30 Teams, 30 Days
Washington Wizards Season Preview.
We continue previewing the Southeast Division with the Washington Wizards. You can read past previews here.
by Aaron Kaplowitz
The Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C. is already abuzz with exuberant chatter over the start of the ‘09-10 season. High expectations under the shadow of an 18-year championship drought have The District feeling that this year is as good as any to raise the banner. But Alexander Ovechkin will need help upfront if the Capitals expect to leapfrog Pittsburgh into this year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
Should Sidney Crosby hold the fort, the gap between Ovechkin’s front teeth that is the pride of Washington will have to be filled by the Wizards, a franchise coming off a disconsolate last place finish in the Eastern Conference.
To be fair, the Wizards were terrible. They finished with a woeful 19-63 record, victorious in exactly one game within their division—a two-point win over the less woeful Charlotte Bobcats. Washington’s 13-28 record at home was dazzling compared to its foul 6-35 record outside the Verizon network.
And to be fair, the ‘08-09 Wizards squad was the American Ballet Theatre sans Mikhail Baryshnikov, a Sam Adams variety 12-pack missing a bottle of Octoberfest, a SLAMonline.com preview series without Aaron Kaplowitz. With last year’s upchuck mere indigestion of the past, the ‘09-10 Wizards are whole again as their top danseur, Gilbert Arenas, returns to a fortified corps de ballet. After signing a six-year, $111-million contract, Arenas, Washington’s fearless assassin, missed almost the entire ’08-09 campaign due to recurring leg injuries. Under the punishing tutelage of training guru Tim Grover, of Michael Jordan fame, Arenas endured a grueling offseason to regain the strength and mobility in his legs. Itching to play and intent on proving that Agent Zero was not a nickname earned by his $7,000,000 per game salary last season, a healthy Arenas should return to the upper echelon of guards. If he can quickly learn to share the court with Caron Butler, who took charge in his absence, and Antawn Jamison, the most taken-for-granted big man in the NBA, things should be looking up in Capital City.
A flurry of shrewd offseason moves orchestrated by general manager Ernie Grunfeld will catapult the Wizards comfortably over .500 and back into the Playoffs. Grunfeld pulled an unexciting, but savvy, move by trading the fifth overall pick in the 2009 Draft—one of the weaker drafts in recent memory—to Minnesota for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. With the sturdy Argentine Fabricio Oberto joining young risers JaVale McGee and Andrey Blatche in the frontcourt, the Wizards should have one of the most formidable and deep squads in the East. Now that offensive-minded Flip Saunders takes the helm with a clean slate, Washington will have no trouble posting triple digits on a nightly basis.
As long as fans keep expectations realistic—the Wizards are not in the same tier as Boston, Cleveland and Orlando—a 48-win season with the chance of advancing to the second round of the Playoffs should restore basketball pride to our nation’s capital. In Sam Cassell we trust.