I'd strongly consider that type of deal.       

So what do we need?

Going forward, we're likely going to have a few things in place.  In Arenas, Butler and Young, we have plenty of perimeter scoring.  Our center position's in decent shape with Haywood and the potential of McGee and Blatche.  Our lottery pick could yield us either a promising point guard to pair with Arenas (Rubio, Jennings) or a back-to-the-basket guy to score in the paint (Griffin), and if not, it'll still bring us somebody that can step right in.  We can use our expiring 2010 contracts and some of our young talent to bring somebody in who can help fill those other voids. 

That still does leave a lot of holes.  In particular, we need help defensively.  Haywood's return will help solve some of our problems, but not all of them.  We have no beefy rebounders to clean up misses and be physical post defenders, particularly if we trade Jamison.  We have no perimeter defenders that can help Arenas and Butler, since Stevenson isn't that guy.  And with Etan Thomas' decline and suckitude, it might pay to get another solid backup center. 

Offensively, we have firepower, but could still use some more parts.  It'd be nice to get a post scorer who could also shoot open jumpers.  Getting a backup point guard who can fill AD's role better than AD would be nice, and Butler still needs a good backup. 

I'd place our needs going forward as follows, in order of importance/difficulty of obtaining:

  1. A tough interior guy who can grab rebounds, score inside and hit jumpers to replace Jamison.  Hello Blake Griffin.
  2. An ace wing defender to split minutes with Nick Young
  3. A point guard, preferably one who can defend and shoot while being a low-usage, low-turnover guy
  4. A backup 4 who can rebound and score a bit inside
  5. A solid backup center
  6. A backup for Caron Butler

Number one can hopefully be filled through the draft.  It'll have to be.  We really need a stud to take that spot, and the draft is the best way to find that.  The alternative is to trade for somebody, but those types of players aren't usually available. 

Number two can be had in a trade or in free agency.  Shane Battier and Tayshaun Prince could be available if their teams fall off.  We could also get an impact scorer who can fill that role on our team.  Someone like Kirilenko, Gerald Wallace, even Joe Johnson.  If not, we can find someone who can fill 2 and 6 simultaneously. I bet we can get John Salmons from Sacramento pretty easily, because they're going to a youth movement (like AD and Pech).  Young guys like Thabo Sefolosha could be good options as well.

Three, four and five can be found through free agency in the next couple years.  While we won't have enough for a superstar, we could get a couple role players in the upcoming years.  Delonte West is a free agent after 2010 (non-guaranteed deal in 2011).  So is Luis Scola.  Hell, we could make a run at David Lee and steal him from New York if we clear enough cap room. 

 

It's hard to confine any of these options to certain avenues, but the key is that, save for number one, we don't need wholesale changes.  We can reload rather than rebuild.  In a healthy Arenas (hopefully) and Butler, you have two decent building blocks to contend soon.  There's plenty of young talent in McGee, Blatche, Young and our 2009 lottery pick.  We just need to replenish our role players, and that requires dealing away some guys we may like a lot.  

But it can be done.  We can have a plan that's between rebuilding and doing nothing and still be successful.

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