Thursday, April 7, 2011

Could Wizards Kids Save Flip, Ernie?

As the Washington Wizards near a third straight demoralizing season with an unsightly record, the buzz has grown locally for coaching changes to be made, front office heads to roll.

But at the same time, the franchise's future with John Wall looks hopeful, perhaps deliriously so. Fellow rookie Jordan Crawford has been a scoring machine since entering the starting lineup and now has tacked on a triple-double while running the point in the suspended Wall's absence. The rebounding numbers generated by Trevor Booker's springy legs and work ethic stood out before his injured foot made him sit down.

So, is it possible that the Wizards kids could save coach Flip Saunders and general manager Ernie Grunfeld from being shown the door?

Do not mistake that question as indicating that alterations are not needed. The overall talent, especially of the proven kind, is lacking and so was the in-game effort throughout much of the season. The first part of that not-so-winning combination lands on Grunfeld's shoulders, the latter at Saunders feet.

Wall is the only current player that can be viewed as a viable starting option for a playoff caliber team, though JaVale McGee has been much improved over the last month.

Andray Blatche and potential free agent-to-be Nick Young have shown they can score in the NBA, but lead a team to wins as the primary options, not so much.

Taking on the currently injured Rashard Lewis and his lengthy contract was correctly viewed as a more a palatable option than Gilbert Arenas' - especially without the franchise dragging down baggage - but his game looks far removed from one that put him on two NBA all-star teams.

Of course the 13-year pro is also the only player on the widely green roster that offers any true mature leadership.

And yet, after a largely futile season played primarily with guys who have at least been around the block, the energy and production created by the Wizards youth beyond the electric Wall has provided a silver lining.

Crawford, acquired with a future first-round pick in what is shaping up to be a brilliant deadline deal for Kirk Hinrich, has been an explosive scorer since moving into the starting lineup. Not sure why the Wizards would sit him when Young returns to action. The former Xavier star may find his ultimate NBA role as one that provides instant offense off the bench, but his potential for more is certainly intriguing.

Booker, out for the season with a fractured bone in his right foot, averaged a healthy eight rebounds over his final seven games and looks to be an ideal fast-breaking compliment for Wall’s up-tempo style. The Wizards other rookie forward Kevin Seraphin remains a raw commodity, but has surprised with his low post moves when given opportunities.

Certainly the Wizards are a young team and their collective mental lapses throughout the season on both ends of the court have made Ron Artest look stable by comparison. But most of those boneheaded decisions came from the older youth like Blatche, Young and McGee, not the stable of first-year players (in part because other than Wall, they weren’t here or rarely played).

After years of coaching the Pistons deep into the playoffs, Saunders was tabbed by the Wizards for hopefully a similar (or at the least a one-time) run. That dream ended when the words "guns" and "Gilbert Arenas" became linked. Until recently, it’s been hard to tell if Saunders knew that.

The trusting approach the long-time coach took with his previous veteran squads has not resulted in wins, but often uninspiring effort from the players used for the bulk of the 2010-11 campaign. Yet the positive activity produced by the wet-behind-the-ears crew in recent days has shown at least some are listening.

Or perhaps the coach has moved away from an approach better suited for the team he once inherited and found one that works for the team he has. Either way, Saunders still may be a casualty. The nasty record remains.

One offseason question for owner Ted Leonsis is whether the assembled talent - combined with an upcoming high lottery and likely a free agent or two once the NBA's labor mess is sorted out - represents a solid base for the future.

If the answer is yes, that bodes well for the Wizards longtime general manager, even though that extension given to the "still-maturing" Blatche remains dubious.

But should either Grunfeld, Saunders or both return, you can bet that along with Leonsis' faith, they will have the Wizards kids to thank.

No comments: