I knew the Washington Wizards had a lot of young players, but I guess the uniqueness of their roster didn't really sink in until Randy Wittman mentioned this fact prior to the game against the Houston Rockets.
Coach Randy Wittman provided an interesting stat: Nine of the 15 players on #wizards roster on their rookie contracts— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) January 27, 2012
That's kind of crazy. Two-thirds of the Wizards' roster has less than four years of experience. More fundamentally, eight of those nine players have less than two years of experience. There's young, and then there's the Wizards.
It's easy to look at this and think that better days are ahead. Alas, here's the problem: can all of these guys actually develop? If so, will the Wizards have all their weaknesses addressed as they look to become a winning team?
Before we answer that question, it's important to keep in mind that the six "veterans" aren't exactly stable on the roster. Here are those six:
Young's on a one-year qualifying offer and is likely gone next summer. Blatche is Blatche. The other four are essentially on one-year contracts, assuming the Wizards buy out Lewis for $10 million of his $23 million contract next summer. There's a very good chance that all six of those non-youngsters are not on the roster as soon as next season.
The Wizards are then essentially left with the following nine-man "core."
- John Wall
- Jordan Crawford
- Chris Singleton
- Jan Vesely
- JaVale McGee
- Trevor Booker
- Shelvin Mack
- Kevin Seraphin
- Hamady Ndiaye
Suppose all those players become the very best player they can be. You have the point guard position set, with Mack providing the perfect backup to Wall. Otherwise, what do you have? Crawford's best-case scenario is to be like his namesake Jamal, in which case he's probably not a starter. Singleton would become a three-and-D guy. Vesely becomes Thaddeus Young, a small-ball power forward who needs to either play a limited role or be paired with an elite rebounding center, which McGee probably won't become. Booker's ultimately a good frontcourt reserve, and who knows with Seraphin and Ndiaye.
Best-case scenario, all these guys develop ... and there are still significant holes. Who can play pick and roll with Wall? Can anyone post up if need be? Who can man the shooting guard position? Can anyone truly be a back-line anchor defensively? Can anyone create offense alongside Wall? These are serious questions, and as we all know, it's a really tall order to develop nine players to their full potential anyway.
There are potential fixes to these problems that could arrive next summer. However, the Wizards will still have several roster spots tied up to young players that, best-case scenario, develop into duplicate parts. Roster spots are finite in this league (even guys sent to the NBA Developmental League count towards the maximum roster). A developing team can't afford to hold those spots to youngsters unless they have a clear idea of what role they'll fill on the team when it improves.
With that in mind, I think it's time for the Wizards to consider dealing some of those nine players for players that can help solve some of those above questions. It may seem counter-intuitive to deal youngsters for proven talent at this stage, but given the overlapping skills of their young players, it actually helps the rebuilding process. I like Vesely, Singleton and Booker, but if I can deal two of those three to get a wing player in his prime (i.e. not over 28) who is already a good enough shooter, defender and playmaker to start, I do it in a second. Not only does this provide Wall with some help to take some of the load off his shoulders, but it also clarifies the development for whichever of the three remain. The Wizards can now go about developing that player into the role they want him to fill rather than having to choose between three guys to fill that same role. These are the kinds of deals the Wizards should be looking to do now instead of waiting until they become a winning team.
Granted, I don't have any specific players to throw out there. It's always tough to find available guys in a trade, and it's also too early in the season to know which teams are buying and which teams are selling. That may sound like a lame cop-out, and if so, I'm sorry.
But it also doesn't change the bigger-picture point, which is that it's time for the Wizards to start exploring ways to consolidate their rookie-contract players now in the name of filling holes that the roster will need going forward.