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News » Whither the Wizards?

Whither the Wizards?

Whither the Wizards?
Basketball REPORTER

Chris Bosh is not a religious guy. More spiritual he says.

But in the year of the fall, as the Raptors hope to rise again, even Bosh knows that all resurrections are not created equally.

Last night, Good Friday, the Washington Wizards were at the Air Canada Centre. Think the Raptors have had a disappointing season?

The Wizards's best player, Gilbert Arenas, signed a six-year, $111-million contract and missed the season after undergoing his third surgery on the same knee. Their defensive anchor, Brendan Haywood, played his fifth game last night after missing the first 74 with a wrist injury. They started their season 1-10 and fired their coach.

"It's just one of those years for them: a couple injuries, them not being healthy and things not clicking," said Raptor interim head coach Jay Triano. "There's a little bit of a parallel [to] our season in some ways."

But if you could describe an 18-61 team as buoyant, the Wizards are it.

"We're optimistic," said Wizards forward Caron Butler. "We're going to finish out this season strong. We're going to get our core guys back healthy, and make a run at this thing [next year]."

It's a mantra this time of year in most NBA dressing rooms where expectations have gone unmet. But in Washington it's not just talk.

In addition to their core - Arenas, Butler, Haywood and Antawn Jamison - the Wizards dismal season means they're slotted to pick second in the NBA draft, depending on how the pingpong balls fall at the draft lottery.

It's not often teams that have been in the playoffs for four straight seasons and have had stretches - between injuries to their stars - when they've been among the best teams in the Eastern conference can debate the merits of selecting Oklahoma University star Blake Griffin and Spanish teenager Ricky Rubio.

All of which is worth remembering as the Raptors contemplate their own 2008-09 season. Because they weren't so bad, they likely won't have the chance to pick one the handful of players that can make a difference and who will be available in the draft. Because they lack some of the staples the Wizards have - elite scorers at three positions and a commanding defensive big man to back them up - how good can they be?

It's not that the Eastern Conference is going to stand still while the Raptors go about the business of improving. Bosh has been around long enough to know that much. The Wizards are just one of the Eastern Conference's lottery-bound caste to have realistic visions of getting better.

"I think it's definitely getting a lot tougher in the East. I think the tide is starting to turn. You have to play a lot better Basketball. Teams are getting a lot better. I think next year, there are a lot of teams that want to build on things," Bosh said. "I know we want to build on things, Indiana does, Charlotte, they're starting to turn the corner, and New York, too. It's New York, they have to try to have a good team every year."

So, as the Raptors head into the off-season trying to regain the momentum the franchise seemed to be growing, it's worth remembering the best-laid plans have a way of falling flat. After 'slumping' to 41 wins last season the Raptors thought the answer was in solving chemistry problems and adding defensive toughness and rebounding by sending T.J. Ford to Indiana in return for Jermaine O'Neal.

The Raptors seemed like they might be better through addition and subtraction. It didn't happen.

"You're thinking some days, 'Well, if we get better at this, we'll do this.' You're not thinking that you have to stay consistent at everything else. I think that's what's key. Sometimes you just have to work at what you have. Maybe bringing in certain players or having a certain philosophy doesn't target what you need to get done," said Bosh.

"Sometimes it doesn't fit. And I think Jermaine understands that. He was paying attention to that. He was aware. Sometimes even though we have good guys and we have good players, the chemistry just doesn't fit. You don't know why and you try, but it just doesn't work that way."

Thoughts to consider as the Raptors reflect on their fall and just maybe make plans to rise again.



notes The Raptors paid tribute to Alvin Williams in the first half. The former Toronto point guard was sitting at centre court in seats normally used by MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum. Andrea Bargnani was a game-time decision, but played despite missing Wednesday's game against Indiana with tendinitis in his heel. Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas was with the club, but didn't play last night as he continues his comeback from knee surgery. Former Raptor Mike James was with the team, but is out for the season after breaking his pinkie finger on his right hand.

Next Tomorrow against

Philadelphia at the Air Canada Centre, 6 p.m. Eastern


Radio The Fan590

Michael Grange

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: April 11, 2009


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