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Five Offseason Concerns: No. 5

5. Do the Wizards hold onto the 'Big Three?'

How much longer will we be smiling together? (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Cleveland Cavaliers aggressively tried to break up the Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison trio, dangling the expiring contract of Wally Szczerbiak at the trade deadline in hopes that the Wizards would crack with a lousy record and mounting luxury tax penalty and gift-wrap Jamison to Ohio. Grunfeld also got calls for Butler near the deadline, but he continued to hold on, believing that this season was an anomaly, not the reality.

The Wizards have held onto the trio because they have been relatively successful together. Problem is, they have not been able to be healthy together. Since Butler arrived in the summer of 2005, Jamison, Butler and Arenas have combined to make six all-star appearances, but they have only started together in 115 out of a possible 328 games (aside from Arenas missing basically the past two seasons because of injuries, Eddie Jordan didn't start Butler until he had fully grasped the Princeton offense, which led to the Wizards early struggles in 2005-06). But think about that? That's almost one-third of the games played in the past four seasons.

Arenas, Butler and Jamison are 67-48 when they starts together, which would put the Wizards on a 48-win pace. But when is good health really going to happen for this trio? Jamison is generally pretty durable -- he's only missed more than 14 games one time in his career (in 1999-00) and has played 79 or more seven times -- but he is getting older. Butler has averaged 19 games missed the past three seasons, and Arenas's knee problems have been well-documented.

Since Arenas suffered his left knee injury on April 4, 2007, the trio has started 10 games together and is 4-6.

Despite his two-game cameo this season, his health remains a major issue for the organization. The Wizards still don't know what Arenas will play like next year -- will he be Agent Zero or Gilbert Nash?

The Wizards have more than $78 million committed to Arenas, Jamison and Butler through 2010-11. No team is going to touch Arenas's $111 contract, so that leaves Grunfeld with the choice of keeping Butler, who is younger and entering his prime, or Jamison, who is getting older but a favorite of owner Abe Pollin. Grunfeld will likely hold on to all three through the summer, but if this team cannot stay healthy or doesn't look like it can be a serious contender by next February, he'll have to do something at the deadline, right? Otherwise, you're just holding on to a fantasy.

By Michael Lee  |  April 20, 2009; 4:00 PM ET
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Next: Flip Update


Mike whats the news on Flip

Posted by: brandonjamal13 | April 20, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

What you said, Mike. You gotta give the group one final chance to perform together. Add a piece to the rotation via draft or trade and see what you have. If it doesn't take or if someone gets hurt again, you probably have to blow it up and start over next summer (when a bunch of teams will be flush with cap room and can absorb one of these guys). But for now, stay the course, strengthen to rotation and PRAY for some well-deserved good health.

Posted by: TheFunBunch | April 20, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse

There's no reason to trade them right now, because the cap space they could potentially open up won't be available until next offseason. If next season is another lost one, we can trade Tuff Juice and Tawn at the trade deadline for youth and expiring contracts.

Posted by: Dellis2 | April 20, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Biggest Offseason Question - Can the Wizards find a real medical staff?

Posted by: mohammed10 | April 20, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

No point in breaking up the 'Big Three' until the All-Star break unless trading Butler and the No. 1 will greatly improve the team. If Arenas is unable to return at close to his old form, breaking up the three and preparing for FA in 2010 makes the most sense. At this point, it's basically wait another year and see if the team can stay healthy (but haven't we been saying that since the end of the 2007 season?)

Posted by: wizfan89 | April 20, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Question, Mike:

To play the unfortunate role of devils advocate, lets say the big 3 don't work out. For one reason or another, call it health or production -- this team just isn't producing next season... what happens to Grunfield? I love what he did to the team after Jordan left, but now it's time to see some real results. He's got his coach, his players, his staff... what else is there? When is the question going to be "what happens to Grunfield" instead of "what is Grunfield going to do?"???

Posted by: wizfan305 | April 20, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I guess I don't think Grunfeld has a choice. He arrived in Washington in June 2003, so this ain't his first spring cotillion. He had several very good seasons and one really putrid one. He bet the ranch on these three guys, so his only chance to turn it around this year is to hang on to vets like Stevenson and Songaila and Haywood, and hope the thing doesn't collapse.

If the Wiz don't make the playoffs, I would expect Ernie to be replaced. Fair or unfair, that's what I'd expect from Abe Pollin.

So it's the coach and the rookie -- those are the changes he can make. Anything else would surprise me.

Posted by: Samson151 | April 20, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Deadline next year. If things aren't clicking Grunfeld pulls the trigger.

Posted by: flohrtv | April 20, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

The Wizards needed to move Jamison to free up room to bring in a more rugged power forward who could upgrade this team on the defensive end of the floor. That move could have been supplemented with the right draft pick in the lottery.

Jamison at 32 still had good trade value as he was healthy and put up excellent numbers, numbers which one would expect will start to decline with age.

In sports, it's all about knowing WHEN to acquire and WHEN to move certain players.

The Suns acquired Shaq at the wrong time in his career.

The Pistons made a horrible deal for Allen Iverson.

These teams got stuck with aging ballplayers far beyond their primes that were no longer motivated to do what they had done earlier in their careers.

While I don't see Jamison's work ethic as something that will flag, it would be surprising if his numbers in 2009-2010 are as good as they were this year or if he stays as healthy as he did.

His fine 2008-2009 season was the perfect lead-in to trade him for maximum impact.

Posted by: leopard09 | April 20, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree, Samson151. It's pretty clear what the management agenda is with this team, and phase 1 rebuilding doesn't appear to be on the list. Pollin has insisted on holding onto these cards through three years of injury and disappointment. He's not going to fold now. And even if he wanted to, his odds of getting better cards don't appear to be very good.

Posted by: kalo_rama | April 20, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

"The Pistons made a horrible deal for Allen Iverson."

Depends on why the deal was made. I'm fairly certain that the deal was more about getting Iverson's $20 mill expiring contract (and adding it to Rasheed's $13 mill expiring deal) than it was about any slim hope that they could win a title with Iverson. On that score, it was definitely the right time to make the deal.

The Pistons aren't stuck with Iverson. Win or lose, he was gone after this season and everyone knew it.

Posted by: kalo_rama | April 20, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

This question sucks. The big 3 is reaching the culmination of a 5 year plan. Only an idiot would break it up as it hits its expected payoff.

Dan Snyder on the other hand...

Posted by: UltimateFootballNetwork | April 20, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Also, keep in mind, the Big 3 starting together has a 48 win pace, although they have all improved since then and back then the bench was Dixon, Hayes, and Ruffin.

This team is deeper, more talented, more athletic, and more experienced than the group that was on pace for 48 victories. 48 wins would have been the 4 seed in the East this season.

Relax folks. The Wiz are contenders right now if healthy.

Posted by: UltimateFootballNetwork | April 20, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

His fine 2008-2009 season was the perfect lead-in to trade him for maximum impact.

Posted by: leopard09 | April 20, 2009 5:12 PM

Well said, though it would be a shame to see ATJ go, very classy player.

However, dude is a defensive liability and if you are in denial on that, please wake up. Dude gets a good amount of defensive rebounds, but hes not a banger that makes sense in the East right now (think Varejao, Howard, Leon Powe etc).

I really like ATJ and his production, but in a move for the future, moving him after his great season this year might be the right move (add tons more emphasis to this if we win the lottery on 5/19).

Now, if we could only figure out how to rid ourselves of Etan and Mike James.

Posted by: m1ke3i6 | April 20, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Kal and Sam,

I agree with your posts. Not much to do with this roster at the moment, but I think there are some nice pieces on this team that EG put together. Unfortunately, health has possibly derailed any chance of seeing what the full potential of this team could have been. That is not necessarily EG's fault although I was against signing GA to his current contract at it's price from day one. I'm not sure Abe was not calling some of those shots either as he has the say on whom he wants to keep or not keep and at what price.

So, I have to disagree with the assumption that EG has to go or should go if this does not work out. He is the best GM this team has had in ages and who would be the upgrade?

Flip Saunders is an upgrade at the coaching position over EJ. I don't know who would be better than EG that would come to Washington? Plus, like I said it's hard to say how much of this was completely his decision as far as the resignings are concerned. He definitely has found some nice talent in the draft and made some nice trades though! It's not like the cupboard is bare.

Posted by: rphilli721 | April 20, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

If, a BIG if, somehow we can get the number one pick in year's draft - we draft Blake Griffin and we trade Jamison for cap relief or salary plus draft picks.

If we get the number two pick - which I think will happen, we trade the pick plus Jamison to the Knicks for David Lee and draft picks, or we package Jamison/#2 Pick/McGee or Blatche to Toronto for Bosh.

Or I wake up from my self induced fanciful thinking and we end up with pretty much the same squad next season, maybe get to the 2nd round of the playoffs next year and then realize we've hit our ceiling and then dismantle the team in 2-3 years and go through another rebuilding phase for another 5 years. The curse of the Lez Boulez lives on!

Posted by: | April 20, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

rphilli: "So, I have to disagree with the assumption that EG has to go or should go if this does not work out. He is the best GM this team has had in ages and who would be the upgrade?"

I'm not saying he should go -- I'm saying he probably will go. Based solely on my experience of how sole owners of big private companies think when they don't get the outcome they expect.

They 'want a change of direction.' And that always starts at the top.

Of course, in many cases it's the ownership that's the real problem (not just in sports), but you can't cut the guy who signs the checks. So it's the coach, and if that don't do it, it's the GM.

Ernie will have had almost seven full years on the job. In pro sports, that's a lifetime.

Posted by: Samson151 | April 20, 2009 6:27 PM | Report abuse

This question (#5) is really the flip side of question #4 -- do you trade the youngsters?

Do you go all-in with a youth movement? Some commentators have argued that the Wizards should trade the Big 3 and start from scratch. Or do you go all-in with veterans, trading young for old. Hard to support that plan coming off a 19-63 season, and the team is already veteran-laden (9 of the players on the roster have 7 or more seasons of professional basketball experience).

Personally, I think the team has a good mix of young and old.

Posted by: disgruntledfan | April 20, 2009 7:00 PM | Report abuse

The simple answer is no.

The big 3, when healthy, which isn't often, can't get out of the 1st round of the playoffs.

Team needs to be blown up.

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | April 20, 2009 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Kal and Sam,

I too agree that the current situation dictates to stay with the big three for now.

Plus, with the past injuries, everything pans out eventually and as luck might have it, there healthiness might not be a issue this season.

Also, I kinda agree with Rphilli721, that if things donot go as planned he might not necessarily have to go. If he has to go in one year, Abe will never see a championship, which is his passion.

That being said, I think things will go well and the Wizards will be in thick of things next year rendering that scenario moot.

As I have said vociferously in past blogs, this Team is better than a lot of bloggers think.

Flip wasn't my choice, but I donot doubt his competence to get the job done. His flexibility with his pass coaching style is a key and hopefully we get an NBA-ready addition.

This Team also will be one of the deepest Teams in the NBA come next year.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 20, 2009 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Caron, Gilbert, Antawn, Mcguire, and Haywood will win 50 games easily if they all play more than 70 games. W/ Blatche, Dixon, Mcgee Young, Songaila and Crittenton on the bench

Posted by: destewar | April 20, 2009 8:33 PM | Report abuse

Hey DC_Man88,

Lets blow it up. Who we gonna get. You play GM for a day. Now tell what you gonna get in return by blowin up the Team.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 20, 2009 9:12 PM | Report abuse

I don't know how many of you are watchin this Celtic Bull Playoff game, but that is what I mean by Shake and Bake, Push the Ball to the Hoop Basketball.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 20, 2009 9:34 PM | Report abuse

And in case all you basketball purist haven't noticed, most of these playoff games haven't been about about defense and grihd it out halfcourt offense, ITS BEEN ABOUT SCORING THE DAMN BALL.



Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 20, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse



Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 20, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Hey DC_Man88,
Lets blow it up. Who we gonna get. You play GM for a day. Now tell what you gonna get in return by blowin up the Team.

Great personal satisfaction?

Posted by: Samson151 | April 20, 2009 9:51 PM | Report abuse

Watching Ivan Carter at his new gig on Washington Post Live and he is really struggling right now. I'm sorry, but perhaps this was not a good career move.

Posted by: Barno1 | April 20, 2009 11:34 PM | Report abuse

LOL, this team has all of the problems of a star-filled championship team with the record of the bumbling team that they really are

Posted by: ArlingtonHokie | April 21, 2009 7:53 AM | Report abuse

Obviously, stay the course with the Big 3, and get them a little veteran help (plus the Big Blue Chipper Griffith if we get lucky)... Other teams (Phoenix, Detroit) really have to break up their rosters. We don't (yet).

Ivan, if you still follow this blog, hang in there. TV ain't print but you can do it!

Posted by: khrabb | April 21, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Nice series of articles. The biggest imponderable right now is the ability of Arenas to play to form. Someone once said the team was built around you-know-who.

Other than that, what needs to happen in the off-season?

1) Samson and Blatche should go back to school for some learning;
2) Ivan Carter should try to score off Nick Young in a 1-on-1 pick-up game;
3) Kallie and King James should get part-time jobs working for Pampers;
4) Derang and EJ should head for Sacramento; and
5) Mike should get the Post to install an ignore function.

Posted by: Izman | April 21, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Everyone is missing the point. What if Arenas is not healthy? Then the Wizards would not be able to gift wrap him in a trade and they would be stuck with all that money tied up and the franchise is hand strung for years to come unless they are willing to trade Butler or Jamison and package them with several other acid contracts on this team. If Arenas has any more knee trouble, this franchise is going no where for years to come.

Posted by: dandyhuffman | April 21, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Izman: "5) Mike should get the Post to install an ignore function."

Whaddya talking about? There's already an ignore function. It's in the upper right hand corner of the screen, below the...

Wait a minute -- you can't see it?

But I thought everybody had the ignore...

Never mind.

Posted by: Samson151 | April 21, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Why do people keep thinking Mcguire is going to start over Stevenson next year? Assuming our draft pick doesn't start, I don't see why our starting five wouldn't be BTH, AJ, CB, GA, DS2.

Posted by: amalg | April 21, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

And, under the heading of some things never change . . Izman continues to be an idiot.

Posted by: kalo_rama | April 21, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Which, y'know, might not be so bad if he was at least a clever or witty idiot. But alas, 'tis not to be.

Posted by: kalo_rama | April 21, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

While some may argue the biug three are done and the core team may need to be blown up, it wont be. At the same time, the team can not carry 8 youngsters(existing 6 + the next draft choices) "with potential" next year and be successful. To make a serious run with the big 3, the Wiz need to add a veteran big man who can D and get rebounds, plus a top shelf veteran sharp shooter--at a minimum. So Ernie needs to move at least 3 of the 8 aforementioned young assets, maybe 4 or 5 of them. So who stays? McGee and Critter stay for sure and probably at least one of the draft pick assets, plus Im sure Ernie would like to keep DMac--he is so cheap for what you get from him on the floor. That means moving the 4 remaining assets this summer, including the high first round or second round pick, and AB, NY, and Pech. (I agree that ET and MJ can probably not be moved until midseason, close to the trading deadline...maybe get back a draft pick or pick up another veteran sharp shooter.)

These 4 young assets should be pretty attractive to numerous teams, so Ernie will have a very busy and important summer ahead of him. Mark my words...this team will have a very different looking bench next season, with or without Griffin. Ernie cannot afford to wait any longer, or next year will be his last with the Wiz.

Posted by: oddjob2 | April 21, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

"Ernie will have had almost seven full years on the job. In pro sports, that's a lifetime. "

No kidding. In a lot of places he'd be well past the expiration date on a team that hasn't gotten past the first round in 3 years, esp. one that starts out every season with big expectations.

My feeling is that Grunfeld will be on the chopping block if the Wiz don't make a jump forward under Flip because the click is ticking on Pollin and he wants to see results before he checks out. If Grunfeld doesn't deliver this year, I can easily see him bringing in someone who he thinks can get the job done quickly (which Grunfeld clearly hasn't done).

Posted by: kalo_rama | April 21, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Yeah Samson151, the only thing that DC_Man88 would get from blowing up the Team is great satisfaction.

This Team has triple the value than DC_Man gives them credit for, so if he got to be GM for a day, he would get fleeced like a little kid with trading cards that did know their value.

Naw DC_Man88, The Wiz are probably not going to bust up the big three and should not.

So you can continue to give unwarrented analogies that are unproven and certaintly won't ever be born out.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 21, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Yes keep the big three but make sure we have a productive bench to keep pressure on whomever we are playing on any given night. McGuire's a keeper as is McGee, Blatche?,Young? Blatche has all the potential in the world he just doesn't work hard to develop it.Nick has flashes of brilliance and like all young players that brilliance tends to sway from one extreme to the other.I'd be looking to move Mike James along with Pech,Etan might be tougher to move given his overall health and contract.I think this upcomming 09-10 season maybe it for the big three if they don't get it done(move beyond the 2nd round) and it also will put the focus directly on Ernie Grunfeld which is exactly where it should be.

Posted by: dargregmag | April 21, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

"To make a serious run with the big 3, the Wiz need to add a veteran big man who can D and get rebounds, plus a top shelf veteran sharp shooter--at a minimum. So Ernie needs to move at least 3 of the 8 aforementioned young assets, maybe 4 or 5 of them."

ODDJOB2, You are overshooting what we need. We donot need a veteran big man who can get rebounds and D. We only need a big tough guy that can do that. i.e. our #1 pick for Blake Griffin. If not the one, then a lower round guy that does the same, i.e. Tyler Hansbrough and others.

You keep the young guys in tack, because if you get rid of 3-5 of them for this one big guy, you have just subtracted your Team.

We do not need a veteran shooter. We have four of them already. In case you haven't noticed we have four and I mean four veteran players that can shoot the Damn Ball. Gilbert, DStev, Butler, and Jamison. We donot need to be switching up shooters at this point.

Our Draft pick and our coach is where we need to hit it out the park.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 21, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I say keep it for another year. BIG year for the Wiz next season not only for the veterans but also the young guns. There are so many questions to be answered.

Nice to hear that some guys are showing the love, complimenting each other :-)

Posted by: Dave381 | April 21, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Keenly aware that this is just the first round of the playoffs. But across the board, offensive excellence is dominant throughout.

This is not to say that there is no defense and it is not important. As we progress furthur into the playoffs, you will see defense step more to the fore.

But the offensive importance is not to be ignored. You see as all these folks that expouse defense first should be keenly aware that no champion has ever won without superior offensive play first and foremost.

As the playoffs progress the intensity, the pressure, is magnified. Everything is magnified to include offense and defense. Your defense must be played well but if you offense isn't as well you will not be bringing home any championship rings.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 21, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I don't foresee any changes from last year.
GA,CB,AJ,DS,BH starters
NY,DM,DS,AB,ET 2nd unit
JM,Critt,Blake G. back ups.

Posted by: VBFan | April 21, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

"Assuming our draft pick doesn't start, I don't see why our starting five wouldn't be BTH, AJ, CB, GA, DS2.

Posted by: amalg"

Assuming Flip Saunders is the next coach, there's no reason to believe DS would be penciled in as a starter. He's not Eddie Jordan, he's not Ed Tapscott. He's got no loyalty to any of the players that have been here, and he probably doesn't have extensive history of how these guys have played with the team in the past (which played a major role in the long leash that Stevenson got from both Jordan and Tapscott).

I wouldn't be surprised, assuming the roster stays intact, if Nick Young were the penciled in starter for Saunders on day one (along with the big 3 and BTH). I wouldn't be surprised in the least.

Posted by: psps23 | April 21, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

vbfan: "GA,CB,AJ,DS,BH starters
NY,DM,DS,AB,ET 2nd unit
JM,Critt,Blake G. back ups."

Call me crazy, but I feel pretty certain that if we get Griffin, he's starting. If not the first game, then pretty damn quick.

Posted by: Samson151 | April 21, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm for keeping the Big 3 together. I also think that the pups will step up and play because this year the TEAM will be playing for something. All the pups have a good talent base. There focus will be better because hopefully, injury will not be the reason the team underachieves. You know what you gonna get from the starters. The bench(pups) will get caught up in the excitement and ball more to their potential.

Posted by: G-Man11 | April 21, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

DS will make a great backup for DMac next year.

Posted by: jon_quest | April 21, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Call me crazy, but I feel pretty certain that if we get Griffin, he's starting. If not the first game, then pretty damn quick.
Posted by: Samson151 | April 21, 2009 12:40 PM

DOn't forget this is the Wizzies.

Posted by: VBFan | April 21, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Keep the 3 together. Obviously who we keep depends upon who the draft pick is. Best option is that we get Blake Griffen, making Jamison a 6th man and making Blatche expendable. If we get Rubio it is good bye Young. I agree that we might need to seek to package one of our puppies with a pick, if it is a 3-5 selection,to get more experience. Critt, McGee and DMac should be kept unless we get offers we can't refuse. Blatche and Young disappointed me this year. Shop 'em both. Pesh, Juan, Etan, James... let 'em all go if you can.

So we have Flip. Still wish it was Avery. I hope Flip can convince this bunch to commit to an adequate measure of defense. By the way, don't get fooled ya'll by all the offense you see so far in the playoffs. Remember, it gets tougher as each series gets longer and as teams go to the next rounds. Scoring in April is more difficult than in January. And scoring in June is more difficult than in April. Because these players are so good, the teams that advance are the ones that learn to make defensive adjustments that keep non-stars from having major impacts on games. I don't think that the Bulls guards will be scoring 35-40 points as the series gets longer. Celts will neutralize them. They will have to adjust. Good defensive teams take away what you are doing. That's what is so great about this league in the springtime! That is why I always say that there is nothing in March madness that can compare to the NBA playoffs.


Posted by: stanlong23 | April 21, 2009 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Therein lies the rub "...but a favorite of owner Abe Pollin."

Posted by: renostaging2005 | April 22, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

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