Just before the start of training camp, final decisions over the Wizards opening game roster composition appeared easy, like a 2-on-none fast break. Shame on any of us who had that outlook seeing as little has come easy for this franchise in recent years, especially on the injury front.
The choice of which player or players to keep at the back end of the roster likely will not affect a potential playoff push, one would think. Then again, with three starring players sidelined and the most notable duo - John Wall and Nene - perhaps both out for the early portion of the regular season, Wizards coach Randy Wittman faces an all hands on deck situation.
"It's going to be interesting, it's going to be tough," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of the final decisions.
Wall's stress injury to his left knee, one that will keep Washington's starting point guard out several more weeks, is the bigger picture concern for a team looking to avoid yet another slow start.
Yet it's those missing inside that could lead to a final roster surprise. Nene's lingering foot injury refuses to say no más, leaving the 6-foot-11 Brazilian's timetable for return up for grabs. Kevin Seraphin has missed nearly four full preseason games with a calf injury. The 6-foot-10 big man could easily sit out the final two, slowing the rapidly improving center's progress entering the upcoming campaign.
Without those two formidable interior pieces, Emeka Okafor stands as Wittman's only option at center. 6-foot-11 Jan Vesely is the lone power forward with true power forward height. Combo forwards Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton, both two games back after missing action with various ailments, bring energy and effort but at 6-foot-8 are also undersized for major minutes in the NBA's trenches.
"We're going to have weigh it a little bit. Obviously, we're going to be thin up front," Wittman said. "Your decision in trying to look at who fits that mold best for us, they also might not be the guy you want to keep when those guys are healthy."
The irony is a question entering camp is how Wittman would find minutes for all those frontcourt options, a group that also includes perimeter threats Martell Webster and Cartier Martin. That's why non-roster invitees Brian Cook, who played five games for the Wizards last season, 6-foot-10 Shavlik Randolph and 7-footer Earl Barron figured to be little more than training camp depth despite their NBA experience.
The Wizards replacement plan at point guard centered on having three options - A.J. Price, Shelvin Mack and Jannero Pargo - man the role until Wall's hopeful Thanksgiving week return. Once the Wizards added Pargo the day before the team headed to George Mason, 15 players on the roster had guaranteed or partially guarantee contracts. That's maximum number of players for all NBA teams.
If Wittman chooses the final roster based on the long haul, those 15 are likely good to go. That means three point guards stick, as does Martin and the training staff works triple overtime on Nene's foot and Seraphin's calf.
If Wittman feels another inside option is required, Cook's 9-year resume, 3-point range and rugged 6-foot-9 frame likely tops the list, though Randolph and Barron have shown enough on the boards to warrant consideration. If this is the scenario, then someone must go. Even if out for several weeks, Wall and Nene will count on the 15-man roster.
Martin, Washington's top 3-point shooter last season, signed a one-year contract this summer. This would be his fourth season spent with the Wizards. That opportunity remains, though he has been squeezed for playing time during much of the preseason.
Then you have Mack and Pargo, the battling point guards and players without fully guaranteed deals. Perhaps Wittman decides that keeping them both is not required with Jordan Crawford and Bradley Beal able to run the offense in a pinch. If so, do you hold onto Mack, the Wizards second round pick last season who played 64 games as a rookie, or the 33-year-old Pargo, who offers superior perimeter shooting plus oodles of NBA experience?
Wittman says he does not relish having to make these decisions, in part for reasons that extend beyond X's and O's.
"If I could have a genie come out of the bottle, I'd skip these next two weeks," Wittman said. "This is the worst part of my job; I don't like it, making decisions on guys' dreams. It is what it is. To their credit, all of them are making it difficult on me."