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New Look Wiz On a Roll

As the painfully disappointing 09'/10' season inched ever closer to the trade deadline, trade rumors continued to swirl and it seemed only a matter of time until major moves were made to shake up the Wizards' roster. The first legitimate rumor surfaced friday night of the all star weekend as ESPN was reporting a potential trade involving the Wizards and Mavericks. The more momentum this rumor gained, the more it was discussed and many experts expected the trade to be announced the Monday following the all star weekend. That was not the case. The trade went through before the disappointing all start weekend subsided, and by the next game the Wizards had four new players, well technically three. As most of you know by now, the Wiz acquired Drew Gooden, James Singleton, Josh Howard, and Quinton Ross for Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler, and DeShawn Stevenson. Most Wizards fans knew of Josh Howard and some knew of Drew Gooden, but very few knew anything about Singleton or Ross. People immediately assumed Singleton and Ross were salary-dump, throw-ins. It was still unsure whether or not Antawn Jamison would be dealt or not. Enter the Minnesota Timberwolves on a Wednesday night to play the Wiz the night before Thursday's trade deadline. Right before the game, the cameras cut to a shot of a large group of media standing outside the Wizards locker room. At first, I just thought these folks wanted to get a shot of the newly acquired Wizards coming out of the locker room for the first time. Boy was I wrong. In one of the strangest nights I can remember as a Wizards fan, people watching this shot of media members soon learned that they were not there to see the new Wizards, but because Antawn Jamison had left the building moments before the Wizards were set to take the court. There was no official word on the trade so Phil and Steve were left discussing the speculation that Twan' had been traded. A little while into the game and they began showing a clip of Jamison, suitcase in hand, getting into his car with Drew Gooden riding shotgun. It was like something straight out of professional wrestling. We later learned that Drew Gooden, who basically refused to ever suit up as a Wizard, was also involved in this trade. More on this later. As the night went on, more information came out regarding this trade and by the end of the night we knew exactly what it involved. I'm sure if you're reading this you already know the details of the trade but in case you don't, it worked out as such: Wiz get Al Thornton from the Clippers, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the draft rights to Emir Preldzic as well as a first round pick from Cleveland. Cleveland gets Antawn Jamison From Washington and Sebastian Telfair from Los Angeles. The clippers get Drew Gooden from Washington (I love it). I wonder if Ernie decided to deal Gooden to an even worse team because of his attitude about joining the Wizards. Dominic McGuire was announced as inactive for the game against Minnesota, which was kind of neglected because of the news of Jamison being traded. The next day we learned the McGuire was dealt to the Kings for a future second round pick.
Phew! I knew the Wizards would probably make some moves, but I never expected them to get this much done. How about a round of applause for Ernie Grunfeld. It had to be tough trading Antawn Jamison, a guy who was clearly very close with the late Abe Pollin. But he knew the team was not built to win a championship and as much as I hate to see him go, his health seems to be dwindling and his value would undoubtedly drop if they waited until the off season to move him. I always liked Caron Butler, but I was not sad to see Brendan Haywood go. We will no longer have to watch him skip out on the high fives after his teammate shoots his first free throw. While that may seem like a small detail, it always bothered me that he couldn't walk over and slap the guys hand. Plus, his sudden improvement in his contract year was always a little suspect to me. I'm glad Jamison gets to go to a winner, even if it is the Cavs. As for McGuire, I was actually pretty disappointed that he never got more of a chance to play on this team. He worked on his jump shot over the offseason and I thought his athleticism and hustle were very impressive. By getting a second round pick in return, Grunfeld basically gets a mulligan (McGuire was taken in the second round) to pick up a player who will hopefully earn more playing time fro Saunders than McGuire did. That's assuming Flip Saunders even wants to stick around after this debacle of a season.
That being said, let's take a look at what the Wizards got in return. Josh Howard said all the right things and appeared to be a good addition to the team until he went down with a torn ACL last Monday against the Bulls. I was at that game and I was able to catch a glimpse of his knee moving out awkwardly and immediately the thought of an ACL tear popped into my head. Sure enough, it was later changed from a knee sprain to a season-ending ACL tear. So Josh Howard's stint with the Wizards may be very short lived depending on whether or not they pick up his option or attempt to restructure his deal.
I think Al Thornton was a GREAT pick up. He's young, he's hungry, and he's unassuming. He came from an even worse organization (Clippers) and most of all, he is an impressive physical specimen. He may look bulky on television. . . wait until you see him play in person. This guy is a beast. Of course, he still can improve on some things but from what I've seen from him so far, I've been really impressed. Let's hope that somehow the Wiz can re-sign this dude because while he may not be a guy who can lead the team in scoring, he is definitely a good piece to build around.
Quinton Ross is an upgrade from Stevenson. He plays good defense, but he also gets steals and knocks balls away, something DeShawn rarely did. He also seems to be more of an offensive threat. He's not gonna give you consistent scoring but he can knock down open jumpers, and he's pretty athletic.
Last, but most definitely not least, James Singleton. What a pleasant surprise. In the short time he has been with Washington, Singleton has been extremely impressive. He didn't get much playing time in Dallas and now he's a significant part of this team. He crashes the boards hard, he blocks shots, he can knock down 18 foot jumpers, he plays smart basketball, and most of all, you see him encouraging guys like JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche. I don't think anyone expected this kind of contribution from this guy. Unfortunately, he came down awkwardly on his ankle early in the game Friday night against the Knicks and only saw a few minutes of playing time in the first quarter Sunday night against the Nets. His presence was clearly missed. If he never plays another game for this team, at least he's been more of a team player than the former longest-tenured Wizard (Brendan Haywood).
So what can we expect from this freshly assembled group of Wizards? Well, so far it is blatantly apparent that the players on this team now run Flip's offense the way he wants it to be run. The difference now is that these players are making the extra pass and working the defense to get good shots. As far as the big picture is concerned, the Wizards are seven games back from the eight playoff spot. Only Miami, Charlotte, and Philadelphia are in front of them. These are teams the Wizards can beat. But what's important down the stretch isn't beating this three teams, but beating teams that they should beat. If they want any chance of making a run at that eighth playoff spot, they can't afford to lose to teams like the Knicks. They're going to struggle against teams that have a lot of height, like they did against Memphis, and I doubt they'll be able to win many of their games against the better teams in the league, but if they can beat the bad teams and steal a few against some decent teams, they may actually have a shot. The most important thing is that Flip Saunders now seems to have a group of guys that listen to him and that do what he asks of them, and it shows. We are finally getting a chance to see why Saunders has been referred to as an offensive genius.
What does the future hold for this team? Who knows. They may make a realistic push for the playoffs, they may not. But theres a few things that we can count on:
Javale McGee is going to continue to see more and more minutes. Since the trade, Saunders has been starting him, except for the game against the Knicks in which he did not start because he was late to shoot around. Andray Blatche is developing into a star right in front of our eyes, and we have the privelag of watching his development. Ever since I saw him step onto the court a few years back, I noticed his exceptional ball handling, especially for a guy his size. He is oozing with potential, it's not often you find a guy his size that has the body and ball control that he has. It's no fluke that he's averaging a double double since the trades were made. He has an opportunity to establish himself as the leader of this team going forward. Even if his numbers drop off, I have nothing but praise for the way he's developed this season. There were a few glimpses of his potential earlier this season, but it wasn't very consistent. Now, he's getting plays run for him and he's become the leading scorer for this team. Probably the most overlooked aspect of his game is his passing. He is a good passer and he knows when to kick it out to the perimeter for an open shot. Randy Foye has great vision of the court and has totally stepped his game up since he began starting after Arenas' suspension. This is a guy who the Wizards can include as part of their future. He's young, he's athletic, and he's willing to do what it takes to be successful. He hit two HUGE shots Sunday night against the Nets that iced the game. As a fan, I'd love to see the Wizards give this guy a new contract before the seasons over. It probably won't happen, but I think he's someone they can build around and it would be satisfying for fans to know that at least one of the players who has an expiring contract will be kept around. I'm still waiting for Nick Young to step up. He lit it up in the summer league and he shows flashes of a guy who can give you 15 or 20 points a night, but he still seems uncomfortable about what to do on the court and he has yet to develop any consistency this season. Young and Blatche seem to be buddies, so let's hope Blatche's recent impressive play will inspire Nick to step it up. Even though he's still young, this teams going to need Nick's production off the bench because Mike Miller is becoming more and more hesitant to shoot and it's starting to become clear that he can't be counted on to score in double figures every night. It's a shame too, because Mike is deadly from three point range and he ends up jumping up and down, wide open, calling for the ball without getting a pass way too often.
While it's a long shot that the Wizards will stumble into the playoffs, there are certainly things to be excited about. At the least, we've got a basketball team that's playing hard, playing together, and competing every night. There's no reason these guys can't make a run and sneak into the playoffs and give the one seed a run for their money, but their going to need the young guys to step up. If they don't make the playoffs, think of it like this: the cupboard is not bare. There are pieces in place that can be built around. There are numerous players on this team that could be part of this teams future, whereas a few weeks ago it seemed as if they had nothing. And let us not forget, they've got two extra draft picks next year. The chances of this team making the playoffs are very slim, but at least they've got some materials to build with.

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