Wizards Must Balance Playing Vetrans, Young Players

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 9, 2009

Washington Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott continues to try to strike a balance between relying on veterans such as Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Mike James and developing youngsters such as Dominic McGuire, Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Javaris Crittenton and rookie JaVale McGee.

Blatche and McGuire have been starters, Young has a solid role as sixth man, Crittenton has seen more action recently and McGee, who made 13 starts early in the season, hasn't played in three straight games.

Despite the team's 7-27 record heading into tonight's game in Chicago, the organization is still not ready to play the young guys at the expense of searching for wins.

"If you take a look at the minutes for the veteran guys, they are in the high 30s, and I just try to keep them just south of 40 because 40 minutes is a lot over the course of a long season," Tapscott said. "If you look at Caron, Antawn and Mike James, they are getting 35, 37, 38 minutes, so I'm not overly concerned with putting young guys in just to put young guys in. We're trying to give them a chance to grow up and learn to play, but not at the expense of winning basketball games. So they have to contribute."

McGuire has been solid as a starter, particularly as a defender and rebounder; and Blatche is averaging a career-high 9.5 points and 5.1 rebounds. In Wednesday's night loss to Toronto, Crittenton saw his most extended action since arriving in a trade from Memphis on Dec. 10.

The second-year point guard, who was a first round pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2007, posted three points, six assists and three rebounds with no turnovers in just less than 27 minutes. He made only one of his four shots but pushed the ball effectively in transition, found the open man and finished with a plus/minus rating of plus-3.

In his previous 16 games this season (seven with Memphis and nine with the Wizards) Crittenton had 12 turnovers and 11 assists.

"It's all about getting out there and feeling comfortable on the floor," said Crittenton, who played only one season at Georgia Tech and has seen spot duty since entering the NBA. "The more I'm out there, the better I feel and the more confident I'll be."

Tapscott was pleased with what he saw out of Crittenton on Wednesday and that could mean more playing time. It helps Crittenton that DeShawn Stevenson remains out with a disk problem in his lower back. Stevenson had split time between shooting guard and point guard before missing the past four games.

He expects to be out 10 days to two weeks.

"The young fella I thought grew up tonight," said Tapscott, who played point guard at Tufts University. "He's a young player playing a difficult position, and he's playing for a point guard. So I told him he's not going to have easy nights and easy practices. He's going to have to get used to every decision getting analyzed and examined, but I thought he played with energy, guarded well and I thought some of our better moments were with him in the game."

McGee, meanwhile, has been stuck in the rotation at center behind Blatche, Etan Thomas and Darius Songaila and hasn't played since last Friday's game at Boston. Speaking generally about his young players, Tapscott emphasized that minutes must be earned.

"I told those guys, 'This is a meritocracy,' " Tapscott said. "I tell them, 'You get what you merit. Everything is earned in this league. You earn veteran status, you earn veteran minutes. There are no grants coming into this league and the other thing is, you can't transfer in the NBA. So I you're not happy about it, you'll have to earn your minutes.' "

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