Debate in the Paint: Wizards Will Rise From the Injury Ashes
There are two generally accepted ways to massively improve your team's chances during the summer offseason: draft new talent, or acquire new talent by trade or free agency. But the Wizards -- my choice for most improved team of 2009-10 -- have tapped a little-known third way: let all your injured stars return to health.
That was the biggest factor in the return of the Heat, 2008-09's most improved team: Dwyane Wade got healthy, and the team got back to contention. The Wiz stand at the start of a similar path, with Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood ready to roll. Of course, Wade is more vital than either. But together, it's like signing two major free agents at arguably the two most hard-to-fill positions.
When healthy, Arenas is one of the best point guards in the league. His scoring ability is both prolific and efficient, a rare (and powerful) combination. Sure, he hasn't been healthy in ages. But even if he comes back at less than full power, he's replacing (in large part) Mike James. The point guard position will either be greatly improved or vastly improved, unless Arenas can't play at all.
More overlooked is Brendan Haywood. Well, usually, at least. Haywood sat out all of 2008-09, which was particularly unfortunate because Haywood had such a stellar breakout in 2007-08. Haywood, finally freed from the shackles of an Etan Thomas platoon, became the defensive stalwart Washington has needed, and filled the gaps left by stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler on offense. He played excellent, efficient basketball.
In his stead, the Wiz were left with more Andray Blatche (less exciting than you'd think), more Darius Songaila, and plenty of rookie JaVale McGee. McGee has promise, and has D.C.'s faithful anxious for his development. But he is currently a pretty limited player who wasn't shown what sort of shots to avoid. Haywood knows, and that will be more important than ever with Arenas's return, and the arrival of Mike Miller and Randy Foye.
Miller is a new dimension for this team, a true deadeye shooter ... and not a self-made Bowen with swag, as DeShawn Stevenson has attempted to become. Miller has these amazing runs where everything -- 22, 24, 27 feet -- falls. He's a lightning quick trigger, he can summon a certain ebuillence I think will fit with the roster well, and he won't grouse for minutes if he's playing behind Butler. Foye will also fill in where he can, and adds the dimension of playmaking. While you wish either Miller or Foye were defensive beasts on the perimeter, the total-game augmentation they offer shouldn't be sneezed at.
The Clippers, who added a terrific young power forward in Blake Griffin and hope to have Baron Davis, Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby all healthy for the haul, stand to reasonably improve next season. So should the Raptors, who have been basically remade around Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon. And there are other candidates. But from my seats, the Wizards look like the team most poised to make a leap. You don't like to bet on hope, but at some point the bones must stop breaking ... right?