GM Ernie Grunfeld wants Washington Wizards to overcome injuries, gain more consistency

Wizards rookie John Wall discusses the foot injury that kept him on the sidelines during Wednesday night's loss to Sacramento.
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2010; 1:00 AM

Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld didn't know what to expect record-wise of the team that he assembled over the summer, but he was hoping that the injection of youth and enthusiasm would yield a scrappy, hard-working unit that competes every night and makes opponents earn whatever victories they get.

So far, the Wizards have offered only glimpses of that team - for quarters, halves, and sometimes, full games - with a run of inconsistency supported by a 6-15 record that includes losses in all 12 road games to start the season, a new franchise record in futility.

With one-fourth of the season complete, Grunfeld is willing to be somewhat patient, since he believes the root of the sporadic play has been an inability to get the desired team on the floor every night because of injuries.

"I wish we would've had all of our players from Day One," Grunfeld said. "We're always going to look for ways to improve this team, but first we also want to see how this group comes together when we have our pieces. It seems like one guy goes down, and when somebody comes back, somebody else comes down. So we didn't have the kind of consistency and continuity that we really wanted."

Grunfeld traveled with the team during its 0-3 road trip through Phoenix, Los Angeles and Sacramento, which saw Coach Flip Saunders use three different starting lineups. Andray Blatche missed the last two games with a hip contusion suffered in Phoenix, while No. 1 overall pick John Wall was sidelined with soreness in his left foot for a deflating 116-91 loss to a woeful Kings team that had lost its previous eight games and had never led by more than 16 points at any time this season.

Blatche and Wall both hope to be back as the Wizards host the New York Knicks on Friday at Verizon Center, where the team has had some success this season. The Wizards are 6-3 at home, which is the fifth-best home winning percentage in the Eastern Conference behind Boston, Chicago, Miami and Orlando. "It is frustrating that we are two different teams," Gilbert Arenas said. "A great team at home and a terrible team on the road. We just have to find a happy medium."

Kirk Hinrich, one of Grunfeld's veteran offseason acquisitions last summer, is a player who likes to focus on results rather than rely on excuses. When asked after the loss in Sacramento what the team learned on the trip, a flustered Hinrich rubbed his face and said flatly, "We have a long way to go."

The Wizards opened the season the fifth-youngest team in the NBA, with an average age of 25 years 55 days. They also have limited experience, with Arenas, Hinrich and Blatche the only players who have played at least five seasons to make appearances this season. With an average of 3.1 years of experience, the Wizards trail just Memphis, Minnesota and Sacramento, three teams that also are struggling.

"What comes with youth is inconsistency," Grunfeld said. "But as we go along, we want to see more improvement, more consistency on a nightly basis. Of course, you'd like to win more games and there were several games along the way that we maybe let get away or we could've won. At the end of the season, we'll see how it comes around."

Wall is the youngest player on the team, and he's trying to figure how to lead though he has missed a third of the games. In the 14 games that he has been able to play, Wall has mostly lived up to the hype surrounding his arrival and drew some praise and a hug from Kobe Bryant after he scored 22 points with a career-high 14 assists and three blocks in a spirited 115-108 loss on Tuesday to the Lakers. But Wall also aggravated a nagging left foot injury that has forced him to miss four games. He has missed seven games this season and Saunders was asked if injuries have slowed down Wall the most.

"Somewhat," Saunders said. "He's having problems with his feet. He's got to do something to get that taken care of."

Wall's inability to stay healthy, combined with Arenas missing the first three games with a sprained left ankle, has limited their time on the floor together and shelved their much-hyped backcourt pairing. Wall and Arenas have started only two games together and showed some encouraging signs against the Lakers, as both players started and scored at least 20 points in the same game for the first time this season.

"I think they complement each other fairly well," Grunfeld said. "Gilbert is an outstanding sorer, very good outside shooter. John is more of a natural distributor and defender, someone who pushes the ball up and can also score. I think John and Gil have played well; but of course, it's a process and the more they play together the more comfortable they'll get with each other's games."

Grunfeld added that he is excited Josh Howard is about to make his season debut some time in the next two weeks after spending the past eight months recovering from his left knee injury. Howard said he would be used sparingly early on but he could eventually provide a veteran presence at small forward, a position that Al Thornton held when he wasn't missing games or coming back from a sprained left ankle.

"I think we're all competitive, but we know where we are," Grunfeld said. "Continuity and consistency [are] very important. We want to get the group, and have all of our players come together for a period of time to see what can come of it and see how it meshes and comes together."

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