The D-League solution for a crowded frontcourt

The D-League solution for a crowded frontcourt
August 12, 2013, 11:30 pm
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Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld.

(Mandatory Credit: Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports)

Flip Saunders no longer works or lives in these parts, yet the ex-Wizards coach has been a consistent presence on this site recently.

Discussing the new Timberwolves team president possibly hiring a member of Washington's front office for Minnesota's vacant GM role is obvious blog post fodder. There was also Saunders dealing with rookie Shabazz Muhammad's rocky start. Now, it's Saunders comments about possibly sending the first round pick to the NBA's Developmental League at some point next season.

That D-League topic could gain traction in Wizards-land if the roster gains a certain veteran stretch-four.

Saunders spoke on a Minnesota radio station last week about Muhammad's dismissal from the NBA's Rookie Transition program (attended by Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr.) for a rules violation. From Minneapolis Star Tribune's beat writer Jerry Zgoda:

On Friday, Saunders in his weekly KFAN radio appearance said Muhammad will receive a fast geography lesson about where Des Moines, Iowa, is if he doesn’t abide by the rules. The Wolves’ D League team is in Des Moines.

“That wasn’t a threat,” said Saunders, who coached in the minor league Continental Basketball Association once upon a time. “That was just saying I’m a CBA guy, I believe in the minor league system and I believe players are down there because they lack the skill to play at our level, don’t have the confidence or don’t have the mental frame. If you don’t have any of those three, then that’s where you go to develop to be successful in our league.”

Those last two sentences bring us back to the Wizards.

There is a mutual interest between the team and free agent Al Harrington, who missed most of last season with a staph infection in his knee. If signed, he would occupy the 15th final and final roster spot, but he wouldn't be a backbencher. If healthy, the 6-foot-9 forward would almost assuredly leapfrog Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and perhaps Trevor Booker in the Wizards rotation.

Washington's bench needs another point-producer and Harrington is the kind of perimeter threat the roster lacks upfront. What the already crowded frontcourt doesn't lack for is bodies, which is why it's logical to imagine the Wizards shipping one of their low-scoring energy forwards (or possibly Trevor Ariza).

An alternative plan is letting Vesely, Singleton or both play in the D-League.

We can bemoan Vesely's struggles with confidence, Singleton's outside shooting woes and Booker's constant injuries. In the case of the first two, it's hard to fix those matters without actually playing.

Following the end of last season, Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld was asked about Vesely, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 draft, and how he can improve his clear lack of on-court confidence:

"He needs to be out on the court. He needs to be playing," Grunfeld said. "That's the way to build up your confidence, to have success in game-type situations. He's going to play a lot of basketball this summer. He's going to play with us in Summer League. He's going to play for the Czech national team, where he's going to get a lot of minutes. At the end of last season, when he did get consistent minutes, he put up some solid numbers. Unfortunately, he didn't get that this year and he needs to do better. He needs to improve and he needs to find a way to get that confidence back. "

The summer activity is hopefully effective; Vesely showed improvement in Las Vegas and is currently with his national team. But what happens come October when he and Singleton are behind Nene, Emeka Okafor, Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, Kevin Seraphin, likely Otto Porter, possibly Harrington, maybe Booker.

Even though teams can carry 15 players on a roster, not all can be active on game nights and not all in uniform play heavy or significant minutes. Even without Harrington, there won't be many minutes available.

Last year, even when injuries limited options, Wizards coach Randy Wittman rarely used Vesely, Singleton and Booker together or as part of the same rotation.

Wittman might not have called their names much during games, but the team will have to make a call on player options for that trio sooner than later.

Even though Vesely and Singleton in particular racked up a collection of DNP-CD, they stayed with the team rather than join the Dakota Wizards, the organization's D-League affiliate (players in the D-League still count as part of the 15-man NBA roster). 

The D.C. based Wizards have only randomly used the D-League option, including with 2010 second-round pick Hamady N'Diaye, who has played only 19 games on the NBA level.

During the same press conference, Grunfeld addressed his thoughts on sending or not sending players to the D-League.

"It's never been off the table. With the kind of injuries that we had this year, we needed the bodies also up here for practice situations or game time situations. A lot of times player develop as much in  a practice situation, though at the end of the year we didn't have as many practices, obviously. We needed healthy bodies for this team also."

With good health and good fortune, the Wizards will have bodies, which means they won't have consistent or any playing time for some. Saunders said talk of the D-League should not be considered a threat. In this era, it also shouldn't be considered embarrassing. In the case of the playoff pushing, but frontcourt-heavy Wizards, it might be considered forward thinking.