Fork 'Em: Washington Wizards
Only one NBA team can legitimately claim its season ended before it began. Starting center Brendan Haywood, Washington's defensive anchor, tore a wrist ligament during a preseason practice. The injury basically ensured a mediocre defense would be destined for completely awfulness.
But Eddie Jordan's Wizards have always scored efficiently and frequently. Surely, the offense could save Washington. That'd be nice ... except that a month prior, the team's most potent scorer -- Gilbert Arenas -- had another surgery completed on his knee. His return date went from December ... to January ... to post-All Star break ... to Saturday.
You can understand how Washington finds itself at the bottom of the standings.
Honestly, while Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler both might be better players than their injuried counterparties, Arenas and Haywood serve more integral roles based solely on their positions and Washington's roster makeup. Butler still had an effective season. But he was far less efficient when forced to soak up more offensive ability. Gil can be (or has been) efficient with insane levels of usage. Most players, Butler included, can't handle that. So Butler's efficiency suffered.
Jamison had a great season, but lots of players on bad teams have great seasons. I don't mean to diminish Jamison's performance -- it's not cheapened -- but teams need more than two good performers to compete night to night. That's just a fact of the NBA. Kobe wouldn't be in the playoffs with Mike James, Darius Songaila, JaVale McGee, Dominic McGuire, Nick Young and Andray Blatche rounding out the rotation.
So it's now left to whether Abe Pollin (who happens to be in ill health, God bless him) can afford to keep the band together, add a top-5 pick and swing for the fences. Will adding a reconstructed Gil, a reconstituted Haywood and a 20-year-old stud big man get this team back inside the East's top eight? Is this a Heat '09 situation, in which adding an All-Star -- an All-World caliber scorer -- and some interior defense will turn things completely around? Arenas isn't Wade ... but Arenas and Haywood represent enough of an upgrade over James + Blatche to consider the prospect.
But again, can Pollin afford it? The rumor mill has Washington desperately needing to unload a fat contract to sneak closer to the luxury tax. The easiest players to trade will be Jamison and Butler ... but losing them while getting Arenas and Haywood back resembles cutting off your right thumb to surgically enhance your reproductive organ. To lose a Songaila or Etan Thomas, the Wizards will need to pour in a lot of sugar. The first-round pick? McGee? McGee and the high second-round pick? This path won't be cheap.
There's also the matter of finding an appropriate coach; many interim coaches find themselves three weeks from unemployed, but none moreso than Ed Tapscott. (Actually, Tapscott should find himself back in the front office. I feel certain he will not be the head coach next season, though. Just a hunch. A 17-58 hunch.) The wrong coach with Arenas, the kids and Jamison ... could be disaster.
This summer will be nothing if not captivating in D.C. And really, it can't start soon enough.