Young Wizards are Still Watching and Waiting Despite the Team's Losses

JaVale McGee, left, and Nick Young have been just spectators for the Wizards at times this season.
JaVale McGee, left, and Nick Young have been just spectators for the Wizards at times this season. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 13, 2009

The fourth quarter of Wednesday night's 109-98 home loss to the New Orleans Hornets played out in typical fashion for the Washington Wizards. Starters Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Dominic McGuire, Mike James and top reserve Andray Blatche logged heavy minutes while youngsters such as JaVale McGee, Nick Young, Javaris Crittenton and Oleksiy Pecherov sat and watched.

The Wizards (15-50) continue their slog toward the end of the regular season tonight against the Orlando Magic with little to play for other than pride, but that doesn't mean interim coach Ed Tapscott is prepared to do anything other than play the players he feels deserve to be on the court.

It has been a season-long trend, really; Butler, Jamison, James and, to a certain extent, Darius Songaila, have logged heavy minutes. McGuire, a second-year player who was a second-round pick, has steadily earned more action with improved performance and Blatche has been either a starter or top reserve all season.

That has left the others, including McGee, Young and Crittenton, to get minutes where they can. Pecherov, a former first-round pick, has played so little, fans barely know more about him now than the day the team selected him 18th overall in 2006.

According to Tapscott, there is a reason for the distribution of minutes.

"The guys who play well are going to play," he said following Wednesday's loss. "I think it's extremely important when you struggle that you maintain a very tight hold on what you consider to be your team values and your team culture. So it's very easy to extend to people opportunities that aren't earned. But I don't believe that is the right way to develop your team. You have to work in this league at the highest level to earn opportunities, to earn minutes, to earn chances and you sustain the opportunities you are given by quality play."

At different points this season, McGee, Young and Crittenton have received significant playing time, and all three have shown flashes of real skill. However, their consistency of performance and preparation continue to be lacking.

One key theme Tapscott and veterans such as Jamison and Butler repeat when it comes to some of the young players -- Pecherov's work ethic and attitude have not been questioned -- is professionalism.

That theme encompasses actions both on and off the court, and includes showing up on time, working hard, paying attention to the scouting report and game plan and carrying yourself a certain way.

Jamison regularly sits at his locker and rolls his eyes when the young guys goof off before or after a game.

"You see what I have to deal with?" he commonly responds.

It has been that kind of season for Jamison and Butler, who fully expected to play with healthy veterans Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson when the season opened.

"It's about more than just going out there and playing basketball," Jamison said. "It's about learning the right habits and being professional on and off the court, every day. I know that was something I had to learn when I was a young fella and it's the same for these guys. They have to understand that everything here is earned. Minutes are earned, opportunity is earned, shots are earned. It's a process that some of these guys had better figure out quick because next year, when we have our guys back, they won't be getting anything handed to them. This is a veteran team."

Wizards Notes: The Wizards are 0-13 in the Southeast Division and need a win over Orlando tonight or a win over the Charlotte Bobcats at Verizon Center on March 25 to avoid becoming the first team in NBA history to go winless against its own division. . . .

The Magic, which clinched a playoff spot with a win over Chicago on Wednesday night, is 3-0 against the Wizards this season but may play without forward Hedo Turkoglu, who will be a game-time decision (left foot tendinitis). . . .

Arenas participated in yesterday's practice but neither he nor the team has set a timetable for his possible return to game action. Arenas has practiced off and on since Feb. 16, but has not made road trips with the team.

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