Searching yet again for the winning combination, Washington Wizards coach Flip Saunders said Monday he will be making another change to his starting lineup, replacing struggling DeShawn Stevenson with either Randy Foye or Nick Young at shooting guard.
Saunders said he would wait to see what lineup the Philadelphia 76ers would use for Tuesday night's game at Verizon Center but added he was leaning toward giving Foye the nod. Either way, the change will mark the 12th different starting lineup this season for the Wizards.
Foye started two games early in the season before being relegated to the bench after spraining his ankle Nov. 10 and then losing his spot in the rotation to Earl Boykins. In those two starts, Foye averaged 16.5 points and 4.5 assists.
Saunders went to Stevenson as his starting shooting guard five games ago believing his pass-first mentality would help spark better ball movement and cure the hesitation he observed in his three top offensive threats - Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler.
But that experiment hasn't exactly worked - the Wizards are 1-4 in the last five games, and Stevenson went 2-for-16 from the field in those contests. Stevenson had started one other game this season and struggled in that as well. In six games as a starter, he is averaging 2.5 points and 1.8 assists while shooting just 20.8 percent from the field.
Saunders said one of the benefits of starting Foye is that it will give Young, who has moved in and out of the starting lineup twice this season, some stability. With original starting shooting guard Mike Miller set to return to action in the next week or two, Saunders didn't see a point having Young get used to starting again only pull him.
Stevenson had been one of the most durable players in the NBA, starting 275 straight games before succumbing to a back injury that required surgery 32 games into last season. He then missed the last 50 games.
Stevenson had been a reliable defender and 3-point shooter. He also proved to be a nice complement to Arenas. But this season, he hasn't been able to regain his shooting touch, which has caused him to be a liability.
"I think it's a combination of having the year off, and he couldn't do much in the summertime because of the back," Saunders said. "He just tried to get back in shape and get his weight down, and so because he's been off for so long, he just couldn't get into a groove. I think he changed his shot a little bit with his back. Looking back at some film, his shot's a little different. So I told him we'll just have to keep working on getting that thing back to what it was."
Saunders hasn't gone to Foye much in the last month and a half, but he knows what he gets from the four-year veteran, who started 61 games for Minnesota last season before being acquired by Washington in a draft-day trade that also brought in Miller last summer.
Foye, who had a breakout year last season while averaging 16.3 points, 4.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds, had found his role as a seldom-used backup difficult to grasp. However, he was determined to keep a positive attitude and continue to prepare himself as if he were a starter.
"I just was working hard every day no matter what the situation was, came to work with hard hat and was ready to go no matter what they had me doing. I was just ready for it," Foye said. "[Starting] will help me. Whenever you get more minutes, it helps you because it's more opportunity for you."
Meanwhile, Miller - who has missed the last 14 games while letting a strained calf and sprained left shoulder heal - has been running and shooting on the side and said he hopes to return to action either Saturday at Minnesota or Monday at Memphis.
But the Wizards are proceeding cautiously and may hold Miller back until after Jan. 1.
Given all the influx, Saunders has had to remain patient with the lack of progress the 8-17 Wizards have made in their first season under him. He expected growing pains, but the injuries have amplified a difficult situation.
"It's difficult, but I think coming in I thought we had the ability, but I didn't think you would see where we really were until we were 40 games in because of all the dynamics - guys coming back from injury, and that wasn't even taking into consideration guys getting hurt once the year was started," Saunders said. "But knowing that Gil was coming back and not having played two years and there were guys we had picked up and the East got better, I would say we're probably four or five games different from where I thought we'd be. I thought we'd be probably two games above .500 at this point."