Bullets Fever

A blog and community website for the Washington Wizards and their fans.

Friday, September 29, 2006


Marc Stein has been one of my favorite ESPN.com writers, even after becoming active in the sports blogosphere. However, I have to take issue to his first power rankings column that came out recently. Considering that I'm not the first blogger to do this (seriously, Kings at #21?), it certainly makes you wonder what Stein was thinking.

In the column, Stein puts the Wizards at 18th. 18th! That would be 8th in the east, behind teams like the Lakers, Jazz, Bucks, Pacers, and, get this, the Warriors!

Stein's blurb on the Wizards was as follows.
No one expects tiny Wiz to challenge Miami for the division title. But we do demand a big rebound from Arenas after his FT playoff nightmare and Team USA snip.
Hard hitting analysis, thy name is Marc Stein! In reality, Stein is one of the many sportswriters out there who simplify the Wizards as Gilbert Arenas and the 11 dwarfes. In reality, the Wizards have three potential 20 point scorers; the best scoring guard in the league save for Kobe, Wade, and LeBron, a consistent double-double threat at power forward, one of the best young two-way players in the game, and a series of players who fill their roles effectively. This is what some of the teams ahead of the Wizards have.

10. New Orleans-A superstar point guard, a decent power forward that played out of his mind last year, a free-agent wing scorer who's production has been going down for three years straight, a big man who has never fulfilled his potential, and an inconsistent set of surrounding players.

12. LA Lakers-One superstar shooting guard, a solid small forward, Kwame Brown, Smush Parker, Vladimir Radmanovic, and a bunch of nobodys.

13. Golden State-A consistent 30 win team with a new coach. Still have a maturing shooting guard, an overrated point guard, and a bunch of surrounding pieces that have never fit correctly. Don Nelson isn't going to be able to change this mess overnight. To have Golden State ahead of the Wizards is simply ludicrious and makes you wonder whether Stein has been high all summer.

Here are the ones that really get me. One can legitimately argue New Orleans and the Lakers as being better than the Wizards. The Golden State ranking is so ludicrious that I'd rather not even bother touching it (thankfully, SacTown Royalty has). But how can Stein argue Indiana and Milwaukee over the Wizards. Let's see how he does it.
16. Indiana-Clutch as it was to snare Harrington, starting fast would be one of our man Carlisle's best tricks yet, given that Pacers have to work in, oh, about 10 new faces.
Not only do the Pacers have to work in so many new faces, but they are still starting Jamaal Tinsley and Stephen Jackson at the guards. Losing Fred Jones and replacing him with Marquis Daniels is a downgrade in my eyes. More importantly, however, one can look at the Wizards of 05-06 as a case study when analyzing Indiana. The Wizards took a long time to find the right combination after being forced to make key lineup changes due to offseason moves. I think it's unrealistic to expect Indiana to easily break in Al Harrington and Danny Granger at forwards while also figuring out how to use Marquis Daniels and Darrell Armstrong in the backcourt. Widescale transition, even with talented players, is always a challenge. Indiana will struggle to return to the playoffs this season.
17. Milwaukee-Praise for the Charlie V. trade was nearly unanimous. But Stotts' seat is warming, as he'll be expected to do more with a more mobile frontcourt.
I was a big fan of the Villanueva trade in the offseason. To get a young and promising big like Villanueva for a part-time point guard like Ford was a real coup. However, neither Villanueva or Andrew Bogut is ready yet to be the big-time complimentary scorer to take the pressure off Michael Redd. They're still only each in their second year and have a ways to go before they can be as effective as Antwan Jamison is for the Wizards. More importantly, the Bucks don't have a point guard. Maurice Williams is a nice spark off the bench, but he has never been an NBA starting point guard. The Bucks better hope Charlie Bell or Steve Blake can be a starting-quality point guard, because otherwise, who will get Redd and the bigs the ball. I expect Milwaukee to have a similar year to last year.

Putting Milwaukee and Indiana ahead of Washington is insane. Both teams were worse than the Wizards last year and are undergoing serious foundational changes. The Wizards should be even better this year, considering their early-season struggles had to do with fitting in a number of new faces. I'd put the Wizards all the way up at #11 in the power rankings, and possibly even higher. Putting them 18th, behind teams like Indiana, Golden State, and Milwaukee, is just crazy to me.

Agree? Disagree? Where would you put the Wizards on your power rankings?

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Analyzing the Competition

Jumping from 13 wins to 26 wins doesn't really seem like much, but the Atlanta Hawks did double their win total from last season. There were lots of positive developments last year. Lost among the sudden emergence of Boris Diaw in Phoenix last year was that Joe Johnson, the man Diaw was traded for, had a really good season. Before the trade, many scoffed that Johnson was simply a decent player in an inflated system, but he proved his critics wrong last year and has become a borderline all-star for the Hawks. His strong play on Team USA should only mean better things for Atlanta. Josh Smith also emerged to a point last year, posting some crazy blocked shot numbers while improving his scoring. Marvin Williams struggled in his first year, but with the trade of Al Harrington, Williams should finally get the minutes he needs to succeed.

Additions: Speedy Claxton (FA-New Orleans), Lorenzen Wright (FA-Memphis), Shelden Williams (Draft 1-5), Solomon Jones (Draft 2-32)

Subtractions: Al Harrington (Trade-Indiana), John Edwards (Trade-Indiana)

The Hawks remind me in a lot of ways of those mid-90s Bullets teams. In spite of their teams' front offices, both clubs have an incredible amount of young talent. At the time, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Rasheed Wallace were three of the best young forwards in the game. The problem was they all played the same position. Likewise, Atlanta has some real talent in Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, and Shelden Williams, but they all play the same position. It makes for a strange situation.

Both teams had chances to fill their point guard role through the draft. It seems hard to believe now, but the Wizards could have taken Damon Stoudamire instead of Wallace in the 1995 draft (of course, they also could have had Kevin Garnett, but I digress). That type of thing never would have happened, but it's worth thinking about. Atlanta, of course, could have had Chris Paul instead of Marvin Williams. That's definetly a more catastrophic error.

Still, I see Atlanta making more improvements. In 1996, the Bullets went from 21 wins to 39. Veterans Robert Pack and Brent Price manned the point. They weren't a playoff team, but they were pretty close. Atlanta made a shrewd move in signing Speedy Claxton, another veteran who can man the point position. Claxton is no Chris Paul, but he is an upgrade over Tyronn Lue. Lorenzen Wright is going to help at center, and one of the two Williamses should be at least serviceable at power forward. Add in projected improvements from Johnson and Smith and the Hawks should be dangerous. As long as Johnson and Smith stay healthy, the Hawks have too much talent to finish with a win total in the mid 20s.

With shrewder front office moves, however, this could have been a title contender for many years. Like the Bullets of the mid 90s, the Hawks front office made some dumb moves, such as failing to draft Chris Paul or Randy Foye in back-to-back years. In the meantime, however, I think there's too much talent for there not to be improvement. Atlanta was good at staying in games last year, but bad at finishing. This year, I expect to see more wins, but not enough to make the playoffs. Think Bullets circa 1996-97.

Prediction: 37-45, third in the Southeast.

Think I screwed this one up? Let me know. How many wins do you think Atlanta will have this year?

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Remember Gheorghe?

One of the hallmarks of the mid-1990s Washington Bullets teams that I fell in love with was none other than Gheorghe Muresan, the tallest player to ever play in the NBA. Muresan was always the pet project of coach Jim Lynam. Despite having three of the best young forwards in basketball in Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Rasheed Wallace, Lynam kept playing Muresan at center in the hope that he could become a dominant force. In 1996, Muresan came as close as he would come. He nearly averaged a double-double (14.5 points, 9.6 rebounds), sprinkled in 2.3 blocked shots a game, and shot 58 percent from the field. His player-efficiency rating that season was a 21.00. By comparison, had that been this year, Muresan would have been ahead of guys like Mehmet Okur, Jermaine O'Neal, Boris Diaw, and Brad Miller. He won the league's Most Improved Player award and seemed ticketed for a long NBA career. Unfortunately for the Bullets, Muresan's knees gave out, and after a brief stint in New Jersey, he faded into the sunset.

I was thinking of Muresan recently because I wonder what would happen if Muresan was the center on this year's team. Say you replaced Brendan Haywood with a 1996 version of Muresan. How much better would the team be? How much better would the defense be? Would it be good enough to prevent LeBron and his teammates from going to the rim at will? It's definetly an interesting thing to think about.

Personally, if the Wizards had the 1996 version of Muresan, they would be a Finals contender. Muresan was good enough to be our Zydrunas Ilgauskas; our reliable low-post scorer and rebounder. Gheorge is also a better rebounder and shot blocker than Big Z, which would significantly improve our defense. Considering the gambling nature of our perimeter players, a presence like Muresan would help incredibly. I'd say the Wizards would certainly be good enough to defeat Miami with a healthy Gheorghe, and certainly could beat Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and New Jersey.

Alas, it will never happen. But it's still interesting to think about.

How different do you think the Wizards would be if Gheorghe Muresan was the starting center instead of Brendan Haywood?

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Monday, September 25, 2006

The 2 for 1 swap

For the second time in as many years, the Wizards lost a key member of their starting lineup from the previous season in the off-season. In 2005, it was unrestricted free agent Larry Hughes signing a 5 year, 70 million dollar contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This season, it was restricted free agent Jared Jeffries signing a 5 year, 30 million dollar contract with the New York Knicks.

There are a variety of ways a team can deal with the loss of a key starter. Most of the time, the team will try to replace the player with a cheaper alternative. One recent example is Detroit signing Nazr Mohammad after losing Ben Wallace to the Bulls. For 30 million dollars less, the Pistons got a center who isn't quite as good as Wallace, but at least will be serviceable. The Phoenix Suns also did this last offseason. They traded starting shooting guard Joe Johnson to the Atlanta Hawks and replaced him with Raja Bell. Bell ultimately proved to be nearly as good a fit as Johnson, but came with a significantly lower price tag.

Teams also sometimes try to replace the talent lost with similar talent. An example of this is the Pacers signing Al Harrington after losing Peja Stojakovic to the Hornets. Harrington may have slightly different skills than Stojakovic, but the Pacers would most likely content that both players' overall talent is very similar. Another example with the 2006 offseason is the Los Angeles Clippers replacing Vladimir Radmanovic with Tim Thomas. While neither player is a starter, they both have very similar talent levels, as indicated by their nearly identical mid-level contracts.

Sometimes, the team will promote a rookie or a non-starter to the spot. The Sacramento Kings went this route in the offseason. They made little effort to re-sign starting shooting guard Bonzi Wells, electing instead to promote second-string shooting guard Kevin Martin to the starting job. Milwaukee also exercised this option, electing to promote Maurice Williams to the starting point guard job after trading T.J. Ford.

But the Wizards didn't go down any of those routes when replacing their key starters. Instead, realizing that no one player would be a good enough replacement, they engaged in a "two for one trade." Instead of signing only one player, the Wizards decided to acquire two cheaper players to collectively fill the void of the lost starter.

In 2005, signing Larry Hughes would have killed the Wizards payroll flexibility, so Ernie Grunfeld made the wise decision to let Hughes walk to the Cavaliers. However, losing Hughes was a significant blow to the Wizards. Hughes' mid-range and slashing scoring ability would be missed, and so would his defense and his ball-handling. No one player on the free agent market could have possibly replaced all that Hughes offered to the 2005 Wizards. Knowing this, Ernie Grunfeld decided to fill Hughes role with 2 players. He traded for Caron Butler, someone who could help replace Hughes slashing and scoring ability, and then signed Antonio Daniels, a player who could help replace Hughes' playmaking ability.

This offseason, the Wizards explored the same route. The Knicks swooped in quickly on restricted free agent Jared Jeffries, offering him their full mid-level exception. Instead of matching the offer, Grunfeld again went out to search for alternatives. The Wizards would miss Jeffries post defense and wing defense next season, but 30 million dollars was too much to pay for a poor offensive player. Instead, the Wizards signed Darius Songalia to replace Jeffries' post defense, and later signed DeShaun Stevenson to replace Jeffries perimeter defense.

The most logical question is, does this method work? Economically speaking, Grunfeld's bargain-basement scouring has ultimately proved to be very successful so far. Butler has emerged as a better scorer and defender than Hughes, and Daniels has found his stride as a key reserve. On the court, however, it took a while for the new pieces to gell. The Wizards started out very slowly last year. Butler's talents were being wasted on the bench, and Daniels was struggling to find his role. It was only in the second half of the season that Butler starting tearing it up and Daniels found his role. The end result was a team that, while at times better than in 2005, ultimately won 3 fewer games and failed to return to the second round of the playoffs.

What can we expect, then, from this offseason's two-for-one during the season? Like last year, it wouldn't shock me for the Wizards to struggle to find roles for all their players, in addition to just Songalia and Stevenson. Jarvis Hayes, hurt for much of last year, is back, and the Wizards also expect to move Andray Blache into the rotation. With all that uncertainty, it may take a while for Eddie Jordan to settle on a rotation.

That being said, the Wizards should not struggle nearly as much as they did last season. Last year, the Wizards spend half the year trying to replace Hughes' scoring. Butler didn't emerge as a key offensive option until late in the year. This season, the Wizards will have no trouble scoring, with Butler having emerged alongside Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Defense may be an issue, but Butler is already as good a perimeter defender as Jeffries, and Songalia is a perfect fit for the Wizards scheme. In the end, the two-for-one shouldn't hurt the Wizards too much. They should make the playoffs (not finish with 36 wins, End of the Bench!), and win around 50 games.

Do you think the 2 for 1 swap this offseason will work? Will the Wizards have trouble replacing Jeffries?

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

A couple things I forgot...

  • Jim over at The Detroit Pistons Today is doing a big Opening Day Fiasco for the beginning of the NBA season and still needs some writers for specific teams. Essentially, he's having one person for each team write a piece previewing the team and previewing the first game they play during the season. If you're a Bulls, Mavericks, Warriors, Pacers, Lakers, Heat, Magic, 76ers, Kings, Spurs, or Sonics fan, be sure to e-mail Jim at bigmaninthepost@aol.com, because those teams are not taken yet.
  • Speaking of season previews, I'll be talking Wizards with Ryan McNeil on his Hoops Addict Podcast at some point before the beginning of the season. The actual date is still up in the air, but stay posted.

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Wiz Links

Shanah Tovah to everyone celebrating Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new year! I probably shouldn't be on the computer posting, considering this and being ill, but I'm here anyway for some Wiz links.

-The Washington Post reported Friday that first-round pick Oleksiy Pecherov is likely to be left overseas to play for his Ukranian team.

"The Washington Wizards have less than two weeks before they open training camp in Richmond, and while they have yet to make an official decision regarding first-round pick Oleksiy Pecherov , it is becoming more likely that the 7-footer will remain overseas for the upcoming season.

Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld said yesterday that the team is "debating the best thing to do" in regards to Pecherov, who averaged 12.6 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent in five games with the Wizards' summer league team in Las Vegas in July."

I think the move makes a lot of sense. With Darius Songalia and Andray Blache expected to be the primary backups to Antwan Jamison, there's no need for Pecherov to be brought over only to rot on the bench. Give him another year of seasoning and bring him back next year. With Jamison being a free agent at the end of the season, Pecherov may be an extremely important part of the Wizards plans next year.

-ESPN's Marc Stein rated the Wizards as having the 9th best offseason in the Eastern Conference.

"On the surface, it looks as though the Wiz absorbed a significant free-agent defection for the second successive offseason.

On this scorecard, they've responded to Jared Jeffries' exit smartly, reminiscent of their counter to Hughes' big-money move to Cleveland. The Wiz decided they were better off replacing Hughes with two more affordable players (Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels) and have swung a similar two-for-one by using some of the money earmarked for Jeffries to bring in forward Darius Songaila (a good fit for Eddie Jordan's offense) and swingman DeShawn Stevenson.

They also extended Jordan's contract and, in perhaps the biggest development, should benefit from a Team USA snub that figures to have Gilbert Arenas starting the season at his chip-on-the-shoulder best. The Wiz still have to get bigger up front and drastically improve their defense -- chores that likely will require some creative (and lucky) trading -- but I see a better team than the one that lost three playoff games to the Cavs at the buzzer."

Considering all the praise that Stein gives the Wizards, 9th is an odd ranking to me, but then again, this is the same guy who said Miami had the best offseason despite not adding a single player.

-Kelly Dwyer of CNNSI
puts the pressure on Gilbert Arenas for this upcoming season.

In spite of his recent pronouncements, we still think Gilbert has his head in the right place. He should have been on Team USA's latest incarnation, and while he could have handled his dismissal a little better, he also could have brought home the gold medal. Either way, with Washington having made precious few moves outside of adding Darius Songaila (a great find, especially for its Princeton offense) and DeShawn Stevenson, Arenas will find the onus on himself to lead his team closer to 50 wins.
Finally, this is very old news, but it appears that former Bullets super (evil) fan Robin Ficker is running as an independent for the county executive. In the old US Air Arena, Ficker used to sit behind the opposing team's bench and spend the entire game berating and insulting them. Apparently, he is a very active anti-tax advocate and now apparantly wants to get his views out to the public in politics.

By the way, in case anyone was wondering, this is where the blog gets its name.

What do you think the Wizards should do with Oleksiy Pecherov?

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Thursday, September 21, 2006


Welcome to Bullets Fever, your source for everything on the Washington Wizards. My name is Mike, but you can refer to me as Pradamaster. I have another site I run called The Gatorade Dump that some of you are probably familiar with, but I started this blog because I needed an outlet to follow the Wizards.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am a 19 year old sophomore at Brandeis University, a small liberal arts school in Waltham, Massachusetts (about 15 minutes outside of Boston). I grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, a well-known Maryland suburb located just outside of Washington DC. The Bullets/Wizards have been a part of my life for about as long as I can remember. The first time I can really remember the Bullets was in the mid-90s, when they played in the run-down US Air Arena with old Wes Unseld as the coach. My dad used to get season tickets and I'd get to go to about a quarter or a third of the home games. For some reason, I immediately fell in love, even though the Bullets were so bad. Over the rest of the 1990s, I'd go to more and more games, even getting tickets to see Game 3 of the 1997 first round series against the Bulls. As the Bullets became the Wizards and moved into a new arena, I kept going. Even during the Jordan years, I was there.

Eventually, tickets got so expensive that I had to watch on TV and only go to a couple games a year. Now that I'm in college with nary enough money to buy a television, it's even harder to follow my team. This is why I'm starting this blog. As an aspiring sports journalist, my dream job would be to cover the Wizards for a living.

But enough about me. What is the purpose of this blog?

Besides providing you with Wizards news and commentary, I want to create a community atmosphere here. I admire so many sites in the NBA blogosphere, and I also admire all the fans that have been with the Washington franchise for even longer than I have. For you guys, I'm hoping Bullets Fever can be your outlet. At the end of every entry, I'm going to post a question where I want your feedback (a la Golden State of Mind, one of my favorites). The idea of this blog is for it to be a community, so I want to hear your feedback.

For now, I'll leave you with this clip of the infamous 1994 Washington Bullets, featuring Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and rookie Rasheed Wallace.

When is your first Wizards/Bullets memory?

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