When Flip Saunders gets around to taking a hard look at the 15-player roster of the Wizards, he will find the limited, the attitudinally challenged and the physically spent.
It is a roster in need of a makeover once you look past Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood, JaVale McGee, Dominic McGuire, Darius Songaila and Javaris Crittenton.
This is not to say those eight players are untouchable. It is to say they either form the core of the team, have a favorable upside or provide a certain utility.
The rest of the roster is fraught with ifs, ands and butt-heads.
The latter have annoyed Jamison and Butler, consummate professionals dismayed by the unprofessionalism that undermined a team already vulnerable because of injuries to Arenas and Haywood and the departure of Roger Mason Jr.
Jamison and Butler took it personally, this nowhere season. That was one of the good signs on the team. The other is the long-shot prospect of the Wizards securing Blake Griffin, destined to be an All-Star and the antithesis to Kwame Brown.
Saunders and Ernie Grunfeld undoubtedly have discussed the roster and the potential personnel moves of a franchise that historically has been averse to exceeding the salary cap.
Their thought process is destined to be at odds on occasion.
Saunders and Grunfeld may see the same things in players but interpret them differently. That's because coaches always live in the present and the heads of teams live in both the present and the future.
Grunfeld has endeavored to construct two teams, one that can win now and one that can win in the future.
At one time, Grunfeld believed the Wizards could be competent well beyond the Arenas-Butler-Jamison period. He believed that because of Andray Blatche, Nick Young and Oleksiy Pecherov.
That belief has been eroded by this 19-62 disappointment. After all, this season did not come about because of the shortcomings of Butler and Jamison. It came about because of injuries and the failures of those unwilling or incapable of embracing the opportunity. It came about because of the inexplicable and the here-we-go-again outcome.
There was Juan Dixon throwing the ball to an invisible teammate Monday night.
There was Jose Calderon driving into the jaws of the defense before kicking the ball out to Chris Bosh beyond the 3-point line.
How many times have the traumatized fans of the Wizards seen that elementary maneuver these last few seasons?
The drive, the kick, the open 3-pointer.
This is one of the many hard realities before Saunders.
The Wizards are a poor defensive team on the perimeter. Haywood protects the basket with conviction. But out on the perimeter, where perspiration and players willing to rotate are necessary, the Wizards are too often indifferent.
Saunders is not apt to change the culture of the players. That challenge is usually beyond the influence of coaches, and that includes Phil Jackson.
For all his championship success, Jackson presided over some of the most dysfunctional teams in NBA history in Los Angeles. As much as he wanted the relationship between Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant to be healthy, he could not reach them with his bag of psychological tricks.
O'Neal and Bryant were both stubborn alpha males, neither willing to acquiesce to the other.
Saunders has no such worries with the Wizards. Butler and Jamison, as team-first players, are more than willing to follow Arenas if he ever expresses an inclination to be a locker room leader. That is not a responsibility Arenas has wanted in the past. But it is one he perhaps is starting to see as necessary, judging from his comments in recent weeks.
A sober-minded Arenas would be the start of a productive offseason.
The addition of Griffin would be next, followed by an ultrabusy Grunfeld.
By John Solomon
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