Excerpts from last season's commentary:
'We need a veteran presence on the floor!'
'A veteran will calm things down.'
Cue the laugh track, amirite? Except with a disastrous preseason sliding down our respective stomachs like a chunk of undercooked steak, nobody feels like smiling. Yes, it was the preseason, but with the extensive talk about the team
not knowing their roles from the coach, players et al it should be glaringly obvious that having a veteran on board to provide some stability/balance to the floor is not mere pithy sentiment.
Before we talk about the veteran impact, we need to look at why it's necessary. The floor is wide open this season. Them that shows plays, and if everyone is desperate to show what they can do, the Wizards will be a team only in name. This is a problem that goes beyond the pitfalls of hero ball and results in the kind of disorganized mess we witnessed too many times last season.
A veteran pretty much always knows where they need to be on the court, what their role is. A team player executing the offense or defense as they are supposed to encourages everyone else to remember and see to their own areas of responsibility. It also makes it easier for the coaches to identify who is not doing it.
Flip has an extremely difficult job, fielding balanced five man lineups. Rashard Lewis, Roger Mason, and Maurice Evans have to make the smart plays so Flip can figure out who isn't getting it, who isn't making the progress he needs to see. The coaching staff can focus on specific problems rather than simply repeating general principles in practice and frustrating young players who are leaving it out on the floor.
For the young guys on the floor, the guards especially, this translates to those veterans being where they're supposed to be without needing to look or worry, a safety valve. This also means more available focus for what they need to be doing. I want John Wall to be worrying about running the offense, not if [unnamed big man] decided to walk up the court. I want Shelvin Mack to earn minutes and the backup point spot without the distractions of freelancing. I want Jordan Crawford to understand he has playmaking options besides breaking down the defense and jacking a shot up. Maybe Nick Young can average two assists this year? These are all things that will come if guys are where they're supposed to be, and no one does that better than a veteran.
And then you get a guy like Ronny Turiaf, who brings everything we hoped we were getting with Fabricio Oberto. His play last night was a big factor in keeping the Wizards in the game late. Making the smart pass was contagious early and seemed to be a big factor in opening up that big lead. If that's the kind of quality veteran backup play we've been missing...well, good job getting him for a handshake, Mr. Grunfeld.