The Washington Wizards had high hopes coming into this season that they could put last season’s injury-marred 19-63 debacle behind them. They hired the well-respected Flip Saunders as coach, traded for Timberwolves guards Randy Foye and Mike Miller and believed they could get to the playoffs after reaching the postseason in four consecutive seasons prior to last year.
Yet the debacle of last season is nothing like the Wizards’ 2009-10 disaster. They are last in the Southeast Divison again with a 16-30 record but it is the suspensions of star point guard Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton for the season for brandishing guns in the locker room after a Dec. 24 practice have ripped the heart out of the team.
The Wizards are reportedly investigating whether they can void the remainder of Arenas’ hefty contract and it seems certain Crittenton will never play for them again. Forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison and center Brendan Haywood are frequently being mentioned in trade rumors. Thus, it seems inevitable the roster will be blown up and Washington will start all over.
“It’s something that you really, really have no control over,” Butler said. “Me personally, I wish it would be clearer sooner than later because I do think it affects a team to a certain extent.”
Jamison says the Wizards are numb to all the trade talk.
“After what we've been through, trade talk is like taking a rock and throwing it in a pond,” Jamison said.
Washington president Ernie Grunfeld is noncommittal about the direction he plans to take.
“We’re still exploring all our options,” he said. “We haven’t made any decisions up to this point. We're seeing what we can do. I think it's going to be a combination of many things to see which direction we go in.”
There is one person, though, who believes the Wizards and Arenas can salvage their relationship. That is Knicks forward Larry Hughes, who was teammates with Arenas with the Warriors and Wizards.
“He'll be back,” Hughes said. “Honestly, I do (think so). This is a special place. When you've played here and the city gets behind you, you realize what the fans want, what the city wants. I think he'll come to realize that. I can see it. You get in trouble, you're mad at the authority, but I think it will blow over. I can see him back here. Fans love him here. Obviously, he'll have to get out and speak about what's going on, but I don't think they'll hold a grudge against him.”
Jordan Having Little More Luck in Philadelphia
Eddie Jordan was fired as coach last season when the Wizards got off to a 1-10 start. That did not deter the Philadelphia 76ers from hiring him and you can’t help but wonder if they might wish they had that decision back. The 76ers are 16-31 after making the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
“We believe there's talent with the team we have,” 76ers president Ed Stefanski said. “We feel at times we're underachieving. We have to get that together.”
The 76ers seem to be likely candidates to make a deal by the Feb. 18 trading deadline, particularly since they have no large contracts expiring that would open cap space. Because of that, speculation has been swirling that the 76ers might trade wing Andre Iguodala, who will have four years and $56 million left on his contract after this season. The Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs have been mentioned as potential suitors.
“Until the next move comes and (a trade) happens or if I stay here, I need to fight through it,” Iguodala said. “My ultimate goal has always been to win here. (Stefanski) is in a situation where he has to win and his job is on the line. If you don't win, anything can happen, no matter whose fault it is.”
Trade No Urgent Need for Rivers
The Boston Celtics would seemingly be a candidate to swing a trade for help before the deadline, even though they are leading the Atlantic Division despite suffering a slew of injuries. However, coach Doc Rivers says he feels no urgency to ask GM Danny Ainge to make a deal.
“I would be willing to go into the playoffs exactly the way we are right now,” Rivers said. “If we can improve, we improve it and that would be great, too. But if we started the playoffs with the 12 guys or whatever number we have and everybody were healthy, I love our team."
The Celtics added P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell at the deadline in 2008 on their way to beating the Lakers in the Finals, then acquired Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore last season. Ainge is working the phones as he knows there are teams likely to make some useful players available in an attempt to free up cap space.
“You never just stand still but it usually doesn't lead to anything,” Ainge said. “You're always talking to teams to see if there's anything that might improve your team but you don't make a trade just to make one.”
The Dallas Mavericks are also looking to improve their roster but owner Mark Cuban says he has no idea what will happen at the deadline, particularly with so many teams preferring to avoid paying a luxury tax and also having as freeing up as much cap space as possible with a heralded free-agent class set to hit the open market in the summer.
“I really don't know,” Cuban said. “It depends on who different owners perceive what collective bargaining is going to be. I really don't know.”
Also on the trade front, the Memphis Grizzles have asked the Miami Heat about reserve swingman Dorell White and the Milwaukee Bucks have let it known that forward Hakim Warrick is available.
Sabathia Feels for Nets
The worst team in the NBA got a visit from one of the stars of the best team in baseball last week when New York Yankees left-handed pitcher CC Sabathia made an appearance at the New Jersey Nets’ practice facility. He was there to film a commercial for the YES Network, which televises Yankees and Nets games.
Even though he pitched for the team that won the World Series in November, Sabathia said he could sympathize with the Nets, who are 4-42.
“I went through something like that,” Sabathia said. “I was in Cleveland for a couple of years where we lost everybody, so it's tough times, but you just have to grind through and keep playing hard because these times will make you better.”
It was suggested to Sabathia that times could get better for the Nets if he could get one of his Cleveland friends, LeBron James, to sign with them as a free agent.
“I’m staying away from that,” Sabathia said with a smile.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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