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Redefining The Rebuild: The Fiction Of Clear Narratives, A Crucial Offseason And The Natural Selection Model

April 2, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis watches from court side against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half at Verizon Center. The Bucks won 112-98. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
April 2, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis watches from court side against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half at Verizon Center. The Bucks won 112-98. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Historians take it upon themselves to afford us a clear narrative those the history tells us about rarely, if ever, perceive. It occurs to me we've reset the clock on the rebuild a few times, shaping and redressing our opinion while guessing at the narrative of history as it were, to grow an informed opinion on just how things are progressing. Age of the informed sports fan, right?

Complicating the whole process is the owner. A good plan is adaptable, and while transparency is a key tenet of the Ten Point Plan, there are degrees of transparency as any proponent of clean elections will tell you. Mix degrees of transparency with a plan constantly adapting to a fluid situation and it becomes extremely difficult to get to an objective consensus. The owner's perception shapes how the plan is executed on a who-knows-how-frequent basis and the goal posts move silently, Ted's Take notwithstanding. Thus, disagreeing with each other about the state of the rebuild in most, or even all, of its particulars is entirely inevitable, as the uncertainty we all chose to build into our projections can differ wildly. However, with all of the major personnel decisions approaching this offseason, it strikes me it might be time for a paradigm shift we can agree on.

Attempting to insert a clear narrative to the rebuild up until now is largely a function of attempting to anticipate where the franchise is headed and how the top decisionmakers are going about their business. Just as every complex problem has a solution simple, neat and wrong, complex narratives have a clear, cohesive and straightforward thrust only in fantasy land. So, rather than define the rebuild as a 'starts here, should end there' paradigm, it's worth considering viewing it as directed natural selection.

Choosing that metaphor is something of a compromise, because this team is, for all intents and purposes, unrecognizable from the one that finished the 2009/10 season. Sophomore players are making measurable strides while getting meaningful minutes. The big men play physical and with visible court smarts. It wouldn't be completely absurd to conclude the team is developing its youth...successfully. I am truly excited to see what kind of leap Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack take in the 2012/13 campaign.

The theory of natural selection revolves around random genetic mutations resulting in useful traits proving advantageous in survival and propagation. Directed natural selection at the NBA level should be a fairly comfortable metaphor. Random genetic mutations are the emerging skillsets of young players, what D-league call-ups can achieve, how veteran additions, in terms of personality and skillset, gel etc. The GM and coaches are responsible for this dynamic; there's the directed natural selection. Useful traits proving advantageous is a responsibility falling largely to the coach. The owner is responsible for providing the right environment for everyone to reach their potential within their respective capacity.

Looking at teams from this standpoint offers an idea why Deron Williams playing Assistant GM with the Nets, or why the Magic's Dwight Howard demanding SVG's ouster is so disruptive. It explains why the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz have had far less fallout with the turbulence caused by their respective stars. The organization kept players within their roles while making smart basketball decisions and the resulting teams evolved to succeed when given the chance.

Evolution is obviously not a static or discrete process, it is ongoing. The Wizards have undergone plenty of iterations since Irene Pollin magicked us John Wall and the team continues to evolve:

  • Evo 1.0: The first major evolution spun off the palatable assets of the old core while clearing cap space and acquiring rebuilding assets and reliable veteran in accordance with the Ten Point Plan. These Wizards were younger and faster than the previous generation and began emphasizing the use of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young by both necessity and design.
  • Evo 1.1: Restructure-and-extend of Andray Blatche anchors the PF spot for the future. Looking like a 20/10 threat will do that for a guy, but with two years and $6 million remaining on his contract...the Ten Point Plan is all about re-signing the best young players to high-priced, long-term contracts, but 'best' is a very relative term at this stage.
  • Evo 1.2: The trade of Gilbert Arenas further changed the face of the team, further solidifying John's place at the head of the table while bringing in another veteran that fit with the Ten Point Plan. Rashard Lewis is unable to stay on the floor and provide a meaningful contribution, but no assets have developed to the point where they can be packaged with his contract for a gamechanging talent. This is genetic dead-end, as it were, but one far preferable to Gil's deal.
  • Evo 1.3: The trade of Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong nets the Wiz more rebuilding assets, a buyout of the Saint Mike Bibby and creates a logjam at SF. More of the load at Center is placed on JaVale McGee. It is assumed the FO is watching him very closely; knowing the aging of contracts is key to the Ten Point Plan and it's time to find out how JaVale does carrying the load. The acquisition of Jordan Crawford has in theory netted a spark plug for the second unit who can push Nick Young. Competition is created in the backcourt; directed natural selection playing out in different ways at SG and C.
  • Evo 2.0: A relative non-starter. The Wiz stand pat in FA, signing Nick Young to his tender. The Wizards draft young, fast and smart. Chris Singleton at SF fills a massive hole, if we look just a bit into the future. John gets a back-up and there's 'the most NBA-ready player in the draft' to push the indifferent Andray Blatche. There's new blood, but little has changed and the lockout puts a serious damper on the team's ability to evolve. Regression is likely, even compared to the previous season's campaign. The gene pool is set on 'simmer'.
  • Evo 2.1: Enough time has gone by and the front-office has made a decision on JaVale McGee. JVM possesses unique advantages but has not been able to successfully leverage them in a manner that translates to team success. No seemingly advantageous skillset guarantees survival in nature and each organism must sink or swim. JaVale's sink outweighed his swim, his contract had aged to a decision point and he did not meet 'best' criteria. Due to high potential he was exchanged for a high value, high cost veteran facilitator at a position of need who should act as a lightning rod for the way we want our guys grow as athletes and professionals.
  • Evo *: Finding the right fringe players is important. Teams that blow all their powder on one or two high-priced acquisitions usually end up eating it at the hands of teams that grab the right complementary players. Just a few that come to the mind over the last few years: Alonzo Gee, James Singleton, Cartier Martin, Mustafa Shakur, Othyus Jeffers and the legend Cedric Jackson (who delivered us the #1 pick in 2010 on wings of glory). Having James Singleton and Cartier Martin back in the fold pleases like the part in the movie where all your half-forgotten friends show up to help you make the last step in your character arc. From a team evolutionary perspective, going to back to familiar specialists is beneficiary on the same principle Nene is. In a diminished capacity of course, or they'd be on guaranteed contracts somewhere else. But at the same time, being able to plug in players knowing exactly what they can provide when they're aware what you're trying to do as well? It may be a small thing, but they don't call guys like these fan favorites for nothing.
  • Evolution 3.0 is on the way, of course, and promises to decide just how high the WIzards will rise for the next few seasons. There's a decision (or trades) to be made about Rashard Lewis. I don't agree amnesty is an option worth discussing. The draft lottery could change that, of course. As has been said endlessly, a lotto win with what the Wizards already have in place on top of John Wall could make DC an attractive FA destination despite the...odds.

Everything except ownership and John Wall is up in the air when the offseason kicks off. The natural selection rebuilding paradigm means it is almost impossible to chart where the team is going to be when next season tips off. If nothing else, the Nene Hilario trade should remind us of that; a deal consistent with the methodology employed by those directing the evolution of the team that none of us saw coming. Of course, those directing the evolution of the team are about to be replaced or cemented into Washington's contending window. Ernie Grunfeld and Randy Wittman could be the team that gets us there. Or maybe it's Kevin Pritchard and Stan Van Gundy. No matter who it is, it won't be a straight line when we get wherever it is we're going. The Ten Point Plan takes a fair amount of flak but compared to most rebuilds (see: Bobcats, Pistons, Bucks) there's at least a method to the madness.