The reason that Alonzo Gee somehow slipping away and signing back with the Spurs is bad really doesn't have a lot to do with Alonzo Gee.
Well, let me rephrase that: it sort of has to do with Alonzo Gee. It has to do with Gee in the sense that Gee has played extremely well in his 11-game stint in DC. His numbers in limited minutes are very good -- 16 points and 6.3 rebounds per 36 minutes, with a 16.7 PER and a 57.2% true shooting percentage. He's proven he can handle starter minutes, and while he's not a perfect player by any means, he plays hard and carries himself like a humble player looking to get better. His defensive fundamentals may need work, but he takes pride in it and doesn't back down from top wing threats. He's doing a great job on the offensive glass and has flashed a much better jump shot than anticipated. Throw in the fact that he's just 22, won't cost much and has a lot of upside, and he's a young player worth keeping around.
But really, this is an example of a larger problem within the front office and a sign that the entire culture there really needs to change.
The truth is, there are a lot of Alonzo Gees out there. Maybe they aren't as productive and as young as Gee himself, but young wings are everywhere. Hell, Cartier Martin could be another Alonzo Gee, who knows. It's entirely possible that Gee fades into obscurity and doesn't ever become an NBA-quality player.
But that's not going to vindicate the Wizards' front office, because the way this all came about was because of a lack of preparation. Simply put, the Wizards fell asleep at the wheel. The plan all along was to sign Gee for the rest of the season once his second 10-day contract ran out. Flip Saunders said it himself after the Bobcats' game. All they needed was to make it official right away and not mess around. Why wouldn't they? Gee had done everything they possibly could have expected and then some.
Instead, the Wizards' wavered. Sunday came and there was no announcement, no proclamation that they were going to reward a young player for doing everything a young player is supposed to do. It wouldn't have taken much of a reward either - all that was necessary was to tell him that they think he's acquitted himself well and they'd do what they could to try to keep him this summer. No guarantees, just a tacit admission that Gee deserves his shot for how hard he's worked.
But that admission never came, and the shrewd Spurs came swooping in with the added carrot of ... a non-guaranteed contract for next year. In other words, Gee isn't signing away from the Wizards because the Spurs promised him his place in the NBA. They didn't. From what I understand, based on what I've heard, it's likely Gee would have stayed with the Wizards if they demonstrated a similar level of commitment to him. It was the Spurs who offered first, not vice versa. As Scott Schroeder writes:
Gee's second 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards expired Sunday, meaning the team had the option of either signing Gee for the remainder of the season or letting him become a free agent. They've apparently chosen option B, even though he started in their last two games.
Earlier in the day, Schroeder wrote that the Wizards' could make a last-ditch effort, but if not, Gee was going to the Spurs (he's since edited the post). Gee went to the Spurs, so we can assume the Wizards either didn't make a last-ditch effort or made an unsatisfactory one. My educated guess is that it's the former.
Again, it bears asking: why weren't the Wizards on top of this? Why were they asleep at the wheel on Sunday, when they needed to make a decision their own coach advocated? What's the point of keeping a spot for a rotating D-League player if you aren't going to keep the one player that plays well enough to deserve that spot? This, my friends, is bad process.
The Wizards are now offering up some flimsy explanation about how they were worried Gee would cut into their precious cap room this summer. (I say "the Wizards" because Flip is clearly speaking for them. This is the same guy that wanted Gee, remember?). We've already had a number of people on this very site see right through that explanation. Gee got signed on a non-guaranteed deal by a Spurs team that's already over the luxury tax. Even if he signed a guaranteed contract, it wasn't going to be for much more than the league minimum of about $457,000 for next year. The Wizards are currently projected to have around $23-25 million in cap space next year, assuming they don't pick up Josh Howard's option and Randy Foye's qualifying offer. (Editor's Note: I had forgotten to include salaries of our first-round picks, which brings our cap space down. Thanks to Joe at HoopData for the clarification). At most, Gee takes up $1 million of that cap room. It barely makes a difference. Considering the Wizards have to, you know, fill out a roster anyway (only six players are under contract, and the minimum number of players you can hold is 13), it's hard to really find anyone better to do that than a young, productive, cheap player like Gee.
Perhaps the Wizards would have gone into the luxury tax this season if they kept Gee and are just trying to save face. But wasn't that what negotiating a tough deal for Zydrunas Ilgauskas supposed to be able to solve? And hell, if for some reason the tax this year is an issue, then the Wizards are erring by not being transparent with their fans about that.
And we haven't covered perhaps the biggest failure here - the message this sends to the young players and to the rest of the team. For four years, the Wizards' brass has been reluctant to praise their young players for fear of them acting like knuckleheads and stop working hard. Since Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee were drafted, we've heard far more attention given to their shortcomings (i.e. Blatche doesn't work hard, Young doesn't play defense, McGee doesn't have any on-court awareness) than their strengths. There have been many questions about their professionalism, many coming from Wizards brass. In light of that, what kind of message does it send to them to let the one young player who did everything he was supposed to do get away? Gee worked his butt off and overachieved (something our young players haven't always done), and his reward was a pink slip. How can you preach working hard on one hand and then fail to reward the guy who did work hard on the other?
It's not just those three either - hell, what about the entire team? Every player on the team right now is auditioning for a spot in the team's future. The only reason these guys would play hard now is to show themselves that they belong. What does it do to all of them to see a guy like Gee - who has earned the trust of the coaches - get away like this? It's decisions like this that run the risk of creating a losing culture.
So really, this isn't about Gee. It's about a larger problem. It's why I'm sick of this front office. They may have done some good things in the past, and they may do some good things in the future elsewhere, but their time has run out here. It's hard for me to trust their ability to rebuild this team when they fall asleep at the wheel when it comes to seemingly minor details like making sure they sign Alonzo Gee for the rest of the season.