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SNYDER: Next season in doubt but Wizards in good position

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The Wizards entered Monday’s game assured of a record worse than last season’s 26-56. But only one thing has dampened the atmosphere at Verizon Center the past couple of weeks, and it’s not the Wizards’ level of play or their potential next season.

There have been several positive developments of late, most notably the emergence of rookie guard Jordan Crawford. The ice-cold scorer did it again in the home finale, nailing the game-tying jumper to force overtime and the game-winning three-pointer to seal the deal, 95-94, against Boston.  

The downer surrounding the Wizards (and every other team) is the NBA lockout presumed to commence in July. Sadly, that would put Washington’s rebuilding project on hold, forcing Wizards fans to wait even longer for a winning product.

But as the third consecutive season of 26-or-fewer wins winds down, a three-month delay next season seems like a small price after what we’ve seen lately. The Wizards have won five of their last seven games – including four straight at Verizon Center. And whatever the next labor deal looks like, it’s almost certain to aid Washington, which could be about $20 million below the salary cap.

We shouldn’t make too much of the recent success. Playing harder and better after 50 losses isn’t a formula for success. Even Thursday’s victory came with an asterisk, considering the fact that Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo never stepped foot on the court. But when wins are as scarce as they’ve been in Washington, you can’t be choosey.

Mainly, it’s Crawford who’s gotten folks excited.

Though coach Flip Saunders mentioned Nick Young and Wally Pipp in the same sentence, no is suggesting that Crawford is headed to the Hall of Fame. But his mentality, fearlessness and competitiveness – not to mention the chemistry he’s developed with franchise cornerstone John Wall – will make him an integral player going forward.

Washington’s season has been in garbage time for a while, but any rookie who posts a triple-double one night (21 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), and drops a career-high 39 points in the next game, is a keeper. Crawford has averaged 20 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds in 16 starts with the Wizards since coming over from Atlanta.

Whether it’s better to start Crawford or bring him off the bench next season is a nice problem. Regardless, with Wall he gives the Wizards two solid pieces for the puzzle. A back-up point guard, preferably a veteran, remains a necessity, which leaves six spots for the 2011-12 rotation.

Young could return as a wing, perhaps moving to small forward, and reap some reward for enduring the past three seasons. But he’s a restricted free agent who might receive interest elsewhere and the Wizards shouldn’t feel compelled to match any offer. They certainly wouldn’t miss him much on the defensive end and they can get scoring from other sources. For the time being, though, let’s give a spot to Young or his replacement (one of the first-rounders?), which leaves us with five openings for playing time.

As for the enigma that is Andray Blatche, I’d keep him and pray that he finally understands what’s required to dominate for 82 games instead of being a major tease for 32. But I’d remain receptive to trade offers and would initiate them if he acts up.

So we’re down to players Nos. 6-9, but let’s clear up the three spots on the bench first.

Othyus Jeffers has worked his way into our hearts and earned a chance to be in the league, even if he doesn’t play. Kevin Seraphin is a project worth keeping, too. And if Maurice Evans is willing to accept a spot with no guarantee of playing time, yet continue to exhibit toughness, poise and a strong work ethic, he can fill out the roster. But each of these players is susceptible to being bumped by a rookie (one of the first-rounders?).

Leading candidates for the last three spots in the rotation are JaVale McGee, Trevor Booker and Rashard Lewis. We could live with that.

As long as everyone understands their role and stays within it, the 2011-12 Wizards could compete… as in threaten the .500 mark.

Don’t laugh.

Considering everything the franchise has been through the past few years, .500 is winning.

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About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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