- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2012


At the halfway point of this truncated NBA campaign, the Washington Wizards have seven wins in 33 games, giving them a lower winning percentage than every team except Charlotte — which is 0-2 against the Wizards.

Thank goodness for Bobcats chairman Michael Jordan, whose excellence as a player is rivaled only by his failure as an executive.

In hindsight, Washington might have been better off if the lockout wiped out the entire season instead of one-fifth. Does the new deal allow teams to bypass the second half and proceed directly to the lottery?

But the Wizards deserve some credit. If a team can’t be great, the least it can do is be interesting, and there’s been no shortage of attention-grabbing moments when Washington plays. The Wizards seem to be mentioned on TNT almost as much as the Miami Heat, even if its flattery versus buffoonery.

Washington doesn’t have any All-Stars on the roster, but it could dominate balloting for an All-Enigma team.

Center JaVale McGee looks like a lock as the league’s top vote-getter. He has been Washington’s best player and its most frustrating player, too, drawing national acclaim for his athleticism and disdain for his extremism, The latest example was Wednesday night’s blatant goaltend against Sacramento, when McGee volleyball-swatted a shot into the stands.

That gave McGee a trifecta of head-scratching highlights in the first half, including the self-alley-oop dunk in the midst of being blown out, and the hustle-back-on-defense (after his wild shot) when the Wizards were resetting the offense.

He’ll have a hard time topping those plays after the All-Star break, but I wouldn’t bet against him.

John Wall would start at point guard on the Eastern Conference’s All-Enigma team. He has played well at times in the continuing quest to improve in his second season. But Wall also has been maddeningly inconsistent. His field goal percentage in the past six games, starting with Washington’s victory Feb. 12 at Detroit has roller-coastered: .300, .714, .308, .667, .364 and .533.

Wall’s headlong rushes and high-flying finishes are good for top-10 plays, as well as his slight increase in turnovers (from 3.8 per game to 4.2). His reputation clearly has taken a hit since last year’s All-Star Game, when he dished a record 22 assists and was named MVP in the now-defunct Rookie Challenge. When Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal picked squads between first- and second-year players for the new format this year, Wall was chosen 12th overall, behind five other guards.

The Wizards‘ other strong candidates for our imaginary team are Nick Young and Andray Blatche. Calling either an enigma might be a stretch at this point, as both arguably have crossed the line into pure disappointment. Their physical tools and obvious skills simply don’t compute into overall, satisfactory packages on the court. That’s why they should be elsewhere next season, Young to whichever team is interested in his free agency and Blatche to whichever team wants a reclamation project off the waiver wire.

The season’s second half is unlikely to differ much from the first, but it will be a crucial period for the Wizards‘ other players. Attitudes will be monitored, effort will be measured and final evaluations will be made as the rebuilding process continues. Whether lame duck president Ernie Grunfeld calls the shots or owner Ted Leonsis calls for new leadership, a roster shakeup is in order.

If Grunfeld isn’t around for offseason moves and the draft, the March 15 trading deadline could be his final shot to mold the team. Dwight Howard isn’t an option, but the Wizards should gauge who else might be available for some of their young players. And though it might not make sense for Grunfeld to make this major move if he’s a short-timer, the Wizards‘ first-round pick should be in play, too.

The last thing the Wizards need is another young player. Savvy, skilled veterans are unlikely to come on their own under the present conditions, but the right combination of players and picks could do the trick. While Grunfeld and Leonsis overestimate the value of their “assets,” the Wizards‘ youngsters aren’t totally devoid of talent.

A Western Conference executive mentioned rookies Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton as players other teams would be interested in. Second-year forward Trevor Booker continues to perform as if he’s a solid rotation player at the very least, and second-year guard Jordan Crawford could be likewise if he improves his decision-making.

Aside from Wall and McGee, everything should be on the table, including the potential No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. Watching the rebuild unfold will add a layer of intrigue the rest of the way.

The Wizards might not be very competitive, but they shouldn’t be very boring, either.

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