Wizards Insider Live: Wizards, NBA season openers, Gilbert Arenas and more

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Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 27, 2009; 12:30 PM

Washington Post basketball writer Michael Lee was online Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 12:30 p.m. ET to take all your questions about the Wizards' season opener, the return of star guard Gilbert Arenas and the official tip off of the new NBA season.

Read The Post's coverage of the Wizards, and Michael's latest blog posts from the Verizon Center and around the league.

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Michael Lee: Welcome, everybody. It's that time again. We're about to unwrap the packaging on a new NBA season and the Wizards are among the eight teams to kick off the 2009-10 season. I'm coming at you live from Dallas and I already have some news for you guys. Flip Saunders just told me that Mike Miller will start at shooting guard tonight against the Mavericks. He hasn't picked a starter for power forward yet, saying that he's gone back and forth between Fabricio Oberto and Andray Blatche "about 40 times." We'll see tonight.

But I know you guys are anxious to see how the Wizards bounce back from their 19-win campaign. They have a new coach in Flip Saunders, a healthy Gilbert Arenas and serious enthusiasm, even with Antawn Jamison sidelined. You already know that. I'll try to answer some of your questions about things that you might not know. So, let's go...

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Anonymous: Redskins season is over, how long until I'll be saying the same about the Wizards?

Michael Lee: I honestly think you won't be saying that until some time in May. If Flip can get all of these pieces to fit, and if they stay healthy -- I know, big if -- this team can advance to the second round. They certainly have the talent on paper to make some noise in the East. But they will have to get over some other concerns, such as chemistry and continuity. Even though some of the names are the same, this really is a new team.

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Fairfax, Va.: Is it reasonable to say that "IF" and that's a BIG "if" the core group of guys stay healthy the entire season, will the team be able to take one of the top 3 spots in the East?

Michael Lee: I'm not ready to say top three. Not yet. Not with so many new guys. You have to realize that the Wizards have four players who weren't on the roster last season, and three more who were injured almost all of last season. That's seven new guys and a new coach who is preaching a new system that is unlike the Princeton offense that Eddie Jordan ran the past five-plus seasons.

Like I said, they have the talent to be among the top five teams, if healthy. And I think they can reach the second round, but Boston, Orlando and Cleveland made minor upgrades to rosters that have been in tact for some time, plus they still have the same coaches who guided them to success in recent years. All of this newness in Washington makes it hard for them to jump ahead of any of those top three teams.

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DC: Hey Mike are you going to do the same things as last year like MMPG and "The Other Side." I loved that stuff!

Michael Lee: Probably not. Those things were easier to do when it was a two-man operation, but I'm a one-man gang right now. I work hard, but I need time to eat, sleep and be merry, ya know.

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DC: Who is more cursed, the Wizards or Clippers?

Michael Lee: Clippers. This injury to No. 1 pick Blake Griffin merely sends home that message. The Clippers have no championships and have been a laughing stock for decades. The Wizards have had their ups and downs, but they can at least say that they made it to the playoffs four years in a row. The Clippers have had four playoff appearances since 1985!

I know Wizards fans feel horrible about picking Kwame Brown with the No. 1 pick in 2001, but it was a bit of good luck that they inevitably wound up with the best player from that draft (Gilbert Arenas). The Clippers once picked Michael Olowokandi No. 1 overall in 1998. Not only does he wish his career was as good as Kwame Brown's, but the Clippers could've picked anybody else that year and been happier and more successful (Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Mike Bibby).

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NW, DC: I see the Wiz as a team that has talent to beat anyone in the league on a given night, but a 7 game series is a different story. What do the Wiz have that I don't see that can get them past the Bostons, Clevelands, Orlandos or even Atlanta and Philly in a 7-game series.

Michael Lee: I don't see anything to make me believe that they can beat Orlando, Boston or Cleveland in a seven-game series. I think they can potentially be better than Atlanta and especially Philly, which has talent but absolutely no depth. I do believe the Wizards have the talent to make it interesting for any of those top three teams in a seven-game series. They can be one of the most explosive offensive teams in the league and Flip can tinker with some interesing lineups. The one problem I see with the Wizards is a lack of major front court depth. They are pretty limited beyond Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood.

Boston has Rasheed Wallace coming off the bench. Cleveland has Zydrunas Ilgauskas at backup center. Orlando retained Marcin Gortat. Those teams have size. Size matters.

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Westminster, Md.: Alright help me out here...

Every year I begin to watch the Wizards and then realize the NBA is ridiculously boring...it seems as if no one tries until the 4th quarter. What makes this year any different?

Second question, will Saunders actually make a difference this year or is it all up to Arenas and his attitude?

Michael Lee: Are you a real NBA fan? I mean, the players try the first three quarters, but they get serious in the fourth. Isn't it like that in most sports that are divided into quarters and halves? You go hardest when the game is going to be decided?

Saunders will be able to make a difference because the players are open to a new voice, especially one that has led some successful teams in recent years. But it really does come down to Arenas. A good coach can win you some games here or there, but great players can really lead you to the promised land. You can talk all you want about how great Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich are -- and they are great -- but they know that their rings came from coaching Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, respectively. Doc Rivers went from winning 24 games to 66 the year after he got Kevin Garnett.

Arenas is paid like those stars because the Wizards expect him to lead them somewhere.

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Amerstdamn : Which of the big 3 Eastern teams has the most potential to dissapoint

Michael Lee: I think they all have the potential to disappoint, really. The Celtics still don't know what they are going to get out of Kevin Garnett or if his knee is going to hold up for 82 games and 20 or so playoff games. There is also potential for a Rasheed Wallace blowup.

The union of Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James is pretty tenuous. It's not like they have a great history together or their games complement each other. What happens if Shaq gets in LeBron's way or if he bristles under LeBron's shadow. He's saying the right things now, but that thing could backfire, too, especially with LeBron entering free agency next summer.

Orlando looked great in the preseason, but Vince Carter still has never made it out of the second round. He's too great of a player to have such a mediocre postseason career. The Magic had great chemistry and great fortune on their run to the NBA Finals, but it's easy to sneak up on folks. It's hard to be a target.

That being said, I think they'll all be pretty good.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What's your take on Gilbert so far?

Michael Lee: You know, it's really hard to say. I think that his health is fine. The knee doesn't appear to be a hindrance. He can break down his defenders and get to the basket at his pleasure. The concern I have with Arenas is that the preseason didn't give me any idea of what kind of player he's going to be. Will he look to get 22 and 8 or 25 and 6?

There were periods when Arenas looked like he just wanted to set up his teammates and other times when he wanted to get off his shot. He looked great at stretches and okay during others. I think he's still trying to figure it all out since he hasn't played competitive basketball in a few years and Flip has put the ball in the hands and asked him to run the show. It's going to take some time -- or maybe he was just holding back.

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DC: A friend and I have a bet tonight about whether Blatche can get 10 and 10. He says yes, I say no. Who you with?

Michael Lee: Ten points and 10 rebounds? Or 10 points and a combination of 5 fouls and 5 rebounds? I think he can get 10 points, but I don't see any way that he gets 10 rebounds. Do you realize how hard it is to average 10 rebounds for a full season -- off the bench!?! He would just have to be a monster on the glass, on some old Ben Wallace motor. I really don't see him averaging more than seven boards.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Was that flimsy 3-page section in the Sports section yesterday actually the Washington Post's NBA preview? Is that a result of those wonderful Post surveys which suggest to us that we as readers can't get enough of EVERYTHING regarding the Maryland Terrapins' football training camp?

This is absurd. The high school basketball previews bites, the college basketball preview is terrible and the pro basketball preview is a joke. This isn't Alabama. This is the DC metropolitan area where actually basketball is generally supported. If we are going to keep getting more and more football coverage and less coverage of everything else then I must say perhaps newspapers like the WPost do need to go away and join the dinosaurs on the extinction list.

Michael Lee: Um, somebody is really upset. I love the passion for the NBA, though.

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Fairfax, Va.: Same old question: Is anyone on this team going to play defense?

Michael Lee: Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson, Fabricio Oberto and Dominic McGuire will definitely play defense. Caron Butler will definitely get some steals, but the jury is still out on whether he will commit to being a lock down defender. He and Arenas certainly have the physical tools to be great individual defenders. The good thing about Flip Saunders's defensive scheme is that everyone has to be accountable, instead of one man on an island. The team defense should improve. At the very least, they will be much better than last season.

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the bet: My bet was for tonight only, that is Blatche getting more minutes because Jamison is out.

Michael Lee: Oh, tonight? Hmm. I don't know. I don't want to be responsible if one of you guys loses the bet and this thing gets ugly because one of you can't pay up. Even still, I don't see 10 rebounds.

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Richmond: Any thoughts on AD possibly going to Cleveland?

Michael Lee: It's easy to call Antonio Daniels a traitor or whatever, given the history between the Wizards and Cavaliers. But you also have to take into consideration that his career is winding down and playing in Cleveland would put him closer to home -- and another championship. He is an Ohio kid, after all. If he does go (and it seems likely) I guess it tells you all you need to know about pro sports -- loyalty is tied to the one who writes your check.

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Memphis: NBA Previews have been very lightweight in every major city I've tracked so far this fall. NY Times, etc. Most fans come into the season with a good baseline on what MIGHT happen. I love the WPost and others for updates on what's constantly going on as the season progresses. FWIW.

Michael Lee: Maybe you should exchange emails with Silver Spring to calm that guy down.

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Washington, D.C.: Why don't we start Nick Young at the 2 to keep his confidence up? We should bring Mike Miller off the bench to play the 2 or 3 and make Randy Foye your backup point getting some time at the 2 when we play him and Gil in the back court. Right now it looks like Nick is not even in the rotation. This kid has a lot of potential but his confidence needs to be constant

Michael Lee: Are you worried about Nick Young's confidence or winning games? I think Nick has a very good idea why he's not in the starting lineup. He had way too many lapses during the preseason, both on offense and defense. He basically showed Flip Saunders that he can provide scoring and not much else. No news flash there. It's not really a knock either. Nick is going to play, but he is going to have to earn his time, especially since the Wizards have guys who are capable of providing productive minutes, like Mike Miller and Randy Foye.

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District Heights, MD: Does Gilbert look like he is capable of playing the majority of the season?

Michael Lee: Oh yeah. I think he'll play most of the season. He sounds more dedicated to weight training and strengthening his leg throughout the year. That's the only way he'll be able to survive. He's learned a few lessons the past two years of inactivity.

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Distrct Heights, Md.: Are the Wizards looking to move some of their guards for more front court players?

Michael Lee: If things are going according to plan by the trade deadline, the Wizards will more than likely look to make moves to shore up the front line. Ernie Grunfeld has always believed that having depth also gave him some flexibility to make some talent upgrades, if necessary. The Wizards actually have things other teams want (talented youth and expiring contracts). They entered this season knowing they were a little thin up front, then Antawn Jamison went down with a shoulder injury. The Wizards have to be really cautious with that shoulder, because if that thing pops out again, it might require surgery.

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Brooklyn, NY: Hi Mike- How should we feel about the two preseason games where the Wiz didn't show up at all? Just preseason or sign of bigger problems in terms of adjustment? Do you see them starting slow and it getting it together by the time Jamison returns?

Michael Lee: The game in Atlanta had a lot to do with the team missing three-fifths of its intended starting five. The game in Chicago definitely looked like a team that was ready to get the preseason over with. I'm not going to put too much into the preseason, because some guys, like Gilbert, were holding back a bit.

That being said, I see them starting off slowly because they won't have Jamison and their first 15 games are no joke. They play 10 playoff teams from last season and have another game against Phoenix. That's going to be a challenge.

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New York, NY: With Miller getting the start who is the first guy of the bench, Stevenson? Blatche? I thought DeShawn would start to have some sort of defense out there at the beginning of the game.

Michael Lee: DeShawn might've started if the Wizards had Antawn. But Mike Miller gives them three offensive weapons at the start of the game, especially if Fabricio Oberto starts. You wouldn't want to start a game and ask Gilbert and Caron to do all of the scoring. Miller can spread the floor and he's also a really good rebounder. Starting him makes sense.

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Shaw, D.C.: Mr. Lee - Do you see a more mature and focused Nick Young this year? With a competitive shooting guard slot, I'd love to see this young man really come into his own and become more consistent.

Michael Lee: Consistency has been the problem for Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young. You could blame it on youth, but it really has more to do with focus. I think Nick came in with the right attitude and he appears more mature, but there is so much about the game that he still needs to learn. And, I think it's good that Flip is challenging him to be more than just a guy with a nice jump shot and some major hops. He's going to have to show that he stay focused on the floor.

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Savannah, GA: Mike,

What do you see the Wizard record as of the All-Star game? How many Wizards do you see participating in All-Star Weekend?

Michael Lee: I'm not even thinking about the all-star game right now. I could easily say that the Wizards will send Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler to the all-star game, but I don't know because I haven't seen Gilbert play a regular season game at full strength in more than two years. It's even harder to predict their record at the all-star break when I have no idea when Antawn Jamison comes back. I do think the Wizards will get better as the season progresses. That's the best I can tell you right now.

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Michael Lee: Okay everybody. That was fun. We're back at it again. A new season. I ready to get going. Can't wait to do this again. Peace.

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