Wizards Report Card: Darius Songaila

In many ways, Songaila's season perfectly illustrates where the Wizards are as a team. The veteran forward is a solid NBA player, the kind of guy who could be a valuable 8th or 9th man on a good team. Instead, he's being asked to play more minutes and fill a role he should not have to fill.

Specifically, Songaila has no business being a starting center in this league but injuries to Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas combined with an injury to and then the inconsistency of Andray Blatche led interim coach Ed Tapscott to make him one.

Songaila's strengths are his fundamental basketball skills. He's the team's most accurate shooter and best screener. He hedges in the pick-and-roll in textbook fashion and he's a pure professional.

The vision that always comes to my mind when I think about Songaila is walking into that locker room before a game and seeing him sitting at his stall calmly watching a tape of that night's opponent while reading over a scouting report. Meantime, some of the team's young guys are usually bouncing off the walls goofing off. (It's Romper Room folks, pure and simple.)

I've always maintained that if Blatche and JaVale McGee really wanted to learn how to play the game, they'd study Songaila. Another thing that I respect about Songaila is that losing still hurts the guy. I can't say that about many of the players on this team. In fact, if you walk in that room after most games, you wouldn't know whether they won or lost.

On the flip side, Songaila, as Eddie Jordan once said "can't jump over the morning newspaper," his lack of length and athleticism makes him a below-average rebounder for a big man and he struggles to create his own shot. The back injury he had two years ago robbed him of whatever lift he once had.

As for Songaila's future with the team, he's on the books for $4.5 million next season and holds a player option worth $4.8 million for the 2010-2011 season (hard to imagine him not picking that up). He's a guy who can help this team in his designated role next season.

I'll give Darius a B- for the season.


By Ivan Carter |  March 13, 2009; 2:14 PM ET Wizards Report Card
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I agree. If he was playing the four, backing up Antawn, he would be at least a B+. Knocks down shots, tough D, smart, and a veteran. Keep Him but make, MJ, ET, NY, Pech, all available for trades

Posted by: BurgwithaU | March 13, 2009 2:24 PM

No warning/update about leaving the Wizards beat?

I'm shocked.

Posted by: mkremnitzer0 | March 13, 2009 2:33 PM

Me or Ivan?

Posted by: BurgwithaU | March 13, 2009 2:45 PM

"In fact, if you walk in that room after most games, you wouldn't know whether they won or lost."

And the losing culture begins. Well done Taps. I'm sure his constant insinuations to the youngsters (read: Nick Young and McGee) that they simply aren't good enough really helps the cause.

Posted by: psps23 | March 13, 2009 3:00 PM

I couldn't agree more about song's evaluation. But starting him at center is absolutely bad for the team's present and future. Blatche and Mcgee should play all but maybe 5-8 minutes at center a night. He should be used at pf along with blatche, sliding aj to the 3 for some extended time. He is simply over-matched and being asked to do too much. both mcgee and blatche are drastically better at the kind of work you need out of a center, protecting the rim, rebounding, blocking shots, finishing at the rim. Songaila should play about 20-25 with almost all at the four. As far as Blatche's inconsistency, I think he has done well in the minutes he has been given considering ideally he shouldn't be playing center either. As currently assembled we put three small forwards, a power forward and mike james on the floor to start. I'd like to see any combination of players other than the one we start. At least Crit should be given the chance to start.

Posted by: bford1kb | March 13, 2009 3:05 PM

Awesome post Ivan. This is exactly why I cant stand when people rip on Songalia and claim guys like Young and Blatche arent given a chance.

I hope Grunfeld ships these young guys out this summer. They arent the future, and this team will never contend with them as the core. We can package them with the larger contracts, so we can get some of those big deals off the books. Problem is, Grunfeld is probably loyal to a fault with these guys. We need a new GM who isnt so loyal, and wont have a problem blowing this team up.

Posted by: Roman5 | March 13, 2009 3:12 PM

Also, good luck Ivan in your new job. Will you have a blog post talking about your move? This really hurts us die-hard fans. You are a great beat writer, and arent afraid to give us the scoop behind the scenes.

I know many on here rip on Ivan at times, but you should be grateful. Writers in other cities never update the blogs, and never give any info. They are just terrible. I live in suburban Detroit, and the Pistons have the worst beat guys ever. Ivan is by far one of the top 5 guys in the NBA, with others like Doug Smith up in Toronto, Windhorst in Cleveland, Ira Winderman in Miami, and Quick in Portland.

Posted by: Roman5 | March 13, 2009 3:16 PM

whats the new gig?

Posted by: bford1kb | March 13, 2009 3:26 PM

dSong: F-

Posted by: cj658 | March 13, 2009 3:27 PM

"I always thought it was a possibility," he said. (Yes, I just quoted Ivan Carter.) "You see a lot of that cross-over, and that's kind of where the media business is going, people doing multiple things. I've always thought of myself as a reporter, and I've always thought of myself as a newspaper guy, but I've always looked at TV and thought that was something I could do. Why not?"

Translation: TV is where the money is at.

Good move, smart one too.

Posted by: cj658 | March 13, 2009 3:28 PM

psps23,

No, the losing culture begins when you reward those players with mins when they are behaving like that as most in these threads have been advocating for a long time now!

Roman,

Who said these guys are the "core"? I think we're talking about NY, McGee, maybe Blatche. The core of this team is AJ, GA, CB, and BH.

Posted by: rphilli721 | March 13, 2009 3:31 PM

Good luck in the new position, Ivan.

Michael Lee, get ready for the abuse, because we're ready for you.

Posted by: disgruntledfan | March 13, 2009 3:33 PM

“After following around the history-chasing Wizards for two more weeks, Ivan--who joined The Post in Jan., 2005--will leave print and join CSN full-time. Michael Lee will fill in on the Wizards beat through the end of this season, and no decision has been made about who will cover the team next year.”

Word on the street is kalo_rama is already standing outside of WashingtonPost headquarters with his resume in hand. Security made him go home and change clothes when they saw urine running down his pants leg. My, the excitement.

Posted by: cj658 | March 13, 2009 3:36 PM

he's quitting right now? jeez, it makes sense though, he never seemed happy once ej got canned, seemed to be going through the motions

Posted by: bford1kb | March 13, 2009 3:43 PM

"No, the losing culture begins when you reward those players with mins when they are behaving like that as most in these threads have been advocating for a long time now!"

The losing culture is already instilled. That's what created the locker room atmosphere he wrote about.

Earlier in the season, there was one or two distinct posts after a win about how it was good to see the players in a vibrant mood, bouncing around, joking like we always remembered from years past. That implies that in the beginning of the season when the team was losing, there was a very somber attitude in the locker room.

Now, it's "if you walk in that room after most games, you wouldn't know whether they won or lost."

Huge shift in description. Sorry Rob, the losing culture is already here.

Posted by: psps23 | March 13, 2009 3:45 PM

Very good report about Songalia. It drives me crazy that guys jump over him for rebounds and that he is athletically challenged, I appreciate that he is actually in the right spot and trying hard. He should be an 8th or 9th man -- 2d or 3d string PF at best. And Ivan hit it right on the hea about Songalia's screening -- watch the game tonight -- when Blatche or ESPECIALLY McGee go to set a screen, they don't even make contact and the defender sticks right with the ball handler. Compare that to teams that set screens on the Wiz and we are forced into switching which is one of the main purposes of the screening. The Wiz are probably the worst at screening and defending the screen.

I would give Songaila a solid "B" because he has done what he is capable of doing and has been asked to do much more than he is capable.He is definitely a full letter grade better than Juan Dixon's performance this year -- you cannot have everyone jumbled between a B and a C or else your grading system makes no sense.

Posted by: Chad32 | March 13, 2009 4:23 PM

Agreed on Darius.
I've always liked his game but felt his skills were being misapplied, either because of injuries to Haywood/Thomas or poor coaching.
The guy is solid and deserves a spot on this team as a role player if and when they ever get their act together.

Also, as to yesterday's Lee post: spot on.
I don't know what the coaches are thinking. I can see giving CB and AJ some minutes alongside the young guys for tutoring and stability purposes, but 40+ minutes/game is inexcusable at this point in a losing season.

And if all of these young guys are such chuckleheads, maybe we should be looking into the scouting crew, too. They're obviously not looking hard enough at these kids' attitude and work ethic when scouting.

Posted by: Washago | March 13, 2009 4:25 PM

"Huge shift in description. Sorry Rob, the losing culture is already here. "

Can't really say that without knowing specifically who he was talking about. He specifically cited "some of the young guys"as behaving like it was "Romper Room" and Songaila as being hurt by losing. But he didn't say anything about the other players. If they're ALL laughing and joking and brushing it off after losses, then you're right. But nothing we've seen from the demeanor of Jamison or Butler would suggest that would be the case. I think it's pretty clear that the losses still hurt them. And given how he carries himself and what's been said and written about him, I doubt McGuire falls into that category either. There was a piece in today's paper that specifically cited Pecherov as carrying himself like a professional. Dixon's gone after the season, so who cares what he thinks; there won't be any carryover. Mike James is also a rental (plus, he's spent most of his career playing on bad teams, so he's probably used to it). Arenas, Haywood, and Thomas aren't playing so they're not part of the equation right now.

So, really, the only ones who have been indicted for this are Young, Blatche, and McGee, otherwise known as the usual suspects.

Posted by: kalo_rama | March 13, 2009 4:27 PM

Ivan,
Good Luck.
Remember us as you make your way up the ladder. If you ever have any tuff questions you can always get some interesting answers here.

The guy that will really need luck is Mike Lee.
Hope he is thick skinned. His posts have been very good that I've read.

Posted by: VBFan | March 13, 2009 4:32 PM

Who care? Can we just skip to the part where Tapscott and Grunfield both get an F for the season??

Posted by: Gary22 | March 13, 2009 4:35 PM

"As for Songaila's future with the team, he's on the books for $4.5 million next season and holds a player option worth $4.8 million for the 2010-2011 season (hard to imagine him not picking that up). He's a guy who can help this team in his designated role next season."

What is that designate role, though? If everyone is healthy next year, at center the Wizards will have Haywood, McGee and Thomas, in that order, and at power forward, Jamison, Blatche and Songalia, in that order (in my opinion).

Will Jamison play some small forward? If not, can the Wizards afford $4.5 million for a third string power forward? Or if the Wizards can dump Thomas, is Songalia considered the second or third string center? Or are the Wizards going to cut ties with Blatche or McGee?

It makes you wonder if Songalia might not be moved this summer. I really like the sound fundamental basketball Songalia plays, and his +/- speak to his contribution on the court. But there is no question that Blatche and McGee have eons more potential and will be much better players in two or three years. If one of them has to go, it should be Songalia. If the Wizards can dump Thomas, however, keeping Songalia as a 3rd string center and power forward would be fantastic.

I wonder whether Songalia retained his starting job when Blatche returned from injury so that he might be a more attractive trade candidate this summer.

Posted by: disgruntledfan | March 13, 2009 4:37 PM

Kal, when he says:

"I can't say that about many of the players on this team."

then follows it up with:

"In fact, if you walk in that room after most games, you wouldn't know whether they won or lost."

...that implies much more than 3 players on the team. Being injured does not eliminate a player from contributing to the culture of the team. I'll give you Jamison and Songaila, but to me, everyone else seems to hit that "indifferent" phase with regards to results of the game, and many times it shows on the court (including Butler). McGuire doesn't show it on the court, but being that he's young and he's far surpassed expectations, I wouldn't put it past him to be satisfied simply with his playing time and contributions (as in I wouldn't put it past him to be indifferent after games regardless of a loss).

Basically, I don't see how Ivan would write "I can't say that about many of the players on this team" if he's only talking about 3 players.

The "Romper Room" was a reference to pre-game, not post-game reactions. You can be professional and diligent pre-game, but still have the attributes of a losing culture (which in my mind points specifically to how a team reacts to adverse situations).

Posted by: psps23 | March 13, 2009 4:55 PM

This isn't the military where everybody dresses the same and shaves their heads.

Even in business, managers accommodate 20 year olds (e.g., in customer service) very differently than 50 year olds. Purple hair for people on the phone is okay.

Basketball is a game. It requires entertainment to draw fans, in addition to winning. The players should be having fun. For example, LeBron sings off-key before games.

Antawn needs to get over the locker room blues if somebody (other than Gil) doesn't follow his rules.

The coaching staff needs to invest time, effort and minutes into players with large upside potential - recognizing each one needs to be treated differently.

And those with the highest upside potential in order of priority are McGee, Blatche, Young, McGuire, Crit (hard to know given limited playing time) and Pech.

I wonder what this ranking looks like to EG and ET. Even the former rookie-hater (EJ) had McGee starting.

Garnett asked after last season, what can they say now? Think about that for the Wiz after this season.

Posted by: Izman | March 13, 2009 4:55 PM

Read through the comments and saw that Ivan was heading off to a new spot on Comcast. Just wanted to say good luck.

I really appreciated the coverage, especially the blog. Appreciated it even more after I moved out of the area. Haven't always agreed with the perspective on the team 100% (who does?), but he got it more right than wrong.

Thanks. Good work. Good luck.

Posted by: manifested | March 13, 2009 5:12 PM

"Being injured does not eliminate a player from contributing to the culture of the team. "

Yeah, it really does. Whatever emotions are stirred up by a games outcome are going to be felt and projected most strongly by guys who actually play. Guys who sit on the sidelines and watch are spectators. They can't feel or project as strongly as the guys who play, and their feelings aren't going to be felt as strongly by the guys who play. That's something that I've heard pro athletes talk about frequently in interviews when they're out injured or just coming back, that being out with an injury, esp. for the whole season, sets you apart from the team, even when you're there every day rehabbing or observing.

"I'll give you Jamison and Songaila, but to me, everyone else seems to hit that "indifferent" phase with regards to results of the game"

But, again, we can't really know that without (A) being in the locker room ourselves after the game or (B) being told specifically who he's referring to.

On-court, it's pretty clear to me that Jamison, Butler, Songaila, McGuire give a damn. We've basically been told that McGee, Young, and Blatche are the knuckleheads. That's basically most of the active roster. That leaves Dixon (everything we've learned about Dixon over the years suggests that he's a pro), James (who knows?) and Pech (who was specifically mentioned in today's post article as being apart from the other youngsters in terms of attitude and professionalism). So that's three confirmed offenders and 1 or 2 more possible suspects. And since most off the guilty parties are young guys who don't set the agenda and most of the others are vets who do, I think their attitudes would set more of a prevalent tone. If that weren't the case, there'd be no reason for both the players and the media to be calling Blatche, et all out on their attitudes. After all, you can't really blame them if they're just following the vets' lead.

"You can be professional and diligent pre-game, but still have the attributes of a losing culture (which in my mind points specifically to how a team reacts to adverse situations)."

Couldn't disagree more. If someone is a professional at work, then they're a professional at work all day. They don't act like a professional when they get there in the morning, then become a no-caring slacker after lunch.

Posted by: kalo_rama | March 13, 2009 5:30 PM

Forgot Crittenton. Don't really know, but the quotes we heard from him about spending the all-star break studying film and trying to get better (rather than going to the beach) suggest he gets it, and he seems to be all business on the court.

Posted by: kalo_rama | March 13, 2009 5:33 PM

Who cares? Can we just skip to the part where Tapscott and Grunfield both get an F for the season??

Posted by: Gary22 | March 13, 2009 4:35 PM

Amen. None of the guys (the leaders) doing the critiquing on this team have ever owned up to this years performance. The reality is 15-50 is a reflection of your 40 minute a game guys (Jamison and Butler), their cadre of fellow veterans who have played the bulk of the minutes (with impunity) the inexperienced and incompetent coach and a highly overrated GM who has made some of the dumbest, most fatal, basketball moves a franchise could ever make.

Jamsion and Butler need to shut up, play some defense, pass the ball, stop throwing the ball away so much, protect the rim (part of a PF job) and take a rest 10-15 minutes a game. Win some games and make your teammates better.

Tapscott has been given free rein, so I just pray that in a month I never have to see his non-coaching butt again.
WHEN YOU WIN YOU EARN THE RIGHT TO TALK.

Anyone who has watched this season transpire realizes that Tapscott had no intention from jumpstreet of making McGee and Young significant players on this team. He slowly weeded McGee out of the starting lineup and his play deteriorated exponentially as the season wore on. Nick Young was the teams third leading scorer early on and was averaging about 16.5 points per game (and getting his shots in the flow of the offense).

There is a direct correlation between each of these guys level of play and Tapscott's tenure as coach. Anyone who plays or coaches any game realizes that confidence is as equal or sometimes more important than ability or talent. The organization has not put these young players in a posttion to succeed. They have been called out in the media, chastised on the court, victims of the one mistake rule and not goven defined roles or consistent playing time. Hell I am a 50 year pold man and I could not thrive under those condition. And while seniority has its privi;eges and veterans are given leeway, it can't be so out of line that the team has no standard of on court behavior. Jamison, James and Byutler periodically have terrible shot selection and go one on one a significant amount of possesions (but never at the rim).

With regard to youthful behavior, part of that has tp be the culture of the team. You got to be more specific than Romper Room because 20 year olds have different personalities than 30 year olds, does not always mean it is irresponsibl, incommitted or immature (could be just a age difference). I see vetrans all of the time joking, doing the low crouch multipe hand slap, doing the latest dap or whatever.

BUT MORE IMPORTANT IF THAT IS THE CASE, CALL THEM OUT IN THE LOCKER ROOM IN PRIVATE. TO GO PUBLIC WITH THAT KIND OF COMMENT IS A DIVISIVE PUNK MOVE. HOW DO YOU BUILD TEAM COHESIVENESS WOTH THAT KIND OF ENVIRONMENT. THIS YEAR HAS BEEN ABOUT THE FUTURE 30 GAMES AGO, TOO BAD THIS SHORTSIGHTEDS ORGANIZATION DID NOT GET IT.

Posted by: NewManagement | March 13, 2009 6:32 PM

Ivan, best wishes in your new work. I've appreciated your coverage.

Posted by: 7snider7 | March 13, 2009 6:44 PM

"Couldn't disagree more. If someone is a professional at work, then they're a professional at work all day. They don't act like a professional when they get there in the morning, then become a no-caring slacker after lunch."

A losing culture does not mean being a "no-caring slacker". A losing culture refers to coming into a game and not expecting a win, and it refers to the reaction of near-inevitability following adverse events during a game. It refers to being desensitized to a loss. It refers to accepting the fact that your team is bad, despite seemingly anything you try to do.

You can be professional and diligent in film study, pre-game rituals, and practice sessions while still maintaining a culture of losing. They are not mutually exclusive. The Celtics had a horrible losing culture prior to last season. That doesn't mean that Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Delonte West, or Al Jefferson were unprofessional. It goes beyond a player's actions and work ethic.

Early in the season, the players truly believed they were a playoff caliber team. They were mystified as to why they were losing so bad. Judging by Ivan's posts, they were genuinely upset at how their games were unfolding.

Now, it seems as if those feelings have disappeared for the most part. Only Jamison publicly voices his frustrations. Songaila is the only other player Ivan has singled out as feeling the pain of a loss, and according to him, he "can't say that about many of the players on this team." That directly refers to being desensitized to the results. Their play on the court certainly suggests they hit the point of inevitability, where if the opposition makes a run, the Wizards rarely respond strong. And I highly doubt this team walks into games expecting to beat a majority of teams in the league, unlike in the beginning of the season.

To me, it all points to a losing culture.

Posted by: psps23 | March 13, 2009 7:11 PM

A minus for Songaila.

In all these cases, I think a player's performance should be measured against his percentage of the salary cap. The greater a players share of the cap, the more a team is counting on that player.

Songaila's put up so-so numbers, and has played up to his ability level; he doesn't make a lot of stupid mistakes. He picks his shots well.

He doesn't win games, but he doesn't turn the ball over.

If Songaila was providing the same contribution as an 7th or 8th guy off the bench, most would be happy with what he brings to the floor. He's a solid NBA role player. If he wasn't on the Wizards roster, he'd still find 15-20 minutes on a number of other NBA teams.

Posted by: JPRS | March 13, 2009 7:21 PM

As far as the losing goes, I think a big part of this is that the Wiz have $30+ mill. that's basically been IR'd this year.

That's enough money to get two NBA All-Stars, or one Superstar, and a solid reserve.

As far as these grades go too, I think the rest of the roster is being dragged down by the four "F's" at key positions on the IR.

Amongst the active players the only real disappointment has been Mike James. He was brought in to help with the perimeter game and ball-handling. Yet, Caron leads the team in assists; and MJ's shooting percentage has been below the league average from 3-point land. He's hit some nights, but he's gone on some pretty nasty cold streaks. I'd give him a D+. Everyone else on the active roster I'd give a C or better. Pech gets an Incomplete.

Posted by: JPRS | March 13, 2009 7:35 PM

Good luck Ivan.
It seems the veteranson this team spend a great deal of time pointing fingers and placing blame. If you are a veteran, play the most, and can take as many bad shots as you want without repercussions, why isn't it your lockerroom? Why don't you simply say I don't want any horseplay in here? Could it be you are protecting your minutes?

Posted by: bozomoeman | March 13, 2009 7:40 PM

kalo_rama:

I like CRITTENTON also. As I've said numerous times, I think he the answer at PG in three years with or without ARENAS.

As much as I admire SONGAILA for his approach to the game, I think he's gone in two when his contract's up.

Posted by: glawrence007 | March 13, 2009 10:09 PM

If the kids are immature, don't study or fail to work hard, ship them out. Or one of them, which might make the others fall in line. Given Mcguire's steady improvement in many facets this year, I doubt he is the problem. That leaves Mcgee, Young and Blatche. Mcgee has too much potential, pedigree and plays too hard on both ends to trade. That leaves Blatche and Young. While Blatche has shown some improvement, dude hasn't done anything to better his conditioning or physique. He's gone from a skinny, underfed, underconditioned kid to a... skinny, underfed, underconditioned adult. A classic underachiever. Meanwhile, Young, despite that killer fade-away and the occasional (& more often than not, forced & ill-conceived) dunk, has also been a disappointment. Rather than enter the ebb and flow of team play, he still, almost two years in, seems entirely self-obsessed. He is overly demonstrative with his facial expressions when he's fouled, misses or makes a shot, like s performer who believes all eyes are on him. Anyone who has ever played a pick-up game has played with guys like him: the guy who hovers on the outside, plays no D, never mixes it up, but shoots every time he touches the ball. He has made no real progress in his passing game or defense after nearly 150 games at professional level. Moreover, he is immature in interviews and doesn't seem to have mastery of the intricacies of team ball. Maybe one of he two should be shipped, if for nothing else than to keep the other rookies / 2-yearers nervous. Whoever we draft this year, I hope fire, character and dedication are part of the criteria.

Posted by: SammyT1 | March 14, 2009 12:04 AM

It's the coach's job to make sure the Youngins are prepared for games. Tap cannot be retained.

Posted by: BulletsFan1 | March 14, 2009 4:02 AM

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