Wizards' Wisest Choice: Begin Playing for Next Year

Asked to play GM, Wizards center Brendan Haywood said of Gilbert Arenas, "You don't want to be penny-wise and dollar-foolish right now. "
Asked to play GM, Wizards center Brendan Haywood said of Gilbert Arenas, "You don't want to be penny-wise and dollar-foolish right now. " (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Mike Wise
Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Verizon Center had this old-time, playoff feel to it on Sunday.

Packed house, full of sound and passion. LeBron James grimacing. DeShawn Stevenson, even in civvies, goading. And the Wizards, fighting their el-foldo demons, holding on for victory.

Seeing the Cavaliers fall, it's almost incomprehensible that the Wizards have but seven wins in the first week of January, a smidgen of a statistical chance to earn their fifth straight postseason appearance. They own a firm spot in the cellar of an Eastern Conference they somehow believed they could represent in the NBA Finals.

So rather than another visit to the crash site, let's be proactive and figure out how to make most days like Sunday. How can the Wizards get back to what might have been -- before surgeries to their best player and starting center, before Eddie Jordan was axed, before, really, 7-25 ever happened?

The truth, the one Abe Pollin and friends can't ever let on to their season ticket holders: Concede that this is a lost season. Now. Make every important decision today based on next year.

That means don't take a chance on bringing back Gilbert Arenas or Brendan Haywood early from injury, if at all. Don't clear either player to participate in full scrimmages until Arenas's knee and Haywood's wrist are completely rehabilitated. Even then, limit their minutes considerably.

Keep giving the youngsters big minutes. Let Nick Young, Dominic McGuire and Andray Blatche make every dumb, knucklehead mistake on the court until they either learn a better way or play themselves out of the league.

And if they haven't already, start putting every amount of scouting effort into the five top players to be chosen in the June draft -- envision how a Blake Griffin, James Harden, Hasheem Thabeet, Jordan Hill or Brandon Jennings might fit into the rotation a year from now, who duplicates a need already met by another player and who can bring something unique to the lineup.

It's simply too late for anything else.

The Wizards have the second-worst record in pro basketball after the atrocious Oklahoma City Thunder. Yes, their next eight opponents after Orlando tonight are under-.500 teams. But the Wizards don't play anyone worse than a .219 team, which is the bed they made for themselves.

To finish 42-40, Washington would have to go 35-15 in its final 50 games -- a stretch Jordan's healthy Wizards never pulled off during a season. So with all due respect to Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Ed Tapscott and the people who truly care till the end, 2008-09 is over when it comes to any delusions of a playoff run.

Arenas casually threw out much of this thought in late November, that if this is going to be a lost season at least the Wizards could secure a big-time player in the lottery.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company