Wizards Insider Live: Wizards Training Camp, NBA Preseason, Gilbert Arenas and More

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Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 30, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post basketball writer Michael Lee was online Friday, Feb. 19 to take all your questions about the recent spate of Wizards trades, including the departures of Antawn Jamison, Dominic McGuire, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Deshawn Stevenson and the arrival of Josh Howard at Verizon Center.

A transcript follows.

Read The Post's coverage of the Wizards, and Michael's latest blog posts from training camp.

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Michael Lee: Hey, everybody. How crazy have the past few weeks been? The last time we talked, the Wizards had Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood and now those guys are gone and their pictures have already started to come down. Also, Wizards fans once had every reason to hate Cleveland, but now one of their favorites is a Cavalier. It's an odd time in the franchise history, with the Gilbert Arenas situation still unsettled and the final 31 games expected to provide little more than showcase, with the quest for ping-pong polls becoming the hot topic. But I know you have questions, I hope I have some answers, let's go. . .

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Washington, DC: Michael,

Big surprise, I don't understand what the Clippers are doing. Why in the world did they give up Thornton and Telfair for Gooden? Aren't they already well under the cap? What possible purpose did that serve?

Michael Lee: I've got two words for you (a few more later): LeBron James!
That's what the Clippers are doing. Clearing up as much cap space as possible to make a run at the could-be King. I heard from a source that the Clippers were trying like crazy to trade Al Thornton because he was like a splinter on their cap space and stood in the way of those dreams of LeBron. Funny thing is, with this deal with the Wizards and Clippers for Jamison, Cleveland actually opened the door for James to leave - if Jamison can't help him win a championship.

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Anonymous: Seems to me the Wizards are in for a LONG rebuilding phase. They have very little coming back next year and looking at the draft, I sure don't see any Alex Ovechkin's coming along to rescue this team.

Michael Lee: I don't see Ovechkin, but I see John Wall. That kid is the real deal, and given John Calipari's track record the past few years in preparing Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans for the NBA, then I would hold out hope for a potential building block point guard.
Even if the Wizards don't get Wall or Evan Turner or Derrick Cousins or whoever else, they can still sign some free agents this summer - or next summer (when hometown kid Kevin Durant could become a restricted free agent, although I doubt he leaves Oklahoma City). I don't see a max-level free agent (i.e. LeBron or DWade) coming to D.C. this summer even though they have the cap space.
If you look at how the Wizards built the last playoff team, it started with signing a rising, on-the-cusp star in Gilbert Arenas and letting him become a superstar under their watch. It hasn't been the same since Arenas's knee injury, but the three years leading up to it were pretty special.

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Shaw, Washington, D.C.: Mr. Lee, thank you for all the work and updates you've posted this week.

Have you ever seen a team with this much uncertainty? It's everywhere - ownership, the franchise player (looming sentencing), huge cap room for the summer, four draft picks, and dare I say Ernie and Flip aren't necessary a lock for next year.

Should us impatient fans just suck it up and wait, or is the best route to put the team out of mind and start routing for the Mavs for the rest of the season? I love A.J., but I will never cheer on the Crabiliers.

Michael Lee: You know what's funny. I always hear about history repeating itself and I cannot believe the parallels that I've already experienced in my career. My last year on the Hawks beat (2003-04), the team underachieved and Billy Knight started the rebuilding process by shedding salary at the deadline. They dumped Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff, Rasheed Wallace and Nazr Mohammed for a bunch of hungry free agents, that beloved cap space and a draft pick (which turned out to be Josh Smith). Through all of that, the Hawks were in limbo over ownership. It's crazy. I feel like I'm living the same story over again - except I didn't have to deal with guns in the locker room and a star player facing sentencing for a felony gun charge.
But I've seen teams rebuild before, it took the Hawks about three or four years to be respectable again. But you have to remember, things can change quickly in the NBA. You just need that one piece. Look at what the Denver Nuggets did. They got lucky with Carmelo Anthony, signed some quality free agents and become a playoff team in one year. I don't see the Wizards moving that quickly, but anything is possible with some luck.

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Arlington, Va.: Wait, so exactly who is on the Wizards now? I'm starting to wonder who is even going to play ...

Michael Lee: You know what's funny? I don't think anybody knows who is going to play. As you know, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and Dominic McGuire all got traded.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas is going to be here this afternoon, but he is seeking a buyout. Drew Gooden was traded before he had the change to get a cup of coffee. Mike James could get bought out.
But the Wizards still have Josh Howard, James Singleton and Quinton Ross from Dallas. The remaining players are Andray Blatche, Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Earl Boykins and Fabricio Oberto. Al Thornton just got here, but he had to watch shootaround.
I'm sure this is exactly the group everybody expected to have during training camp.

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Reston, Va.: Mr. Lee,

Do the Wizards have enough cap space for two second tier free agents? (Ex. Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh) What are the odds of any big name free agent coming here?

Thanks

Michael Lee: Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh are not second-tier free agents. Those guys are top shelf. At least, they should get top shelf money. I'm not sure about a big-name free agent coming here. Ernie Grunfeld said getting a LeBron James or Dwyane Wade caliber player wasn't likely on Thursday during his press conference. The Wizards might have to look at a restricted free agent like Rudy Gay or something like that. Or pray hard that they can finally get lucky in the lottery.

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Cleveland, Ohio: Now that he is fully under the cap does Grunfeld let Z leave or does his hatred of the Cavs make him hold on to Z?

Michael Lee: I think this is where negotiations come into play. Since the Wizards made that last deal to get out of luxury tax territory, they have a lot more leverage with Zydrunas Ilgauskas. I see the Wizards letting him walk eventually, but they will see how serious he is about finishing his career elsewhere based on how much money he's willing to give back. Because you have to remember, the Wizards still need to field a team for the final 31 games (in theory, at least). Right now, they have just 12 guys - including Big Z. I will say this, I'm hoping he talks before he leaves, because it would be great if he could ask us to "buy some DVDs" like he did in that Nike puppet commercial.

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Easley, S.C.: Josh Howard said he feels that this current team can make the playoffs this year. I agree with him. What is your take on the wizards making the 2010 playoffs?

Michael Lee: Are you anticipating that the NBA will contract a few Eastern Conference teams between now and the end of the season?
I know Josh Howard said he wants to go to the playoffs, but I want to win the D.C. lottery. The odds of either of them happening are not good.
The Wizards are 7.5 games out with 31 games to go. That would require every team ahead of them to have a major collapse and the Wizards to go on a dramatic run. Right now, the Bobcats are on pace to get the 8th seed and win 41 games. Well, in order to win 41 games, the Wizards would have to go 23-8 the rest of the season.

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Yikes!: I just want to say that nbadraft.net compares Demarcus Cousins to ... Andray Blatche and Benoit Benjamin. Any hope we can trade the pick for Rubio?

Michael Lee: Ha ha.

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Herndon, Va.: Hello Mr. Lee,

How much blame should Ernie Grunfeld take for letting this thing go as bad as it has before deciding to blow it up? I'm sure Mr. Polin probably restrained him some. Does Ernie survive the rebuilding process?

Michael Lee: Ernie Grunfeld should get a lot of the blame for this mess. He said injuries and things that were out of the team's control created the problems this season, but there were some things that were in his control. He is responsible for everyone on the team. He signed Arenas to a $111 million contract after he had two knee surgeries, he gave Jamison a $50-million extension, he fired Eddie Jordan, he hired Flip Saunders and he traded the fifth overall pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye.
He said recently that the team got "stale" but that happened under his watch. He held on to this group for too long, even when it seemed that it wasn't working out. If injuries are a problem, then how many years to you place your hopes on injured players?
Now, I thought that the moves that he made would've worked out better, but there is a reason why I'm on THIS side of basketball. I write and report. I've talked to other executives, scouts and players who thought the Wizards weren't going to be successful because of the leadership void on the team and the collection of offensive-minded players unwilling to sacrifice and do the little things.
That being said, the ownership situation may not get settled any time soon, so there is a possibility that he could survive. He certainly didn't upset the bosses by pulling off these trades, getting the team under the luxury tax and opening up oodles of cap space for the near future. I can't say for sure what's going to happen, but this whole gun situation and the public embarrassment that followed should make everybody a little uneasy.

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Washington, D.C.: Odds that we will ever see that second round pick from the Kings? I would assume it's top-3 protected in the second round.

Michael Lee: The Kings will probably hold on to that pick this summer, because they should be pretty bad the rest of the season. I was really shocked they traded Kevin Martin. I always thought he was pretty good. Since it was protected, I would think that the Wizards may have to wait a year.

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Woodbridge, Va.: What do you make of Ernie stating that Gilbert was coming back. I found the whole thing interesting.

Michael Lee: To me, it read like the first round of buyout negotiations. Arenas has told people that he doesn't want to play for Grunfeld anymore. Well, Grunfeld is letting Arenas know that the Wizards own his rights, so if he wants to play, he doesn't control of where of he plays - unless he is willing to give back a lot of money for his freedom.
I could be way off. I've talked to people around the league who have told me that Arenas is going to be back. And I've talked to others who think that Arenas played his last game as a Wizard on Jan. 5 in Philadelphia. We'll see.

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Prince William,Va : Do you think Josh Howard has changed for good?

Michael Lee: I'm not sure what you mean? Changed as a person? As a player? I don't think he's ever said anything about changing. Does he have to change?
He's been hurt for the past two seasons, so it will be interesting to see how he plays. When a player plays well, and their team wins, they are usually viewed differently. Before Dallas got knocked out in the first round in 2007 and 2008, Howard was considered a model citizen. After that, he was viewed as a knucklehead.
I've heard that he enjoys the nightlife, but I also know that he's deeply involved in his community in Winston-Salem, N.C. These guys have a lot of sides to them. I would hate to judge the man without spending any time with him and getting to know him.

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New York, NY: Mike- You've been around here long enough to know- Wiz + Lottery= Heartbreak.

What's the chance that Ernie keeps his job with the new ownership? He doesn't seem to take a lot of heat for this disaster.

Michael Lee: Ernie has avoided a lot of criticism, but that has started to change. He certainly is catching some heat. You don't get a free pass with back-to-back lottery seasons, no matter what the circumstances are.
There is a chance that he survives based on Ted's track record. When he became a minority owner with the Wizards, he quickly brought in Michael Jordan and that didn't work out too well for this franchise.
From talking to people about Ted and how he handled the Capitals, he sat back and observed the team for a while before he made changes. Like I said, Ernie has cleared the books considerably and has proven that he can build a some good teams in New York and Milwaukee, so he might get a shot. But I really am just speculating here.

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Arlington, Va.: The Wizards aren't going to be signing any of the top guns from the Class of 2010 (LeBron, D-Wade, etc.). The best thing they can do is go young and tank the next two years. Get payroll down as a hard, lower cap is coming in the next CBA. Then use the financial flexibility to emerge as a team with cap space to go sign players under the new system.

Michael Lee: Sounds good to me. You trying to replace Ernie?

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Springfield, Va.: Okay, this team is horrible on paper but I saw a lot of effort (and picks!) against the Wolves. Is there any chance that this team wins more games than the team with the Big 3 (which was great on paper)?

Michael Lee: You know what's funny? That makeshift team already has as many wins this month as Brendan, Caron and Antawn won with the Wizards this month (one). But I don't see this group going 17-14 the rest of way.
Of course, the Big Three went 8-14 together. This group could get eight more wins the rest of the way.

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Washington, D.C.: Mike - how's this for a tough question... what's your Wizards starting five next season? Just pull five names out of a hat if you want, I'm interested to see even a guess. Thanks.

Michael Lee: You know, I think it's hard for everybody, including Flip Saunders, to figure out who the starting five will be TONIGHT. I definitely can't think about next season. Only five guys are under contract next season.

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Washington, DC: Did Ernie ever address why he decided to wait until the trade deadline to full blow it up rather than making one move in December (such as moving Butler) in an attempt to shock the Wizards back competing harder? (I'm not saying that would have worked, just that it was an option that I was surprised Ernie didn't pursue.)

Michael Lee: He said that he talked with several teams for weeks and decided that the best deals were presented closer to the deadline because that's when teams have more urgency to make deals. It's hard to move guys in December because teams still have hope that they can turn things around.

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Houston, Texas: Michael, I think guys like Blatche, Howard, Miller, Mcgee and Thornton could help this franchise if only we had a true PG. When was the last time we had a pure PG that could make guys around him better and get guys open looks and dunks? These young cats like McGee are athletic , but they need someone to get them the ball inside.

Michael Lee: This team needs more than a true PG. Believe that. You don't get Chris Paul and Deron Williams every year.

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Reston, Va.: Why did the Wiz need to trade Dom to Sacramento and send cash to get under the tax. They could have waited since they are reportedly going to buy out Big Z and James to get under the tax.

Or was there another reason for trading Dom? Did they want that 2nd round pick that bad?

Michael Lee: They didn't see themselves signing Dominic McGuire after this season. He wasn't going to play for Flip - especially with the team added two guys who play his position (Howard and Thornton). Why not give him a chance to continue his career elsewhere?
Buyout out Z and James could've gotten them under the tax, but there is no guarantee that the two sides could've reached an agreement in each instance. The Dom deal eliminated those worries and provided some leverage in negotiations with Ilgauskas and possibly James, who isn't going to give back any money unless he can be assured that he'll make it back somewhere else. Z already has a slew of suitors if the Wizards let him. The Wizards have been trying to deal James since October.

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Arlington, Va.: Signing Rudy Gay to anything near a max contract is just dumb. Like Arenas in his prime, Gay is merely a complementary piece. As with Arenas, if you are building with Gay as your centerpiece, then your ceiling is making the playoffs.

Michael Lee: I didn't say you give him max money. I said you consider signing him. Memphis doesn't want to max him out and he's their player. He's nice, but he could be a good piece. That's all I'm saying. I was just thinking about the caliber player that the Wizards should look into signing to being the building process.

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Rock Hill South Carolina: We love the Wizards down here in South Carolina. What is holding up the sale of the team to Ted Leonsis?

Michael Lee: They can't agree on the price of the team. An arbitrator is expected to determine the price.

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Washington, DC: Mr. Lee,

Here's a potential silver lining with all the turmoil and changes the Wizards have experienced. We may be able to see something not seen in Washington, DC for over a decade. ... With a little luck, we just might see some defense being played in the Verizon Center by a team other than Georgetown.

I really liked Antwan and Caron, but they and the rest of the "Old Wizards" never demonstrated a consistent commitment - over time or even during any one game. I look forward to the POSSIBILITY of the definition of defense for the Wizards returning to the act of refraining the opponent from scoring, versus a period of time when the team waits until it is there chance to shoot again.

All bets are off on any daydreaming of defense if Gilbert comes back.

Michael Lee: At least you can find some silver lining in this. I'm not sure if many Wizards fans share your enthusiasm.

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Local from Md.: Josh Howard's comment is correct. It's been over two years since I enjoyed a Wizards game as much as I enjoyed their victory Wed. night over the Wolves. Why? Heart - an ingredient long missing with the tired old vets of yesterday. I saw a bunch of afterthoughts racing up and down the court just delighted to be playing ball and showing some real heart, not to mention how not to give up when things went south for awhile in the fourth quarter. Kind of refreshing.

Michael Lee: They have a bunch of hungry guys now. Nobody can feel a sense of entitlement. Nobody can expect to get 15-20 shots a game. Everything is up for grabs and guys have to play hard and scrap for everything. There might not be as much talent, but this group should compete because they all have so much to play for right now. They'll still stink, though.

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Washington, D.C.: My only hope is that Ernie or whoever is GM does not pull a Dumars and signs two average players to monster contracts ala Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.

Michael Lee: I second that emotion.

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Anonymous: How can anyone think this is all about cap space. No one is going to play for the wizards other than for MONEY and no chance to play for another team!

This was about making cash for the Pollins!

If they really were intrested in rebuilding you do not let stevenson's 3.5 million stand in the way of draft picks or yong players.

I can not believe we could not have gotten better deals for Butler or haywood.

Michael Lee: Well, if you look at it, the Butler and Haywood deal has to be linked to the Jamison deal because the key to getting Thornton from the Clippers was Drew Gooden. The Wizards got Gooden in the Dallas deal. So, the Wizards saved money and walked away with a draft pick, Thornton and the rights to some dude for Slovenia for Butler, Haywood and Jamison. It's not a lot, but it is something. They also have a chance to start over, sort of (Gilbert Arenas is still around).

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Michael Lee: I've got to go people. It's been fun. I hate that I wasn't able to get to all of the questions, but I have some work to do. I've got to go, folks. Have a good weekend. Peace.

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