Immediately after McGee was dealt, his replacement, second-year big man Kevin Seraphin showcased his previously hidden talents. And when Nene went down with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, Seraphin became the first Washington starting center since Gheorghe Muresan in 1995-96 to score 10 or more points in 15 consecutive games.
Jordan Crawford never felt comfortable backing up Young and flourished after the trade, taking advantage of his absence to put up big scoring numbers for the second year in a row. Trevor Booker also had a solid second season before a foot injury again prohibited him from seeing the court in April.
“Our second-year players, almost every one of them, has taken a significant jump,” Grunfeld said.
Booker, Seraphin and later Jan Vesely all got an opportunity because Blatche regressed for the first time in his career, got booed at home games and didn’t play the final 21 games because of he wasn’t physically fit.
“He’s got to make that decision to rededicate himself. He’s a talented player, but for him to play at his highest caliber, he’s got to dedicate himself to being the best player that he can be. That’s really what it boils down to,” Wittman said of Blatche.
Blatche said this season was a “minor setback” but added that he would work hard to make amends this summer.
“How I played this year, it was terrible,” he said. “The organization had to do something about it. So I didn’t take nothing personal this season from anybody.”
Rookies Vesely, Shelvin Mack and Chris Singleton got ample opportunity to contribute. Singleton had an uneven season but started more games than any player except Wall, Mack led all rookies in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.95 to 1) and Vesely relied on his athleticism and high-energy play to get time as he worked on refining his offensive game.
Looking ahead, the Wizards feel confident about the direction of the franchise. Owner Ted Leonsis is letting Grunfeld attempt to complete the task of turning the Wizards into a playoff squad again. Washington will soon need to resolve the coaching situation and get a draft pick that falls between first and fifth.
The Wizards could also have some money to get upgrades in free agency if they are able to trade or buyout creaky-kneed Rashard Lewis or use the amnesty provision to remove Blatche from the books. They are encouraged, either way.
“When I came here, I started to see we had a lot of talent who need to learn how to play basketball, who have the hunger to learn more and what to look for to get better,” Nene said. “I’m happy to help these young players. Probably next year, we will have more veterans to give a little more advice. We’re doing good, walking in the right direction.”