By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2009
RICHMOND, Sept. 30 -- When it comes to choosing which player he plans to start at shooting guard, Washington Wizards Coach Flip Saunders doesn't plan on revealing his leanings via hourly updates on Twitter or Facebook, or creating a color-coded "Shooting Guard Alert System" to keep the battling parties aware of their situation each day.
Saunders joked last week that he should create a reality show to determine a winner, but he simply plans on watching the hotly contested battle play out during training camp. He'll then file away the information and pick the player who best complements entrenched starters Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood.
"I'm not going to say that guy has to be a defensive guy, that guy has to be an offensive guy, a tall guy, a short guy. It's who's going to play the best with that group," Saunders said. "It's also, who does the best for us when we go to our bench, too. What I've always tried to do was that you're stronger when you go to the bench than you are when you go the other way. You want to put your team in a situation where they will be consistent, no matter who is on the floor."
Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld addressed one of his team's glaring problems last season -- lackluster back-court play -- when he used the fifth overall pick to acquire veterans Randy Foye and Mike Miller. The deal dramatically improved the Wizards' depth but has created a difficult decision for Saunders to find the best fit.
Dominic McGuire, a converted forward, finished the season with the job, which was handed to him when DeShawn Stevenson's back troubles forced him to shut down after 32 miserable games. Nick Young, a scorer off the bench his first two seasons, is also in the mix, creating the most competitive situation at Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center.
Stevenson, a 6-foot-5 perimeter defender, has the most experience playing alongside the other four starters and shared the back court with Arenas when the three-time all-star made third-team all-NBA in 2006-07. But Saunders has several different options at his disposal. He could go with the 6-8 Miller, the most accomplished member of the crew, who is a career 40.1 percent three-point shooter, can make plays for others and open up the floor for Arenas, Butler and Jamison.
Foye is a 6-4 combo guard who can share ball-handling responsibilities with Arenas, score and defend both guard positions. McGuire handled the best perimeter scorer each night last season, and the silly but silky-smooth Young is hoping to make the leap in his third season.
"I don't think Flip can tell us how good we are," Foye said. "Our games have to speak for ourselves."
Young was arguably the most impressive after the first round of scrimmages on Tuesday, as he came around screens and curls to knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers, a departure from his herky-jerky dribbling ways of the past. "Right now, I would think he's got it based on" Tuesday, teammate Andray Blatche said.
Afterward, Saunders said Young was "phenomenal. I think he understands, if he plays well, he's going to have an opportunity. And he also understands that if he doesn't play well, and doesn't bring it, he won't have an opportunity. And that's for everybody."
Young clearly did his summer homework, studying film of Reggie Miller and Richard Hamilton to discover the best way to mesh with Saunders's system. He also took a cue from Arenas to take a more serious approach to the job.
"A new opportunity is there for me. They said it's open, so I'm going to get it," Young said. "I'm trying to prove I got all areas working for me."
Miller, a former sixth man of the year in his 10th season, said that after failing to win more than 26 games the past three seasons in Memphis and Minnesota, he isn't concerned about whether he starts. "All that stuff is out the door for me. If you were in my shoes and got beat up in this league the last few years, you'd forget about all of that stuff," Miller said. "If I'm coming off the bench, we have a pretty good starting lineup. If I'm starting, we have a pretty good bench."
Foye started 61 games last season in Minnesota and said that he embraces the challenge. "It's going to make me better. I know what I have done this summer to prepare myself for this moment. I've been in competitions before," Foye said. "The main thing is working hard, not quitting. If it gets tough, then what? When your back is against the wall, you keep fighting and keep fighting."
But Stevenson added that this is just basketball, not Ultimate Fighting. "It's a team. It's not a competition," Stevenson said. "I don't want people to think that or start that. We're not going to try to fight the people we go to war with. I'll never back down from anything. I'm going to go out there and battle but at the same time, you don't want to go at somebody's neck. Either way, we're going to be in a blessed situation and win games."