Season preview: Wizards
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Wizards at a glance
Last season: 43-39
Notable additions: Juan Dixon (FA), Dee Brown (FA), JaVale McGee (R)
Notable losses: Roger Mason (signed with Spurs)
Coach: Eddie Jordan (196-214 in five seasons with Wizards; 229-278 overall in six-plus NBA seasons)
Reasons for hope
1. The veteran leadership is still in place. Arguably the biggest reason why the Wizards did not collapse last season after Gilbert Arenas' knee injury was because veterans Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels simply did not allow that to happen. Jamison has been a calming force in four seasons in Washington, while Butler has blossomed both on and off the court since being acquired from the Lakers in 2005.
Case in point: When talented but temperamental forward Andray Blatche told reporters at media day that he was "more mature" this season, Jamison reacted skeptically. "We'll see," Jamison said. "He says he's a veteran. He says he's matured. He says he's ready for the task. He has to show us. I mean, like you guys, the excuses and hearing the same thing at the start of every season, it goes in one ear and out the other. It's time to show it."
Daniels, meanwhile, learned the value of veteran leadership from Tim Duncan in San Antonio. The Wizards will be short on talent until Arenas returns, but don't expect them to lose games because of disorganization or a lack of effort.
2. Etan Thomas is back. The only positive that came from Thomas' missing all of last season after having heart surgery was that Jordan didn't have to explain another Thomas-Brendan Haywood brawl to reporters. Thomas' return gives the Wizards another proven veteran in the frontcourt (he averaged 6.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in 19.2 minutes in 2006-07). The 6-foot-10 center will need time to get back into shape after a year of inactivity, but he will be a valuable asset in the second half of the season.
3. Blatche is a year older. Jamison's justifiable skepticism aside, Blatche is poised (or at least due) for a breakout season. Though only 21, Blatche is entering his fourth season. He played all 82 games for the first time in a season in 2007-08, averaging 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds. Teammates are right to describe Blatche as the Wizards' X factor this season. If Blatche continues to develop -- and show the kind of consistency his teammates have been begging for -- he has the talent to become a serious weapon. The 6-11, 235-pounder can defend three positions -- Jordan said he can envision a scenario in which Blatche guards bigger small forwards, in addition to power forwards and centers -- and has shown at times to have a deft touch around the rim.
Reasons for worry
1. Uncertainty surrounding Arenas. The Wizards' front office has no idea when to expect Arenas' return from another knee surgery. Even when he does come back, it's hard to imagine his being the same explosive player Washington has seen before. That's not to say it won't happen; Arenas is far too much of a gamer to count out entirely. But Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld would be wise to work the phones with the mind-set that Washington will be without Arenas this season. Whether that means adding another guard or making a play for a low-post scorer is open for debate, but Grunfeld can't assume Arenas will be a factor.
2. Butler needs a break. Butler was an All-Star in the first half of last season, but injuries and the massive offensive load he had to carry in Arenas' absence took their toll when the calendar turned to March. A big reason for the decline was a lack of depth behind Butler, who averaged 39.9 minutes a game. Dominic McGuire, Linton Johnson and DerMarr Johnson entered the exhibition season in the mix at the backup spot. If one of them can distinguish himself, it will go a long way toward preserving Butler for late in the season.
3. Nick Young ready for prime time? Young showed enough potential as a rookie (including a 27-point game off the bench against the Lakers last March) to suggest that he'd be ready to become a legitimate offensive threat this season. But a mediocre summer league (11.0 points on 35.2 percent shooting in five games) against inferior competition left questions about how he would respond in an expanded role. Young is in the same boat as Blatche: The Wizards are counting on him to contribute from opening night. But is he ready?
Keep an eye on ...
Oleksiy Pecherov. The Wizards' 2006 first-round pick played only 35 games in an injury-plagued 2007-08 season. The sweet-shooting 7-footer has been slowed in the preseason while recovering from an ankle injury, but if healthy he could work his way into the frontcourt rotation.
The Wizards are what they are, a solid regular-season team that is perhaps one piece away from being a championship contender. Even with Arenas in the lineup, winning one playoff round might be the best they can do.