Wizards preview: Strange new traditions in D.C.

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

The Wizards have been bad for a while, but aren't going the route other teams have taken to improve. Instead, they are placing their faith in expensive non All-Stars and Randy Wittman. Good luck.

The Washington Wizards don't give a damn, frankly, about the Presti Plan. While Southeast Division rivals (rivals!) Charlotte and Orlando -- each with Sam Presti acolytes as GMs -- burn the whole thing down and build from nothing, the Wizards have acquired a cadre of not-cheap veterans to augment a cadre of youngsters. Is it bold or misguided?


Interestingly enough, the veterans that the Wizards acquired -- Emeka Okafor, Nene and Trevor Ariza -- are all good defenders. Okafor and Ariza are actually better than good. There's a number of good teams built around defense, not superstars ... and most of them are in the Eastern conference. The Wizards would appear to be mimicking that style in lieu of chasing after legit stars.

After all, Washington might have its legit superstars in John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall's career has been a disappointment, marred by injury and a pretty awful team culture prior to March 2012. But the attributes that made him a no-brainer No. 1 pick in 2010 keep him an exciting prospect: he's perhaps the most athletic point guard in the league, he has good court vision, he's a good dude and he's a plausible leader. He needs to develop that jumper and put it all together. The sentiment is that he will, even if he's never the MVP candidate we thought he might be. (Keep in mind that Derrick Rose, though better in his first two years than Wall has been, exploded in the right direction in Year 3, which Wall is now entering. The same applies to Russell Westbrook, though Westbrook arguably wasn't better than what Wall has been.)

Beal looks like a dream, the new Ray Allen if DC is lucky enough. He's smart, athletic and has a good-looking shooting stroke. The potential at the high end for Wall and Beal is enormous. Further, there's a dire need for Beal to be excellent, and Washington hopes dearly that he's the team's last high lottery pick for a long time. Jan "Yaroslav Korolev" Vesely is the only other young player on the roster with high upside, but his stock has fallen dramatically. Don't talk to me about Jordan Crawford right now. Or ever. I like Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker in theory, but they project more as role players.

Put it all together -- three veteran defenders, two of which (Okafor and Nene) can score, and two young stars-in-the-making -- and it looks like the Wizards are on the right path, right?



The blueprint for this team is to be elite on defense and okay on offense. That's what the Bulls did in Derrick Rose's third season. Here's the major, unavoidable difference: the Bulls had Tom Thibodeau while the Wizards have Randy Wittman. Wittman had the team for most of the 2011-12 season. The Wizards were No. 27 in defense. In Wittman's last full season at the helm of a team (the 2007-08 Timberwolves), his team finished No. 27 in defense. In two seasons in Cleveland, Wittman's teams ranked No. 14 and No. 22. The season before Wittman had taken over, under Mike Fratello, the Cavaliers were No. 12 in defense.

Most damning is perhaps the 2006-07 Timberwolves, when Wittman took over for Dwane Casey (who had the team 20-20) and finished 12-30. Under Casey, it was a strong defensive team led by Kevin Garnett. Under Wittman, it was an aimless team with no principal strength.

This is not the coach you want running your defense-first team, especially one depending on the development of two young guards.

This isn't to say Wittman can't do it -- he seemed to connect to Wall and a couple of the players after taking over for Flip Saunders last season -- but the record of Wittman having success as an NBA head coach is not just underwhelming but actually invisible. The Wizards' plan to compete for a playoff spot with defensive-minded veterans is defensible. The team's decision to rely on Wittman to carry them there is far less so. You don't see Dobermans drive trucks for a reason. Some sentient, decent beings are just not equipped to do certain jobs.

There are also massive injury concerns with this team, led by Wall (currently out) and Nene (perennially and currently out). But that's mostly a dice roll. The Wizards conceded a die by retaining Wittman.


It will be miraculous if ...

Randy Wittman, Coach of the Year. (Sorry, I'll stop now.)

Jordan Crawford shoots at least 43 percent from the field. (League average is typically 45 percent.)

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis fails to blog negatively about my Wittman assessment. (That's a clear incitement, in case you're wondering.)

President Mitt Romney attends a Wizards playoff game. #mayans (Really going after the Leonsis blog post ...)

Kevin Seraphin effectively replaces JaVale McGee as the GIF King Of The District.

Bradley Beal finished lower than No. 3 in Rookie of the Year voting.

Ernie Grunfeld sticks a minutes limit on John Wall and sits him for the season in March.

RGIII isn't the most popular Wizards jersey this season.


Let's get sincere.

Team MVP: John Wall

Team X-Factor: Emeka Okafor

Team Finish: 3rd in Southeast | 13th in East (Man, the Southeast is awful beyond the Heat and Hawks.)

Best Championship Hopes: Depressed Fan Championship


The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.

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