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Wizards Face Developmental Crisis If Season Is Lost Due To NBA Lockout

Confession time: I'm the guy at work who says after half an hour, 'Only eight hours and thirty minutes left!'  I still have a hard time thinking we're barely in the second month of a lockout that could easily see no basketball played for another thirteen months.  As I was glumly considering my mental state a year from now shouldn't, I started thinking about the roster.

If we're concerned about the Wizards needing veteran presence on the floor for the 2011/12 season, how worried are we about the next year?  Rashard Lewis will be gone, which makes Andray Blatche our senior player.  It troubles some of us more than others and it isn't difficult to imagine Ernie Grunfeld making a small move.  Except, if we assume (a) we lose the season and (b) the 2012 Draft goes down, we're sitting at 15 players.  Free agency 2012 will see some major pieces on the move, and with our roster projecting at full capacity, it's a good bet the Wizards get in on the action. 

The point, though, is that this year is absolutely crucial in developmental terms.  Hard choices are ahead if no basketball is played this season.

A quick look at the roster:

  • John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton, Andray Blatche, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, and the 2012 Draft selections are locked up.
  • Shelvin Mack will be on the second year of his rookie deal, which I believe is not guaranteed.  But why wouldn't the team pick up his option?
  • Larry Owens, Othyus Jeffers, and Hamady N'Diaye will likely command no FA attention.  The team optioned them this year and will bring them back.  UNLESS the Wizards are active on the market, and if the team needs roster spots I believe they'll be vulnerable to being cut in the order listed (unless we draft a Center).
  • Nick Young and Javale McGee are obviously our big question marks and are crucial to the future of the team as major pieces going forward or as trade assets (assuming sign and trades are viable).

Let me start off by saying this is not a situation the Wizards want to be in.  The Wizards still don't know what they have, and the guys who made strides last year have had no opportunity to become consistent.  Let's be honest and also say that no one besides John Wall has enough trade value for the Wizards to be satisfied with what was coming back.  So if the Wizards are trading, it's not from a position of strength.

A FA signing is the other route they might pursue.  In the wake of the Hilton Armstrong signing, it's unlikely Grunfeld will be high on bringing in a veteran for the minimum, (though we certainly wouldn't object to the right one).  And for simple talent evaluation purposes, signing anything less than foundational piece would prove counterproductive.  So absent something truly over-the-top (like Dwight Howard), I'm leaning toward no action from the front office here.

Of course, there's an open question as to how free agency will be handled in the new CBA with respect to restricted and unrestricted free agents.  It's hard to see the union sitting quietly while players like Howard or Chris Paul get hit with restricted free agent tags, and it's equally difficult to see the Magic or the Hornets (well, maybe the Hornets) sitting quietly while their franchise players depart for nothing, having had no opportunity to get commensurate value (much as that's possible, anyway).  That's going to be one ugly negotiating point if the lockout kills the season.

But put quite simply, and in the most conservative terms, I think JaVale McGee and Nick Young are coming back.  They fit Ted Leonsis' plan, they're talented, coachable (maybe), and compatible with Wall.  But how can Flip Saunders find the time to give 15 players who need to develop all they need to grow? 

The D-league is the obvious answer, but the Wizards share the Iowa Energy with the Bulls and the Hornets, and just how many players do you send?  And, more importantly, for how long?  Even Hamady Ndiaye spent but a short time with the Dakota Wizards.  It was surmised that the team valued him too much as a practice body.  Who would we send?  Maybe Ndiaye for a short stretch.  It's unlikely we send Vesely unless he's the Czech Hasheem Thabeet.  Singleton projects to be NBA ready, and if Ndiaye is valued for his size, Singleton's defense won't be shipped off to Iowa so he can practice jump shooting.  Maybe Mack, but his basketball IQ and versatility make that doubtful.  Saunders will want him learning close by because he loves his guards.  The draftees?  Maybe the second-rounder, but don't forget that a stacked draft should yield some excellent players that will earn time on the court if they have the opportunity.

To sum up, in a lost season, the Wizards enter 2012 with too many underdeveloped assets, a ton of cap space and a free agency period where no one knows the rules.  It smells like a worst case scenario, but it's all too plausible.  The Wizards' roster is packed with youth and more youth is on the way. They need the pecking order a season provides.  But for those of who inclined to find the silver lining, it's one more year off Blatche's contract.