NBA Lottery: I’m Just Sayin, Keep Your Options Open, Wiz

From a Karmic perspective, there was no better fanbase to root for winning the lottery than the Washington Wizards. Their fans watched as Arenas and Co. teased them with second-round contention, then fell into oblivion. Then they watched as the team came back and said “It’s cool, we’re back!” then once again jumped off the roof. And again. Then they dealt with this season. And really, there hasn’t been a more interesting development of emotion among a fanbase that I’ve seen as the one that evolved in Washington. Arenas was so hammered by the mainstream press that the fans actually rallied around him. Let’s say that again. This fanbase is so screwed up because of their history that they opted to back the dude that brought a gun into the locker room of the building where they all came to see the team play. The guy that commonly released cryptic statements to the press, failed to come back repeatedly from knee injuries, and then when he did, exhibited almost no leadership and had only mediocre play. That’s the guy who ended up with the support out of this trainwreck.

Antawn Jamison? Not a strong enough player and a passive aggressive weakling. Caron Butler? Selfish. Get those bums out of here. I want the 32.00 usage player with the federal gun charges!

I don’t blame them. You react oddly when you watch something you love get blown to smithereens. And Arenas has always been the guy. He’s the one fans attach themselves to. Tuff Juice? A fine sidekick, as long as he’s the sidekick and they’re winning. Jamison? Great teammate, a stellar support guy. But it had to be Zero.  He was the personality, the superstar, and fans are territorial about their superstars.

So you have to feel good for the Wizards fans.

The team? I kind of feel like they didn’t serve the time they deserved. Much like Arenas. It wasn’t their fault. The team construct seemed like a good plan, but it wasn’t. It happens. At the same time, though, when you opt for a course of action in the NBA and it’s a total disaster, there’s typically some period of darkness before you get it together and have another go at it. But instead, the Gods have bestowed the best prospect since Carmelo Anthony (Wade wasn’t considered that high of a prospect at the time, great, but not, you know, DWade). They get a do-over. An immediate second chance.

What’s bizarre is that this is immediately being seen as a second chance for the Gilbert Arenas Wizards.

Which is like bringing Jimmie Hendrix back from the dead and putting him on SmashMouth. Or the Fray.

The wheels are already turning. As Mike Prada outlines in this piece on drafting John Wall, he’s passionate that Wall and Arenas are a perfect fit. Arenas can slide to the 2 just like he did with Larry Hughes in 05, he wants to play off-ball, and all will be well. Kyle’s already bringing the hatchet to my freakout when I discovered Arenas had the eighth highest usage last year.  The sentiment is: keep Arenas! Draft Wall! Wall plus Arenas = DOUBLE SUPER HAPPY WIN!

I’m not sold.

I’m not saying it can’t work. It can. But looking at Synergy for last season? 49.9% of Arenas’ offense came from Isolation and Pick and Roll Ball Handler. Okay, no biggie, he was the point guard. That’s going to happen. But it does tend to fit in with the profile. Arenas wants the ball in his hands, and he’s going to want to score with it. Let’s get past his 40.5% FG percentage on Spot-Up plays, his 18.2% FG percentage on Off-Screen plays, or the moderately disappointing 44.4% on Cut plays (he only had 12 of them after all).  Essentially we’re saying that a player with considerable ego is going to immediately revert to the same player he was five years ago, after two knee surgeries, to be a complimentary player to a rookie.

And let’s be clear, that’s what he is now.

Let’s say Wall fails all expectations. That he’s just not that good. He doesn’t get it, doesn’t make the jump, and doesn’t pan out.  If Arenas is still your primary guy, you’re looking at the same team you expected to have this season, which isn’t good. But Wall’s not going to fail. He’s going to be incredible. His game translates better to the pro game than an prospect I’ve seen since Wade and I had no idea Wade would be that good. He’s a franchise in and of himself. Sticking him on a squad with Arenas is a threat to his potential, could damage his rookie season, provide a bad influence on him, and generally stunt him. He’s your guy now. He’s your second chance.

Prada mentioned that he thinks it’s moot because Arenas simply won’t fetch anything on open market. To which I ask “When have all 30 NBA franchises been smart enough to avoid a bad decision?” And this year more than any other there’s reason to believe teams will take a chance. We have a high-demand, low-supply free agency class, which means someone’s going to get desperate. You have the Grizzlies with Z-Bo giving the impression it’s never too late to change.There’s going to be someone out there willing to give up assets for a “top flight” point guard. Hell, I’d be okay with the Grizzlies doing a sign-and-trade with Rudy Gay for him. I know that sounds insane but at least with Arenas I know he’s really good at one particular thing I can (sort-of) count on. And come on. Z-Bo And Zero? In Memphis? If you’re going to crash, crash spectacularly. But even if it’s not Memphis, it would be someone. And if the best you can get out of it is future picks, that’s fine too.  Build for the future. Be patient. You don’t have to surround Wall with All-Stars right now, in fact, unless it’s a Boston with Rondo situation, I’d argue you shouldn’t. Make an exception for LeBron or a top free agent. But otherwise you’re doing a disservice not only to your franchise’s development of Wall, but to what Wall can be regardless.

That said, it could work. If Gilbert Arenas decides to take a backseat and IF the Wizards can’t get a better offer for complimentary pieces and IF the locker room’s screwed up environment doesn’t completely poison him, then this could work out great. But they should at least keep their options open.

Apparently Grunfeld is keeping all options open, including not drafting Wall at all. And hey, Turner’s a great prospect, been impressed with him since early season, and the comeback-from-breaking-his-back-and-then-killing-everyone thing only boosted that. The risk is that Wall has such a high ceiling this could be one of those things that pains your franchise for years. “We could have had John Wall but we decided to build around Gilbert Arenas who played half a mediocre season after multiple knee surgeries before getting suspended for half a season due to federal gun charges involving bringing a weapon to a locker room and bringing them out in regards to a playful argument with a teammate.” Just say that out loud.

They’re not trading the pick, thank God, since anyone you’d have to get in return is a free agent this summer anyway.  I like keeping your options open, but only between two approaches. Trading Arenas and building around Wall (the surefire, easy, simple approach to franchise rebuilding) or trying to make it work with both of them in the backcourt (makes the fans happiest).

This is a monumental decision, and not an easy one. Two years ago I argued that the Bulls shouldn’t take Rose and should instead take Beasley because they were already set at guard with Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon. So it’s not like I haven’t said some remarkably stupid things about situations like this.  But the simplest option, just adding a fantastic player to your best collection of players, is still not always the best move, for your team or for the prospect.

And that’s what a lot of this comes down to. From the first Kentucky game I watched, I was blown away by Wall. I saw him running that college offense with kids that can’t hit open 12 foot baseline jumpers and started freaking out. I started envisioning him with pick and roll (admittedly with Brook Lopez and not Epic Vale) capabilities, with transition systems and good players. His ceiling is so high you need the Hubble. So the idea of him being put in a poisonous situation with a guy I’ve admittedly turned on (but haven’t completely given up on) makes me queasy. I want what’s going to make Wall the best player, which will in turn make the Wizards the best they can. And just going with “add him, no change” seems like a dangerous scenario. It’s not like that roster is chock full of high character guys. You’ve got to put potential in the best situation to succeed. Getting the top pick was a great thing for the Wizards. I’m just concerned that the emotional, confusing situation might not make for the best situation for Wall.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.