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Can the Washington Wizards Still be Saved?

The Washington Wizards are a bad team, that much has been established if you’ve watched an NBA highlights show this season. But how bad this group truly is goes farther into the depths of sports management mistakes than maybe anyone can imagine.

Looking at the Wizards, fans would likely be able to excuse their missteps if the current payroll was loaded with expiring contracts and D-Leaguers on minimum pay deals. The Dallas Mavericks appear on the verge of missing the postseason for the first time since 1999, yet most fans can rest assured that their absence will be short lived with a savvy owner like Mark Cuban who has gone to great lengths to clear his salary cap for next season and make room for a superstar signing or two.

The Wizards will have no such joy. When a Washington fan looks at the team’s payroll, they see $60 million tied up in contracts already for next year, possibly going up to $67 million should Trevor Ariza stay on for another season. The team had young players a year ago and expiring contracts with enough value to clear some cap space and kickoff a rebuilding effort.

Instead, general manager Ernie Grunfeld opted for trades that have since set them back. By sending JaVale McGee, simply out of fear of losing him for nothing when he became a free agent, to Denver and Nick Young to the Clippers in a three team trade that saw the Wizards take on Nene and his five year $65 million contract, the Wizards got a 30-year old center with a bad injury history. He has started just fourteen games for the Wizards since joining and could easily prove a costly mistake for a team that has already burnt its amnesty clause on Andray Blatche and his forgettable $7 million a year contract.

But general manager Ernie Grunfeld didn’t stop there. Last summer, he offloaded the incredibly ridiculous contract of Rashard Lewis, which should have been the one to be amnestied, to New Orleans. That would have been a master stroke had it not been for the fact that he simply replaced Lewis’ salary with the contracts of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.

Okafor has started 30 games this season and is averaging career lows in minutes played, points and rebounds while the Wizards write him a check worth $13.5 million. Ariza may very well be off the books after this season as he has a player option on his deal, but Okafor is due for yet another check worth $14.5 million in 2013-14.

With Okafor and Nene making the most money on the team, it’s hard to understand how the rest of the players could be pulling in an additional $40 million when its star player, John Wall, is only bringing home a $6 million paycheck. With one look at the amount of players that have graced the Washington roster, it becomes clear pretty quick how mismanaged this team is.

The Wizards currently have four power forwards on the roster in Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker on the payroll making more than $10 million combined next year. Of the four, none start when Nene is healthy, Seraphin is the only one averaging double digits at 10 points per game and Booker has been out with a nagging right knee injury since Nov. 19.

After looking to A.J. Price, Shelvin Mack, Shaun Livingston and Jordan Crawford for help at the point guard position, coach Randy Wittman eventually called up D-Leaguer Garrett Temple in an attempt to find someone that could head up the offense. Thus far, Temple has shown signs he could be that guy, but the return of Wall can’t come soon enough.

The amount of players Washington is using has become almost comical as they search for some type of consistency, some type of continuity and identity. As a team, the Wizards couldn’t be more of a joke. The laundry list of point guards mentioned doesn’t even comprise the whole list as we forgot about Janero Pargo being on Washington’s payroll also. They rank last in the league in scoring and are the worst shooting team in the league.

Where do the Wizards go from here? They have 2010’s coveted No.1 overall draft pick in John Wall returning from injury within the next two weeks according to an announcement this morning from’s Chris Mannix, and four wins on the board in a season that is already a lost cause, another lottery ball waiting to pop up with their name on it.

As the team fell to 4-28 on the season with a loss in Miami last night, I couldn’t help but feel that the Wizards have one year to get it together if they want to keep Wall. If they can’t do better with another number one pick and offload some of the dead weight that is currently ailing their roster, the Wizards are set for another long year ahead in 2013-14, too much to swallow for any superstar caliber player with real ambition.

After next year, Wall is a restricted free agent, but he may choose to ride out one more year and look to become unrestricted the following summer so that the Wizards have no control over his decision. In any case, it isn’t going to get any easier for the Wizards to hang on to their best player or to build a winning team with this current crop of players. Whether it’s a series of fresh trades or just a firing of Grunfeld and hitting the refresh button when it comes to management, it’s time the Wizards did something their fans can feel good about.


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