Naturally, we need to talk about national media perception first. And the first thing anyone knows about recent Wizards veterans is Gungate. There has been a lot of concern about whether the youth movement Ernie Grunfeld is scoring, that Flip Saunders must orchestrate, has enough bass to keep up with the brass, so to speak.
Finga gunz implicated the veteran core as a whole, turning a dismantling into a fire sale, and the bottom fell out. Nick Young, Andray Blatche, and Javale McGee were looked to by default, to establish a new veteran core. These were talented young players who were sent down the NBA version of the rabbit hole then told not only to toe a new company line, but to draw it. Each faced their own personal developmental challenges and have made significant progress, but were at the time unready to step into a leadership vacuum.
There have been many veterans in a short time that have passed through the Verizon Center. Not all have been a credit to their profession. Those of them that have deserve thanks for showing our boys what it means to be a veteran in the NBA.
There are five players I want to thank, specifically. Apologies if I leave your favorite out. There have of course been many more veterans than that who have made their way through the ranks. As we're fond of pointing out, for a veteran to have real impact, they have to legitimately have the attention of the players beneath them, and I think these are the ones who made a general or specific impact.
- We were joking about Josh Howard and Andray Blatche hanging out, who's teaching who bad habits? Haha. But to tell you the truth when I see Andray's efforts with the team workouts, some part of me believes this is a reflection of JHo's influence. It was a real shame Howard's knee never let him get back to 100% because the leadership example he set was shining. He came to DC with every indication of embracing the franchise, and while many might snicker about how he had little choice (or that we did, for that matter), his heart was in the right place when we were in desperate need of some.
- Squeak! Kirk Hinrich was a character polarizing in 'net discussion who ended up at neither projected extreme of indispensable mentor to John Wall or broke-down shot jacker cruising on an undeserved defensive reputation (hey, I said extremes). Kirk was a solid perimeter defender who provided reliable outside shooting, resulting in a campaign impressive enough for the Atlanta Hawks to part with Jordan Crawford, a pick that became Chris Singleton, Maurice Evans, and Mike Bibby, though shrewdly demanding Hilton Armstrong as sweetener. But joking aside, I will forever remember Kirk as the guy who wanted to win more than anyone else on the floor. He was often visibly frustrated with the learning curve some of our younger players were experiencing, and while that made for some uncomfortable moments, I also think it established some higher personal standards.
- Mo Evans came on board as the quintessential Flip Saunders veteran. Hardworking on the floor and a reliable ambassador to the media, he was the closest we had to Antawn Jamison since Antawn Jamison wore the teal and gold (and aren't we glad that uniform era is over). He definitely didn't play his way into a max contract, but his effort and consistency kept him on the floor, and helped show the youth both a way to earn, and the value of having, the coaches' trust.
- You stay classy, Mike Bibby. Fans point to a lucrative career, but how many players hand back guaranteed cash? And an entire year's worth? Just by suiting up he trumped Zydrunas Ilgauskas' tenure in DC. Some call it ring-chasing, but even if it was, it's a big reminder to our guys that there's more to this game than getting paid. Some might call that an unnecessary reminder, but I don't think it's something young players can hear enough.
- No secret that I believe Rashard Lewis has value for the Wizards. His recent statements about being willing to eat the last year of his contract were certainly pained (and whose wouldn't be?), but this was again a tremendous example for our young guys.
There's been no question our guys have been tossed into the fire with the franchise on their backs. It's impossible to read practically any summary of John Wall's rookie campaign that doesn't highlight his stat line in the context of a subpar team. Having been put on the front lines with little experience myself, a few good examples can go a very long way.
It's all too easy to see the veteran turnstile as lip service to a true veteran presence on the team. Most have concluded that we'll simply have to grow our own leadership, much like the Thunder, but without the benefit of a Nick Collison. Can our guys do it on their own? Sure. But like I said before, a good example can go a long way. The burden of leadership is a heavy one to assume for a new player, and I'm thankful for the veterans who have provided a bit of perspective in the John Wall era.