Fresh off a pre-draft workout with the Dallas Mavericks, LaQuinton Ross received an unexpected call from his agent last week. The Washington Wizards, who had previously worked out the Ohio State product on June 11, wanted to fly Ross in to the District again for a second look, engendering a dose of tempered optimism within the 6-foot-8 swingman.
“I don’t think it means anything bad. I think it’s a good sign, especially if they call you back twice,” Ross said following his Tuesday morning session at Verizon Center’s practice facility. “But I’m not going to take it for anything. I’m still going to be sitting there, waiting patiently on draft night.”
As Ross uneasily awaits his fate during Thursday’s NBA draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, so too will the Wizards, whose course of action with the No. 46 overall pick will depend greatly on who remains available. Further clouding Washington’s draft strategy are the team’s eight free agents, including center Marcin Gortat, who was acquired from Phoenix in October for the Wizards’ first-round draft pick and Emeka Okafor. But while whomever the Wizards select with the 16th pick of the second round will have to play his way to a guaranteed contract, the team’s front office isn’t ruling out its chances of landing a sure prospect.
“You never know what can happen during the draft, and you never know which kind of players you’re going to be going after later,” Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld said Tuesday. “So you want to have a good feeling and then see how they develop.”
The last time the Wizards advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2005, they found themselves in a similar situation: possessing the No. 49 overall pick while looking to build on the momentum of the previous season. Washington ended up selecting Andray Blatche, who ultimately wore out his welcome during a tumultuous seven-year stay in the District but has found his footing with the Brooklyn Nets.
While the Blatche experiment failed and the Wizards’ most recent second-round pick, Czech shooting guard Tomas Satoransky in 2012, has yet to report to the team, finding fortune at the No. 46 spot isn’t far-fetched.
Before he became Phoenix’s coach this past season, Jeff Hornacek was an unknown sharpshooter the Suns plucked with the 46th pick of the 1986 draft, jump-starting a decorated 15-year career. Danny Green, who helped lift San Antonio to the NBA title earlier this month, also heard his name called at No. 46 when the Cleveland Cavaliers chose the three-point threat out of North Carolina in 2009.
Though shooters tend to thrive in the Wizards’ uptempo attack, the team likely will use Thursday’s draft to address more pressing roster needs, such as the frontcourt. With oft-injured Nene as the lone forward under contract for next season and forwards Trevor Booker, Drew Gooden and Al Harrington joining Gortat as free agents, the Wizards will need to bolster their presence in the paint.
Other than Ross, Baylor forward Cory Jefferson was the only player to work out twice for the Wizards. In three seasons at Baylor, Jefferson showed a decent midrange touch and physical play at 6 feet 9, 220 pounds, making him a potential candidate to mirror Nene’s ability to stretch the defense.
Washington’s backup point guard situation is also an area of focus. Andre Miller still has one year remaining on his contract, but at 38, the veteran isn’t a long-term solution as relief for John Wall.
The Wizards also could opt to capitalize on the depth of this year’s draft pool and take the top available prospect in hopes of molding him into a future impact player.
“Every pick is important, and we do our best to closely evaluate every player,” Grunfeld said. “In the draft, we’ll try to see who’s available to us and try to get the best player available that we think can develop with us.”