Monday January 24, 2011 12:42 p.m.
By Frank Hanrahan
It's hard to believe, but the NBA season is more than half over for the Wizards, who improved to 13-29 with an impressive home victory over the mighty Boston Celtics on Saturday night. The Wizards can take a big step forward by beating the Knicks in New York Monday night and get that first road win of the season. But, as they have when faced with situations like this in the past, they fail.
Speaking of pass, fail.... it is time for mid-season grades on an A to F scale.
I will focus on the management and coaches today and on Tuesday, I will grade the players.
President Ernie Grunfeld: Grade C
Grunfeld avoids a lower grade by finding a way to actually ship out guard Gilbert Arenas and his huge salary to Orlando. Make no mistake, Arenas was a major distraction to the franchise and the team had to find a way to deal him, and they did. The Wiz got Rashard Lewis in exchange for Arenas, and Lewis has been steady since the deal went down, averaging about 14 points and 8 rebounds a game.
After Lewis' contract runs out in two years, the Wizards will save about 40 million dollars with Arenas off the books. So, kudos to Grunfeld on the deal. But that's about it.
Grunfeld couldn't screw up the number one pick up since it was an easy call to select guard John Wall, who has certainly backed up the choice with his play so far, averaging 15 points and 9 assists. When healthy, Wall has shown superior speed, passing ability and the will to win at home (see the Celtics game). Wall is going to be an all star someday soon, there's no question about it.
There is a question about Grunfeld's other two first round draft picks in forwards Kevin Saraphin and Trevor Booker, who have not seen much playing time so far. Booker is an energy player who will have to learn how to play the small forward spot going forward while Saraphin, a banger, has to get in better shape. Saunders has said they have not earned their minutes yet. Fair enough. But, again, if this is a "rebuild" season, I think you got to play them more. If you are losing with veteran players who won't be around in a few years, you might as well lose with the future pieces of your franchise.
Grunfeld has been running the team since 2003 and since that time, the team has been in the playoffs four times and have won a grand total of one playoff series. Last year's deal to trade the 5 overall pick for two players no longer on the team still stings and the ripple effect is felt this season.
Grunfeld added guard Kirk Hinrich and forward Yi Jianlian this past summer. Hinrich has been serviceable as a starter and coming off the bench while Yi has been a major disappointment.
I think Grunfeld can improve his grade by being active around the trade deadline next month. If he is able to move forward Andray Blatche, that would be another step in the rebuild direction. Blatche is still trying to get into shape and his desire to be a jump shooter and not an attacker of the basket is still frustrating to no end. This was supposed to be Blatche's breakout season and it won't be. It also begs the question, why did Grunfeld sign Blatche to a 5 year deal before this season?
Coach Flip Saunders: Grade C
At one point I felt that Saunders had lost this team, especially after that embarrassing road loss blowout at Sacramento in December: To Saunders' credit he got the team to regroup and at least be tough at home, where right now they sport a 13-9 record at Verizon Center.
The road is another story and that's what obviously hurts Saunders' grade.
The responsibility for late-game collapses, which have played a big part in the Wizards 0-20 road record, has to fall heavily on Saunders. The team follows pretty much the same script in not being able to finish out close games on the road. Saunders has to do a better job to get his players to prepare and execute in late game situations, it's that basic.
As John Wall goes, so will this team in the second half of the season. Saunders has coached some very good point guards in the past and I can tell that Saunders has Wall's ear which is good. The point guard is an extension of the coach and if Wall buys in to what Saunders is coaching, then that works for all parties involved.
Saunders simply can improve if he can start winning games on the road. There's no question its a sore subject for Saunders and the team -- but if they can just get one, who knows maybe they will actually put a winning streak together.
Bottom line though, this is a results oriented business and a 13-29 record, rebuild or not, is unacceptable.