By Brian Spencer
Can we start referring to Flip Saunders, head coach of the sunken ship that is the Washington Wizards, King Moonraiser instead? Because at this point, with his team decimated and looking more and more like the Southeast Division’s version of the New Jersey Nets (they of the 5-49 record), Saunders is not as much a NBA coach as he is the caretaker of a team full of forgotten, disregarded, and, yes, unloved
It started on December 10, 2008, when the Wizards welcomed vagabond guards Mike James and Jarvaris Crittenton in a trade that sent Antonio Daniels to New Orleans. Though he did play a key role off the Detroit Pistons bench during their 2004 championship run, James is best known for lighting it up on a bad Toronto Raptors team in the 2005-06 season. That year he averaged 20 points per on 47% FG, including 2.1 triples, along with 5.8 assists, 3.3 boards, and nearly 1 steal.
The Timberwolves bit (surprise!), signing him to a four-year deal as a free agent that summer; including Minny, he’s since played for four teams. Sparingly. His contract is up after this season, and in all likelihood his NBA career will be too. Crittenton, a first-round pick by the Lakers back in ’07, is technically done for the season with a broken foot, but he was also the other guy dancing the firearms tango with Arenas. I’ll be shocked to see him ever don a NBA jersey again.
The phenomenon continued when Randy Foye, better known as The Guy Who Was Traded for Brandon Roy, came to Washington last summer. Three full seasons removed from his status as a promising lottery pick looked at as a cornerstone of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Foye joined the Wizards as an upside insurance policy for Gilbert Arenas. Sadly, that policy had to be cashed in prematurely, and though technically his success (or lack thereof) this season has yet to be determined, we know we’re looking at a career backup whose star has permanently fallen from grace.
Foye came to the Wiz with 30-year-old Mike Miller, the fifth-overall pick of the 2000 NBA Draft and the 2001 NBA Rookie of the Year. We’ve long maintained that Miller stands as the most underwhelming ROY in modern NBA history: he played less than 30 minutes a night as a rookie, and finished the season with pers of 11.9 points (on 43% FG), 4 boards, 1.7 assists, and little else. For that, he was recognized as the league’s top rookie. Oh, he’s had a fine, if indistinguishable career, but he’s on his last legs. If a contender thought there was value there, he could have been had for, say, the draft rights to a European who’ll never step foot on a NBA court.
Oberto, Josh Howard, Al Thornton, and more misfit toys after the break…
Former San Antonio Spurs center Fabricio Oberto, traded to the Detroit Pistons last summer in a low-level move, was signed as a free agent after the Pistons bought him out. That’s right, the same Pistons who, beyond the amazing Ben Wallace, literally have nothing of consequence in the middle. They didn’t have any use for Oberto, but the Wizards did. To be fair, that move was made when the team was still entertaining hopes of seriously competing in the East, but still. They now have a 35-year-old center hanging around on this… “team.” Averaging 1.3 points and 1.5 boards, Oberto will make $2.1 million this season. Sports!
Last weekend, the Mavericks passed on their misfit toy, Josh Howard, in the deal that netted them Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood (thoughts on that one here). Howard, now somehow 29 years old, seemed to be on the cusp of All-Star status for a few years there, but injuries, inconsistencies, and rapidly diminishing returns have sapped him of his once intriguing potential and reduced him to a man who’ll likely land a mid-level exception, at best, as an unrestricted free agent this summer. At best. That is, unless, the Wizards decide to pick up his team option for one more year at $11.8 million.
Finally, we have Al Thornton, formerly of the Donald Sterling Clippers, who was acquired in the Antawn Jamison deal. The 6-8 forward was the last lottery pick of the 2007 NBA Draft, and after last year improving on his decent rookie season by averaging 16.8 points, 5.2 boards, 1.5 assists, and 1 block per, this year he’s regressed and had for whatever reason fallen out of grace in Clipperland. He’d lost his starting spot to the nomadic Rasual Butler, was seeing his minutes fluctuate wildly, and had generally just caught up in Clipper Fever. It happens.
Still 26 years old, there’s hope here. A little hope, but not much. Thornton is a scorer, nothing more nothing less. We have a lot of those in this league, especially ones physically measuring as he does. It’s a little crazy to say this, but in just his third NBA season, his career has now reached a crossroads. He should get every opportunity to prove himself in Washington.
Not much to say about you three other than you’re a Wizard, but don’t worry, Quinton Ross, James Singleton, and Brian Skinner, I haven’t forgotten you’re misfit toys too.
Should be a lot of fun in Washington during these last 31 games. Enjoy, fans, and sorry, Flip Moonraiser.
Josh Howard Photo Credit: Icon SMI