Surprise, surprise: Professor Hollinger doesn't like what we're doing

Sir Hollinger, you know I like you as an analyst, but I need to take issue to this:

In three seasons with the trio of Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, the Wizards have won 43, 41 and 42 games and haven't made it past the first round of the playoffs. The three players are 26, 28 and 32, respectively, so it seems likely that we've seen about the best we're going to get from them. They're an average team, and without an infusion of vastly better players around them, they'll keep being an average team.

Yet instead of blowing that trio up, the Wizards took a Bob-Beamonesque leap of faith this week. First they extended Jamison for four years and $50 million, and then they offered Arenas a monstrous six-year, $127 million package. Given that Arenas is coming off a major knee injury that kept him sidelined nearly all of last season and is heavily dependant on his quickness to be an elite scorer, his offer in particular appears to be a reach...

The Wizards' alternate reality was letting both go in free agency and using what would have been a big chunk of cap space to try to remake the team around Butler -- their best player this past season and the least expensive of the three going forward -- and whomever else they could have signed. At worst, it seems they would have come away with Maggette, and their cap situation would have been far better over the next five seasons -- in fact, they might have been able to get into the LeBron bidding in 2010; James recently named Washington, D.C., as one of his favorite cities...

It sure seems to me the fear of losing out on big-name stars caused Washington to miss out on a fantastic opportunity to remake its roster.

First of all, here's how that first sentence should read (bold are the additions):

In three seasons with the trio of Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler all healthy at the same time, the Wizards have won 42 games in 2006, despite Butler starting the season on the bench, and were near the top of the Eastern Conference and on top of their division in 2007. They haven't made it past the first round of the playoffs in two series at full strength, losing a tight series in 2006 with Butler nursing a broken finger and losing in 2008 with Arenas slow after coming back from knee surgery.

I'm pushing it a little with the external factors at play, but it bothers me to no end when people talk about how this team has never gotten out of the first round without even mentioning the injuries.  I know, I know, everyone suffers injuries, but how many teams lose their two best player two weeks before the playoffs?  How many teams lose their star for three-quarters of the season and still manage to be back in the playoffs?  I'm just saying...

And the point about the Big 3's ages...I mean, didn't he say the same thing last year?  Jamison's a little old at 32, but Arenas is still quite young and Butler is right in the middle of his prime.  It's not like we're dealing with a bunch of 35-year olds.

Then, there's this point:

Given that Arenas is coming off a major knee injury that kept him sidelined nearly all of last season and is heavily dependant on his quickness to be an elite scorer, his offer in particular appears to be a reach...

Except Golden State offered a max contract, and Sacramento offered to trade their entire team for Gilbert.  Overpaying?  Maybe, but this isn't like Rashard Lewis last year, where Orlando was literally the only team offering anywhere near a max contract.  The Wizards aren't bidding against themselves, because Arenas could collect the same annual salary with Golden State.

There's also the angle that he might take less to help the team, which isn't mentioned.  I don't think it changes the fact that the Wizards offered the max, but Arenas might not take it, giving us a little bit more room to improve the team.

To his credit, Hollinger does discuss the alternative plan of letting both these guys go and building around Butler.  If we did that, we'd be about 14 million under the cap this year and, if we didn't sign anyone else, a similar amount under the cap next offseason.  If we sign Maggette and re-sign Mason, that'd give us a lineup of Daniels-Butler-Maggette-Blatche-Haywood, with Songaila, Mason and Stevenson as the key reserves.  Then, we'd have about 17 million in expiring contracts in 2010 (Etan, Haywood and Daniels), and we probably would have enough cap room to make a run at an A-list free agent.  But how many of those guys would switch teams anyway?  Does it really make sense to get rid of two of our Big Three for the five percent chance that we could land LeBron or Amare Stoudamire?  I'd rather not worry about that.

The only hope then is that we draft a stud, but our "rebuilt" team is not particularly young and it's probably just good enough to win 30 games in the East.  We'd have to get very lucky to either win the lottery or get a steal in the draft. 

I guess my point is that it makes little sense to completely rebuild when all our role players have deals for the next two years or longer.  That's a long time to hold onto dead-weight contracts.  If those contracts weren't there, then rebuilding might be a better option, but at this point, we're going to have to live with those guys for two years or more had we decided to rebuild.

So yes, it's an option, but not a particularly great one.  It'd take two years to completely rebuild our team, and even then, we may never get this close to being a contender.

Let me be entirely clear here.  Signing Arenas and Jamison to these long-term deals is a risk.  In fact, it's a major risk.  If Arenas isn't healthy, or if Jamison really slows down, Hollinger is right that both of those contracts are major albatrosses.  He's also right that our young guys may never improve, and we will lose a ton of cap flexibility. 

But the alternatives are just as risky in this particular situation.  Rebuilding is a dicey scenario, especially when a huge part of the plan is to get in on the 2010 free agent sweepstakes.  Re-signing Jamison, but not Arenas means we still don't have much cap room and we're stuck with a veteran team with the upside of 40-45 wins.  Re-signing Arenas, but not Jamison gives us more room under the tax, but it also means we have to rely on Blatche to take a major step forward for us to keep up.

Re-signing both means we have more hope of competing than any other scenario.  Sure, a lot of things have to break right, but I don't see why this team can't win 55 or more games if everything Hollinger lists breaks right.  For a city that has been a laughingstock for so long, we deserve the chance.

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