They are the third-youngest team in the NBA, with an average age of 25.02, and eight players on the roster have fewer than three years of experience. But while youth and inexperience have contributed to the Wizards’ 0-8 record, several scouts and league executives believe the problems run much deeper than the usual bumps that come from rebuilding. The Wizards, they argue, suffer from a lack of overall talent and a toxic culture of losing that has prevented the growth of their developing players.
The Wizards are at a decided disadvantage nearly every night they step on the court, as they field a 15-man roster that features just one top-five draft pick in John Wall, two lottery picks in Wall and Jan Vesely(who just made his NBA debut on Sunday), and one current or former all-star in 32-year-old forward Rashard Lewis. Indiana is the only other NBA team with fewer than three former lottery picks on its roster, but it also has two all-stars.
“I think most of the time, if you were to look at their matchups, as they go into a game, position by position, they are probably going to lose out almost every matchup,” said one Eastern Conference scout, who like other scouts and executives spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t at liberty to speak on behalf of his organization.
“If you were to go throughout the league and say Washington would win a position matchup, I don’t know what team that would be. I don’t know a team that would give up their starting five for Washington’s.”
With his team set to host Toronto at Verizon Center on Tuesday, Saunders said the talent disparity should be expected when a team is starting over. “Part of it is that when you’re building a team, sometimes you can’t get everything you want all at once, and so you build by pieces, and sometimes all those pieces initially don’t fit together. One piece you may add all of sudden, and all of a sudden it completes the puzzle, and the picture looks a lot better.”
Indiana and Denver are the only teams in the league without at least one top-five pick, generally considered building-block selections.
But they were both playoff teams last season. The Wizards have been in the lottery in each of the past three seasons, but traded away the fifth overall pick in 2009 to Minnesota for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. Both those players were gone a year later, when the Wizards selected Wall with the No. 1 pick.
Looking back, sacrificing a high draft pick has helped to delay the rebuilding efforts. “They have nothing to show for that,” one former NBA assistant general manager said. “Those are the kind of deals that hurt organizations. You can’t give away draft picks.”
Washington elected to hit the reset button on the franchise nearly two years ago, when it traded away former all-stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler near the trade deadline. They decided to develop three players selected in the middle of the first round (JaVale McGee and Nick Young) and the second round (Andray Blatche). Those players have exceeded the production often set for players at their draft position, but the former NBA assistant general manager said the team is now building around “teaser talent that isn’t ready for the prime time yet. It teases you in games, but at the end of the day, you aren’t going to get the win. Flip’s hands are tied there, because he doesn’t have a lot to work with.”