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Juan Carlos Navarro: Cue the hype machine

In a word, wow.

According to True Hoop, Wizards Insider, the official FC Barcelona website, and another Spanish website, Juan Carlos Navarro has reached an agreement to terminate his contract with FC Barcelona and potentially join the NBA.  Since the Wizards own his rights, they're bidding on him themselves, unless they decide to trade him.  Basically, as long as he doesn't ask for a ridiculous contract, he'll probably be here next year.

When we talk about how we totally trust Ernie Grunfeld, even though this team hasn't gotten any better in three years, this is why.  Just when the situation seems desperate, he pulls a rabbit out of the hat.

In 2005, after the Wizards made the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the early 80s, the situation looked dire after Larry Hughes bolted to the Cavaliers.  Then Ernie somehow found a way to turn the hated Kwame Brown into Caron Butler, who has become an all-star.  That one more single-handily kept the Wizards afloat these past couple years.  

Well, he did it again.

Just a couple weeks ago, it appeared the Spanish sensation would never play in the NBA.  His buyout was rumored to be as much as 10 million, and the Wizards were only able to pay 500,000 dollars up front.  Who knows exactly what happened between then and now, but I have no doubts that Ernie was somehow involved, and I have no doubts that Ernie is going to do something with him, whether it's sign him (please do) or use him as a trading chip (please don't).  

In case you aren't aware, Navarro's probably the best shooting guard in Spain.  Maybe that's hyperbole, but he's definitely one of the best offensively.  He was leading the Spanish league in scoring, and he starred in the 2006 World Championships for Spain's Gold Medal squad.  The similarities to fellow international sensation Manu Ginobili are numerous, both in their situations, their age, and their game.  There's no doubt that he can play in the NBA right now, and I see no reason why he can't star.  I've e-mailed the guys at The Painted Area, and I'm sure they'll agree that Navarro immediately becomes the best shooting guard on this team.

The only minor problem is that Navarro's biggest weakness is also the Wizards' biggest weakness: defense.  He's really not a pure point guard, and he lacks the strength at times to guard the best 2 guards.  Still, he's improving, according to Draft Express.

Nevertheless, the biggest news came on the defensive end, where Juan Carlos emerged as a very reliable defender, even in very complicated match-ups against the likes of Rudy Fernández or Louis Bullock. This is a department where Navarro is steadily improving, showing better intensity and taking advantage of his quickness to stay in front of his man (he's likely answering the demands of his very tough coach Dusko Ivanovic). Obviously he's still a bit undersized and not the strongest guy around if we talk about dealing with very physically gifted shooting guards, but Navarro has reached a level of playing and maturity on court that should enable him to eventually succeed at the NBA level--meaning to establish himself as a useful player there.

The signing of Tom Thibodeau as an assistant also helps to alleviate the problems.  It appears Ernie is deciding to attack the Wizards defensive woes with coaching rather than defensive talent, and given the salary cap situation, that's probably the best idea.

Obviously, the saga isn't over.  Navarro could ask for a huge contract, one that, because of the cap, the Wizards couldn't provide.  And what happens now to DeShawn Stevenson, who suddenly both becomes expendable and out of the Wizards price range if Navarro comes to down?  Additionally, what if Ernie decides to use Navarro as a chip to entice teams to take on Etan Thomas or Brendan Haywood?  He might have to in order to get rid of one of those guys.

But I would really be disappointed if Ernie decides to let Navarro get away.  Navarro's way too good to simply be used as a trading chip, and there's no way, if the money is anywhere close, that DeShawn Stevenson should be signed over him.  I loved DeShawn for 5 months this year, and Gil loves him too, but if your choice is between Navarro and him, you take Navarro every time.  As long as Navarro's asking price is fairly reasonable (around the MLE), Ernie should sign him.  

A backcourt of Arenas, Navarro, Nick Young, and Stevenson/Antonio Daniels?  Don't tell me that doesn't sound exciting.  

Update [2007-7-3 22:39:10 by Pradamaster]: M Haubs of The Painted Area e-mails back these thoughts on JCN.

What do you think you can say about him?

First of all, here's what Jay wrote last Sept. when he put Navarro on his 2nd team for the World Championships after Spain won the gold:

"Had a hard time leaving him off the 1st-team. Had a great tourney where he continued to display his improved outside shooting-41.3% from deep (this used to be a liability). Used his patented dribble penetration effectively as well. The Wizards could really use his services right now as a combo guard paired with Arenas. Not sure he can start in the league since he's not really a point, but might start with the emphasis on downsized line-ups; has great speed that should translate well."

Here are some thoughts on him in general:

- He can play - he and Jose Calderon were an absolute handful in Spain's run to the World Championship gold.
- Has legit NBA athleticism in terms of quickness -- excellent dribble-penetrator who should be able to get into the lane in the league.
- Game is roughly similar to T. Parker's in that J.C. can finish well in the lane with a variety of runners and floaters. (Not saying he's as good as Parker, mind you, just similar)
- Improved outside shot greatly in the past few years - used to be a weakness.
- Perhaps a little small (6-3), but could work well as a tandem combo guard along with Arenas, where he sometimes takes over the ballhandling to allow Gil to work off the ball.
- If Nick Young pans out, Les Boulez could suddenly have overkill at the 2!
- His defense should fit in well with the Wiz -- i.e. "lack thereof"!

How much would he improve the Wizards?

Hmmm, that's a tough one - on a certain level, no moves are going to matter for Les Boulez in the standings if they don't address rebounding and defense inside.

Navarro gives Les Boulez more of what they already have, as another offensive threat on the perimeter, but what he really gives them for now is flexibility....

He's another chip for Ernie to have in his arsenal - now he knows that he has another scoring option beyond the Big 3, so now he can possibly feel more comfortable letting Stevenson walk, dealing Jamison, etc. I'm going to cop out and give it a TBD for the moment, but it's a nice asset to get surprisingly.

And I'm looking forward to seeing WAS go smallball next year with Gil, JC, Young and Caron!