A case for Bonzi

As indicated in the FanShot below, it's looking more and more like the Wizards are going to sit on the approximately 1.5 million dollars they have under the luxury tax this season.  1.5 million doesn't buy you much anyway (it's less than the bi-annual exception, which is just under 2 million), so the decision to not rush into signing anyone is more understandable considering I miscalculated the room we had under the tax.  Still, I wouldn't put it past Ernie to make a last-minute move.  We've seen it before and it's worked out nicely. 

In looking at the remaining possibilities, two troubled players should stand out to everyone.  One was covered very extensively, but there has been nary a word about the other.  Which is too bad, because he's easily a far more dynamic option.

The other, of course, is Bonzi Wells, and allow me to make a case that, of the guys remaining, he could very well be the right fit at the right price for a year as the backup small forward.

Wells_300_080319_medium

via www.nba.com

First things first, the dude can still play.  After a nightmare 2006/07 season that began with him accepting a contract with Houston far below what he expected, included a standoff with coach Jeff Van Gundy over Wells reporting to training camp out of shape and ended with Wells telling the trainer (via phone message) that he was taking a leave of absence because he felt he was disrupting team chemistry, he actually had a pretty decent season split between Houston and New Orleans.  He played about 20 minutes a game for each team, providing a lift to their second units.  More importantly, he had no conflicts with his coaches and no run-ins with the law, indicating that perhaps he had turned a corner in his maturity.

Interestingly, while he was a decent reserve in both places, he did different things for each team.  In Houston, Wells struggled mightily to score, notching a putrid 48% true shooting percentage, but, as consistent with his entire career, he was an excellent rebounder for his position (13% defensive rebound percentage) and got to the free throw line more than Caron Butler did (5.6 FTA/40, compared to 4.1 for Butler).  In New Orleans, his shooting dramatically improved (53.5 TS%), though he wasn't as good on the glass.  He played similar roles for both teams, so it's interesting to see his splits be so different like that.

Either way, Wells' strengths might be of some use to the Wizards.  He can still score effectively in the post.  In New Orleans, 46 percent of his shots were inside the paint and he hit over 68 percent of those shots.  He's a pretty terrible perimeter shooter, but the Wizards have enough perimeter shooters in their second unit as is.  Say you trot out Wells with AD, Nick, Songaila and Blatche.  None of the previous four guys get the majority of their points on the block.  Wells does, so in that sense, he fits.  Even if you throw a member of the Big 3 in there (Arenas instead of Daniels, Jamison instead of Songaila/Blatche), they can play on the perimeter. 

Wells can also rebound, which will help the Wizards a ton defensively.  I wouldn't call Wells a sieve defensively either, at least when guarding his man.  His on/off numbers in New Orleans were pretty bad, but that was because of his effect on offense, not defense (their style was never a great fit for him).  He's at least competent guarding his man and his ability to rebound will end more possessions.  More abstractly, Wells brings an on-court toughness this team lacks.  He's no James Posey in that regard, but Wells isn't afraid to mix it up and bang.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, on this team does that.

There are two major issues with Wells.  The first, of course, is his behavior off the court and in the locker room.  Off the court, I haven't heard anything bad since he was charged with refusing to leave a nightclub in 2001.  That was seven years ago, and it's not a major charge anyway (Arenas and Awvee Storey were arrested for a similar reason in Miami).  On the court, however, he's definitely a headcase.  He's clashed with several coaches over the course of his career.  While in Portland, he was suspended for two games for publicly cursing when Mike Dunleavy took him out of the game.  His Memphis tenure began very well under Hubie Brown, but when Mike Fratello took over, the two feuded, with Fratello cutting Wells' playing time and suspending him for Game 2 of the 2005 first-round series against Phoenix.  Then, of course, there are the conflicts with Jeff Van Gundy in 2007.  To put it bluntly, Wells has a history of being a bad chemistry guy.

On the other hand, perhaps the dude just hasn't been in the right situations.  One thing I've noticed is that every coach he's fought with (Dunleavy, Fratello and Van Gundy) have been strict disciplinarians.  Wells has been pretty civil under Maurice Cheeks, Hubie Brown and Rick Adelman, guys who are more easygoing.  Eddie Jordan is certainly much closer to the latter group than the former, and the locker room is a crazy place that may suit Wells better.  Additionally, Wells hasn't had any problems since the Van Gundy affair.  He behaved under Adelman and may have been even better in New Orleans, according to At the Hive.

I contend that he's over his off-court issues. Yeah, I know, it's 100% stupid to assert this with 100% confidence. But even in his final days with Houston, he had already begun to exhibit signs of new-found maturity (for example, he didn't play with the team in April '07 because he felt he was "disrupting team chemistry." That's a sign he understood that he couldn't let his own personal feelings get in the way of team success, regardless of his current situation). He was often seen explaining defensive roles and the like to younger guys like Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong, something visibly different from his Portland years.

It sounds like the guy is a bit of a front-runner, so as long as we're as good as we think we are, he'll behave.

On the court, my biggest concern is that he has a well-deserved reputation for being a bit of a chucker.  Wells' usage rate (the percentage of possessions he ends with either a shot, turnover or foul) has never been any lower than the 22 percent tally he had while with the Hornets.   For his career, his usage rate is 24.8%.  By comparison's sake, only three Wizards (Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Nick Young) had higher usage rates last season than Wells' career mark.  Wells isn't a particularly efficient player either (he's not inefficient, just mediocre), so perhaps a guy who uses fewer possessions would be a better fit.  I also question how he will adapt to the Princeton offense considering his ingrained habits.  He would make a living playing in the post, but I wonder about his ability to cut away from the ball. 

Still, despite these concerns, we're talking about someone who will likely play for the minimum, considering he's 31, coming off a terrible playoff performance, has a bad reputation and only made 2.3 million last season.  For 15 minutes a game, Wells can provide inside scoring and toughness while Caron Butler gets more rest. 

So long as the package is one year at around 1.2-1.5 million, it seems like a no-brainer to me.  The best-case scenario is that he comes off the bench for 15-20 minutes a game, provides much-needed inside scoring, grabs a few rebounds and makes us tougher overall.  Worst-case scenario, he doesn't work out, falls behind Dominic McGuire in the rotation and only costs us 1.5 million for one year anyway.  He'll be gone after the season or in a mid-season trade.  Maybe he poisons the locker room a bit, but I think we've established enough of a professional mentality that one player won't completely undermine it.

I won't be upset if Ernie decides against Bonzi Wells, but I think it's right up his alley as far as under-the-radar cheap gambles go.  At the very least, it's a much better option than Darius Miles and at least as good as the Devin Browns and the like.

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