The Washington Wizards, critical injuries, rotation mayhem and walking the high wire

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How would Wizards fans even start to deal with normalcy? For D.C. basketball aficionados, an agonized dream of the playoffs is the status quo. Welcome to the Nation's capital.

I wrote about the Wizards 2012/13 narrative back in August. After watching the best part of Thursday's loss to the Knicks, I want to re-emphasize the preseason theme I raised then. The Redskins and Bills had wrapped up a 7-6 "slugfest", and the most memorable happening was the work of the predominately terrible Buffalo announcers. At one point they went to a sideline reporter who (in contrast) summed up any coach's preseason mindset with admirable brevity:

WIN...

BUT...

WHO...

Who, indeed. Chris Singleton looked better than Jan Vesely at power forward (not a backhanded compliment, to my great surprise). Martell Webster is going to be cutting into someone's minutes; the question, again is whose? Trevor Ariza didn't do himself any favors. Shelvin Mack has played himself into a new lease on life; A.J. Price and Jannero Pargo haven't made matters especially difficult. Jordan Crawford (17 points on 13 shots last night) was out-shotjacked by J.R. Smith (20 points on 11 shots).

On the bright side, Bradley Beal, because duh. Singleton looks like he may carve out a niche as a small-ball 4 and backup SF this year. I say backup SF because if Webster doesn't bump Ariza, no one will. Something that won't show up on the stat sheet is Jan Vesely using his length to tip balls out to the perimeter, renewing possessions on the offensive side. Something good/bad? Webster/Singleton outrebounded the rest of the forward/center rotation despite only getting 52 out of 144 available minutes. That will even out as Okafor and Nene return. Oh, and Bradley Beal.

Randy Wittman is in a tough spot. He's trying to maintain last year's momentum while:

  • Leading a training camp where no four players have been through the same training camp together.
  • Integrating new offensive and defensive concepts into a roster that finally began to see some success towards the end of the year.
  • Changing the pecking order of that roster to accomodate major trade and draft acquisitions while trying to maintain enough stability so chemistry/familiarity doesn't revert to ground zero.
  • Promoting open competition and having to balance that with the aforementioned chemistry dynamic so that deserving players get their minutes without upsetting the apple cart.
  • Doing all of it with four extremely important pieces, whose return from injury will demand minutes, on the sideline.
  • Oh, and every young player is gunning for their professional lives:
  • And that perimeter defense fans were banking on is apparently MIA. The Wizards held a 28-14 scoring edge inside with a 15-6 edge on the fast break. Surrendering over 50% beyond the arc while the opposing team shoots more than thirty 3's will undo that good work every time.

Opening day is November 3rd, just three weeks away. With John Wall out for hopefully only the first ten games, there is an excellent chance a 2013 playoff bid is riding on what rotation Coach Witt establishes in 22 short days. Some burning questions:

  • Will Mack start? Is it possible he doesn't with how everyone else looks?
  • Does anyone have a justifiable reason Beal shouldn't be the starter?
  • Should Singleton and Trevor Booker just switch positions?
  • Wow, Webster. Can Trevor Ariza fall on the depth chart?
  • Vesely ... third string? Bonus: Randy keeps talking about how much Kevin Seraphin is his kind of player ... how does that make you feel/where do you think he stands there?
  • Moar defensive rebounds plz, Seraphin. Brian Cook matched your defensive rebounding output in fewer minutes. Brian Cook.
  • Does a John Wall | Bradley Beal | Martell Webster | Nene | Emeka Okafor starting lineup get you pumped? The playoffs definitely aren't out of reach.

I expressed my confidence in Randy earlier this week and my mind hasn't changed since Tuesday. I don't believe Randy is going to award undeserving players minutes. I think a big piece of his credibility in the locker room was 'NWT-Conditioning'-gate, and he's too smart to surrender that authority by short-changing superior play. Apropos, he won't short-circuit the process of earning the minutes; Webster has his mountain to climb, but Wittman isn't going to play Andray Blatche for 40 minutes a game.

This season is a huge developmental challenge for the newly ensconced head coach, with this many pieces up in the air and little perceived job security, Randy may as well be walking the high wire. Not many head coaches survive to get fired a fourth time.

The Wizards could probably use an extra month of training camp, but in a way it's kind of exciting. Like being in college, waking up late for an exam and having to grab not-quite-dry clothes out of the dryer while hitting the apartment door at a run when it's just starting to get cold outside. Sure, you're getting cold, your clothes are damp, you're probably hungry and there's an exam at the end of your travail. But chances are you're wearing a cock-eyed grin as you're sprinting down the street because you feel absolutely alive and watching my hometown basketball team, that could finally get it together in time to make everyone take notice, is that kind of exciting.

It could turn out badly, but for now, it's time to enjoy the ride. Go D.C.

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