A week ago, this Wizards team was toxic. The team had me-first guys who didn’t quite get the concept of team basketball or moving without the ball. I used to defend one of them (Nick Young), but eventually gave up. He made my life too hard. I defended the other (JaVale McGee) right up until his benching and eventual trade. With a point guard still learning the position, and no strong finishers around the rim, this particular iteration of the Wizards was not going to be able to develop players with seemingly non-physical related issues. Something had to change – either the culture or the players. You start to change the culture by changing leadership (already done), changing the rotation (already done), and then, as a last ditch effort, giving up on talent. Talent only takes you so far, anyway. This team is rife with talent. It has a dearth of basketball players.
The team full of knuckleheads had to change the culture. It’s unfortunate that the biggest drags on this team (Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis) are worthless. There’s no way a team would trade for a contract like Rashard Lewis or Andray Blatche, unless you were giving up a Gilbert Arenas. That’s the point we have reached with those guys. So someone had to go. There was only one player who the Wizards could actually trade that could plausibly procure some value, and that one player was JaVale McGee.
JaVale was traded for a vastly superior player in Nene. Nene can knock down a mid range jumper; he can set strong picks; he can be a great partner in the pick and roll; he can defend the pick and roll; and he can be a stabilizing force on a team full of destabilizing forces. JaVale is none of those things, and probably never would become one on this Wizards team. If Andray Blatche was unmovable – which he was, and still is – something else had to happen. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
I’m sad to see JaVale go, and I know that feeling puts me in the minority of Wizards fans. The Wiz will now be bad AND less entertaining. Before, they were bad but a comedy show. I always enjoyed watching the games if for no other reason than to see JaVale swat a goaltend into the third row and John Wall blitzkrieg down the court. That’s all us Wizards fans have this year. We’re being robbed, or are we being saved, of that.
You could always count on JaVale for something spectacular and something mind-numbing. He always seemed to provide both every time he took the court. You could also count on some dumb fouls and some awful pick and roll defense. Nene won’t provide either of those last two things, and I strongly believe this team will respond well.
Most Wizards fans are frightened of Nene and his fragile past. Fortunately, he really isn’t all that fragile. In his last three seasons he has played 77, 82, and 75 games. Only twelve centers have played more games than he has since 2009. Only seven have played more minutes. He has a surgically repaired knee, but that was almost seven years ago. He took a leave of absence in 2008 due to a cancer scare but the tumor was removed. This season has been marred with a few nagging injuries, but nothing major. Nene relies on speedy drives and crafty moves, not on a raw athleticism that is unmatched by other NBA centers. He’s 29 years old; he’s not the injury-laden grandfather that many are making him out to be.
The only other concern with Nene is his newly minted contract. Nene was the hottest free agent on the market only three months ago in December. He is due a flat fee of $13 million each year through 2016 and the Nuggets already decided that was too expensive. JaVale will garner a hefty contract, but surely he will receive less than $13 million a year. Nene is undoubtedly more expensive than JaVale, but he is also undoubtedly more effective. Nene is being paid a market price for a player of his stature and skill. Might the contract blow up in Ernie Grunfeld’s face? Sure, but that’s the risk you have to take when obtaining strong play at the center position. The Wizards are betting on a good player, not on a project. I can get behind that.
There will be metaphorical tears on this coming Thursday when I sit in my seats in section 416 at the Verizon Center and don’t see a comically tall man wearing number 34 shooting stupid pull-up jumpers in warm-ups. I loved defending JaVale knowing full well that his globally visible blemishes made most of my argument wishful thinking. Being on JaVale’s side opened me up to a lot of criticism. I’m supposed to be a basketball writer, how could I possibly back a ne’er-do-well like McGee?
My backing of JaVale is not entirely basketball related. I see great potential in him, but I also see a human being. I see an individual who wants so strongly to be a good player that he honestly can’t believe his constant shortcomings. I can relate to that. Can’t you? None of us made it to the league, after all. None of us are perfect at our jobs, though we require perfection from NBA players. There is an unrealistic expectation from guys that have all the physical tools. In a world where blooper videos go viral in three seconds flat, JaVale is a clown. He’s a person like you and me before he’s a clown with an insanely high vertical. I’ll miss JaVale.
I strongly believe that in the right situation JaVale will be a great defensive player. I was hoping the Wizards could morph into that situation, but at the trade deadline it was clear that he was the only player on the team that could be moved for anything valuable. It isn’t farfetched to think that JaVale could someday be a better player than Nene. However, that is entirely an uncertainty that appears unlikely to most. Nene is a sure thing when healthy, and the Wizards needed a sure thing.