Washington Wizards seek fresh start with fresh faces
By Tracee Hamilton,
This year’s Washington Wizards camp is different from those of the past few years. Everyone agrees on that. President Ernie Grunfeld feels it. “It’s got a different . . .”
“Yes, vibe. That’s it.”
That can’t be a bad thing for the Wizards. Nene sitting out because of a sore plantar fascia, John Wall missing eight weeks to rest a knee injury, those are bad things. But a different vibe for a chaotic and sometimes less than cohesive team? It’s a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say, if she were a Wizards fan. (They’d also have a better logo.)
Why the change? One reason is a slew of new faces. Of the 19 players currently in camp at the Patriot Center, nine weren’t with the Wizards last season. Not all of those nine will stick, but five, at least, have a solid shot at a roster spot.
A team that was young last season is still young, but Grunfeld wisely sprinkled in some veterans this year and their presence is palpable. Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Wall are entering their third NBA seasons, and their third in Washington. Two seasons — that’s the institutional memory on this roster. And given the Wizards’ recent tumultuous times, that can only be a good thing.
Grunfeld had added Nene last March, with good results — the team was 7-4 with him, 3-8 without. Nene is going into his 10th NBA season, the only player on the roster about to hit double digits in that category.
Then Grunfeld went on a summer shopping spree, acquiring center Emeka Okafor (seven seasons in the league) and forward Trevor Ariza (seven) from New Orleans for Rashard Lewis, his hefty contract, and a 2012 draft pick. In July he signed free agent guard A.J. Price (three seasons) — and that move looks even smarter with Wall sidelined. In August he added guard/forward Martell Webster (six). The facial hair quotient on the roster has definitely increased — or at least the ability to produce it.
“We have more vets,” Booker acknowledged said after Wednesday’s morning practice. “It’s a more serious atmosphere, which I think will help us during the season.”
Coach Randy Wittman’s task is blending his new veterans with a passel of young players and finding the right formula — and doing it, for now, without arguably its two most important components. One strategy was to have the players stay on the Mason campus during training camp, which ends Tuesday.
“I’m old-school,” Wittman said. “We did it. We had dorms back in those days. No room service, you have a roommate.”
Of course, the NBA is different now. The players stay in a hotel, and they don’t have roommates. But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of excitement.
“Everybody’s just ready, like the first days of school,” Ariza said. “You’re gone for most of the summer; you don’t see guys for most of the summer. On top of that with a lot of new faces, it gives us a chance for guys to get to know each other before we get into that grind starting in November.”
Webster sees camp as an opportunity to compete for a job and the Wizards envision a much deeper roster this year than last. “What fun is it with no competition? It makes guys play harder, especially the big guys.”
A gregarious 25-year-old, Webster was drafted out of high school at 18. So he is both a youngster and a veteran of seven training camps. What has he noticed here?
“No joking around,” he said. “Everybody has eyes on Coach.”
Imagine that, Wizards faithful: A serious camp with everyone paying attention to Wittman. Yowza.
And what does Webster think of Washington after spending time in Portland and Minnesota?
“I love it, my family loves it,” Webster said. “I didn’t know it was this green.”
That’s something you can no longer say about the Washington Wizards.