'R' word getting old in D.C.

The Sports Xchange
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It's been four years since the Washington Wizards made the playoffs, and frankly, Wizards fans are getting a little tired of hearing the word "rebuilding." It's been team's mantra ever since their plan to take their own version of a Big Three -- Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler -- deep into the playoffs for years to come.

But the plan fell apart nearly two seasons ago due to injuries, and Arenas' legal troubles, and the first version of the rebuild began. Unfortunately, it began with the kind of players who turned out to be too immature to be serious cornerstones of any type of rebuild, namely center JaVale McGee, guard Nick Young, and forward Andray Blatche.

Recognizing the need for some veteran leadership, and the presence of a few grownups in the locker room, and on the court, the Wizards shipped Young to the L.A. Clippers and McGee to the Denver Nuggets, and added 10-year veteran Nene to the roster. From the day the trade was made, the difference in franchise point guard John Wall was immediate and obvious. Wall enjoys playing with Nene, far more than he did with McGee.

"He's just a big man that knows where to be," Wall said. "You can throw the ball in the post and not have to worry that it will never come back out again."

Wall had lot of growing pains last season, and is just now adjusting to all the pressure put on him last year to become the face of the franchise from day one of his NBA career. This year, Wall's leadership skills have improved significantly.

He has gained the confidence of coach Randy Wittman to call plays on his own, and not have to look to the bench when he's on the floor running the team. He's also stopped racing up the court at 90 miles an hour, leaving his much slower teammates in his wake.

The question now is whether Wall will have to earn the confidence of a brand new coach next year. Wittman replaced Flip Saunders in January, after Saunders got off to 2-15 start, and Wittman's future with the team is uncertain.

Washington (20-46) did end the season with a 104-70 rout of the visiting Miami Heat, which was resting their regulars for the playoffs.

Team president Ernie Grunfeld, who's contract was set to expire at the end of the season, was granted an extension on April 23 that is expected to take him through the 2013-14 season, although the team would not release the contract terms.

The extension came as a surprise to many, who expected owner Ted Leonis to clean house. Grunfeld has been in charge of the Wizards since 2003, and the past four seasons have been the worst in franchise history. Grunfeld called this season "year two of a three-year rebuild."

Wizards fans are tired of that word, and are ready for a return to the playoffs. Next season had better yield better results than the second-worst record in the league, or the D.C. natives are going to get restless.

SEASON HIGHLIGHT
The high point in the Wizards woeful season came at the end when they put together a six-game winning streak. The Wizards seem to play well in April. Last year, they went 5-3 in the final month. It gives a little hope for fans as the next season begins, but there hasn't been a carryover.

TURNING POINT
The addition of Nene to the roster. The team instantly became smarter, more mature, and had a leader with a high basketball IQ to look up to. Nene's presence improved Wall's game, and backup center Kevin Seraphin suddenly had a role model. His game showed immediate improvement. Team chemistry improved, attitudes improved, and so did the level of teamwork.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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