No bwoods column today, sorry guys. This will take its place.
It was Saturday night, after the Wizards' 94-84 victory over the Kings, and Flip Saunders was reflecting on a career that included, to date, 600 wins. Like anyone trying not to sound like they're full of themselves, Saunders tried to change the subject, saying at first when a reporter congratulated him that "it shows I've been in the league a long time."
That, of course, didn't last, and Saunders eventually opened up considerably when the subject was brought back to his 600th win. He started with the typical platitudes, saying his success has a lot to do with the support he's received from front offices everywhere, his players, etc. But then he started to talk about his tenure in Minnesota, which began with a dreadful 1995/96 season before eight straight playoff appearances. Saunders talked about how he knew he needed to change the mindset and personnel there to achieve the type of success he did.
Sound familiar? Saunders has said similar things about the situation here. Surely the current Wizards bear some resemblance to those crappy T-Wolves teams Saunders took over. I couldn't help but ask Saunders whether he saw any similarities in the two situations.
His response? (Emphasis mine)
"Yeah, a little bit, but you know, the one thing we had [in Minnesota] was [Kevin] Garnett at 19 years old. We knew he was going to be the man for a long time. He was just a freak athlete and a freak player."
"Overall, here, there's so much talk about guys not being here and everything else. This team -- it's scary -- because we're not that far away, yet we are far away."
Just think about the gravity of this situation for a second. I'm firmly in the nuke rebuild option, if only because I've sat through enough quick fixes that don't provide much payoff to know that the path to real success is through slow, careful building. I'm still in that camp now.
But to rebuild, you have to have something to build on. A young player who you know will be a part of your organization for a long time. An untouchable, if you will. That guy need not be as dynamic as a 19-year old Kevin Garnett, but he does have to be someone you know will be a part of your future.
I realize Flip was trying to stand up for his boy KG when he answered my question, but it still comes across as pretty damming. Yeah, it sucked in Minnesota, but at least we had a 19-year old superfreak that had showed something the previous year. And let's be honest, KG was merely a 19-year old superfreak. His rookie year numbers: 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in 28.7 minutes, with a 15.8 PER and a 52.2% true shooting percentage. Not bad, but not first-ballot hall-of-famer good. Yet Minnesota knew they had at least one keeper on their team, which made it much easier to nuke what they had and start over.
Saunders is right - who is that guy on this team? Gilbert Arenas might be going to jail, has a big contract, is already 28 and has seemingly fallen completely out of favor with management. Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are on the wrong side of their primes, Jamison's fine-wine aging notwithstanding. Andray Blatche and Nick Young have been here a few years and have not proven to be dependable building-block types. JaVale McGee has shown a ton of awesome flashes since he got here, but he still looks the same as he did when he was drafted, whether that's because of a lack of personal motivation, a lack of playing time, or both. Regardless, you cannot trust him as a future part of a winning franchise only because he literally hasn't proven to a renown coach that he can play significant minutes.
This of course is what makes trading the fifth pick in last year's draft so tragic. The Wizards decided they had enough young players and wanted proven guys, but in this league, you can never have enough young players. You never know when your best-laid plans falter, and when they do, you need those young bucks in tow to sell hope to your fans, sell a future to yourself and help lead you into a new era. Sure, the big prizes of the draft (Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans, even James Harden and Ricky Rubio) were either off the board or never coming over here. But at least we could count on someone like Stephen Curry, Jonny Flynn or Brandon Jennings to be a guy who could be a focal piece of a new era. Maybe not the focal point like KG, but certainly a focal point like a Jeff Green of the Thunder or a Mike Conley of the Grizzlies.
Does this make the nuke option tougher. Unfortunately, yes. And that's sad, because this team needs to be nuked for any chance at long-term growth.