I love thought exercises more than most. Impassioned debates about theoretical premises can never truly be settled, but they also encourage a completeness of thought difficult to sustain in normal conversation. I've been thinking about prospects myself as 2012 approaches (fans of cellar-dwelling teams can't help it), and have come to the conclusion it is largely a waste of time.
The Wizards as a team have as much or more upside than any other team in the NBA to go with the first dose of stability the franchise has enjoyed since Gilbert Arenas tore his meniscus. Flip Saunders knows who his guys are, to an extent, and Ernie is finished with his machinations for now. A compressed season means a hectic schedule means a deep rotation, or else. These conditions are ideal for growth and we're going to find out quickly who's ready to sink or swim.
Until that happens, we don't really know what needs we have. And counter to most perceptions about 2012 free agency, there aren't as many clear upgrades as you might think.
At Point Guard
Our position of least need, as you know. The available market at upper end boasts past-their-prime fare such as Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Steve Nash, and Andre Miller. These guys have something left in the tank, though how much no one knows, but are either committed to their current team or have little interest in a non-contender. There isn't much once we move past this tier. Ramon Sessions, Sebastian Telfair, Goran Drakic (that monstrous performance in the Suns verus Spurs playoffs seems so distant), and Jerryd Bayless are a fairly representative selection of what's available before we would likely be no worse off calling on the services of the D-league. Of course Raymond Felton would love coming here to backup John Wall after playing in Portland. And there's that Deron Williams guy. Oh, I didn't see you there, Russell Westbrook...
Need: Can we say none? Ernie's always plotting trades, we'll assume, but John, Jordan Crawford, and Shelvin Mack have this all kinds of covered.
At Shooting Guard
Big question, right? Jason Terry and Ray Allen headline the veteran crop, but Eric Gordon's contract is up, as well. I had a hard time believing the Clippers would let him test the market, and an extension was under discussion.
"I've always looked forward to being on this team," Gordon said Tuesday. "We have a great team.
"I wouldn't leave here at all. I wouldn't think about it."
via SB Nation LA
Would you give that guy up? I sure wouldn't...unless he wanted a massive extension such that you knew you could never keep him, Peter Vecsey's 'reporting' notwithstanding. Unless, you know, there was a superstar available. I doubt the Hornets will bid him farewell without a serious effort to retain him. After those three, it's the likes of Keith Bogans, Roger Mason, Willie Green, etc. The restricted market is a bit more interesting with O.J. Mayo, Landry Fields, and Courtney Lee becoming available.
Need: Who knows? The biggest SG free agent we'll be looking at will likely be our own. So much will depend on what Nick Young and Jordan Crawford show this season. We'll be watching with bated breath.
At Small Forward
Gerald Wallace has a player option if he's looking to cash in on one last big contract, and with Wesley Matthews locked up long term and Nicolas Batum a high priority RFA, the Trail Blazers would probably let him walk. The RFA market is more attractive once again, with Batum, Danilo Gallinari, and (depending on whether or not you like him) Sam Young.
Need: Who knows? Even moreso than at SG, the future of the Wizards' SF position is up in the air. Early, wildly irresponsible conclusions from preseason play indicate lottery pick Jan Vesely may fit in nicely there, with mid-first rounder Chris Singleton picking up lockdown defense duty at SF and PF. There's a marked lack of shooting at this position, however, and with the need to surround John Wall with deadeyes, don't be surprised if the Wizards elect to use their powder here. Especially if Ernie goes big in the draft. Honorable mention: Rashard Lewis, we hardly knew ye.
At Power Forward
Your UFA's include past-their-prime talent such as Tim Duncan, Antawn Jamison and Elton Brand. And we have an Etan Thomas we'd like to sell you... RFA sees Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love (!) at the top tier, with some serviceable players such as Darrell Arthur (a nice story), Jason Thompson, J.J. Hickson, and Ryan Anderson shaking loose as well. The Kings can't afford to keep both, and while the starting PF for the Kings is by no means set in stone, early consensus is that Sacramento will likely elect to keep Hickson. Veteran ready to contribute? Everybody loves Carl Landry! Also, Michael Beasley. He'll be a great influence!
Need: Uncertainty reigns here as well, but we will have a definitive answer on Andray Blatche, no matter what the case. Rashard Lewis out of the picture; Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely, and Chris Singleton can all fill in, but none brings Blatche's offense. Yes, I wrote that with a straight face.
Dwight Howard will likely not hit free agency. And that's all the mention he gets. There's a team option on Andrew Bynum...who will not hit free agency. After that, Chris Kaman and Mehmet Okur headline the UFAs which tells you something. The RFAs now...Javale McGee, Omer Asik, and Roy Hibbert are all about to get paid. Sidenote: Asik was a second round draft-and-stash back in 2008 (one slot after Deandre Jordan...both drafted after the Timberwolves took Nikola Pekovic with the 31st pick...ahhh, futility). Don't miss this essential tidbit from Blog A Bull (one word?) on the unusual restrictions limiting Asik's would-be suitors. The brothers Brook and Robin Lopez are available, where as usual the Suns netted the lesser twin (remains to be seen if Markieff Morris breaks the mold...may be the rebounding and defensive presence Suns have sorely lacked). Color me disinterested on both scores.
I've seen lists before. What's your point?
We are approaching the 2012 free agency period with a ton of fanfare. But aside from potential free agent so highly valued they will likely move only trade (Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Russel Westbrook), they would have to leverage their team for the purpose of defecting to the Wizards. Ernie could ask, they'll laugh, and then...
That means we're looking at a class of RFAs, which should give far more weight to the current phrase du jour '[team] saving their powder for 2012 free agency'. That means there are a few high-priority targets the Wizards will likely share with several other teams unless we start bidding stupid money, and there is no indicator the team is planning to go nuts. This indicates a high chance Ernie looks to pull a trade before the All-Star break that might make the Wizards a more enticing destination, but even then we'll likely see the team reacting to what's left as offer sheets start being signed.
In my ideal world, the front office is on a mission and they go after their targets fast and hard. Since I should probably make a prediction, we re-sign Javale, lose Nick, draft Jeremy Lamb (et al) to fill the void, nebulous trade results in some time opening up in the front court and Wiz sign Gallinari out of Denver. Now if only we had some rebounding...