Wednesday May 19th, 2010

It's an old adage, one often repeated: The night is always darkest just before the dawn. It's an axiom the Washington Wizards now fully understand. An '09-'10 season that began with championship aspirations was shaken by the untimely death of longtime owner Abe Pollin and the season-long suspensions of Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton and ended with franchise cornerstones Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood wearing different uniforms and Arenas watching from the closed quarters of a halfway house.

On Tuesday night, Washington got their first look at the light when the Wizards -- with just a 10.3 percent chance -- landed the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft.

"It's the end of an era and the beginning of a new [one]," said Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld. "What better way to start the new era than with the No. 1 pick?"

Indeed, the new era in Washington -- which will include a new owner in Ted Leonsis -- is off to a terrific start. During a conference call with reporters, Grunfeld wouldn't commit to drafting Kentucky freshman sensation John Wall, but he called Wall an "outstanding player" with "high energy" and gushed about the possibility of adding a potential franchise player who would be with the team for "12 or 13 years." Wall, too, is pleased with his likely next destination: a source close to Wall said the dynamic guard is happy with the outcome of the lottery.

The addition of Wall not only adds a high level talent to the roster, it could also make the team more appealing to other players. After signing Wall, the Wizards will have about $17-$19 million in available cap space to sign free agents. While elite stars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are unlikely to consider the Wizards, others might be inclined to join what could be a quick rebuilding process. Besides No. 1, the Wizards have the 30th and 34th picks in what is believed to be a very deep draft.

"We've done our due diligence already on a lot of players," said Grunfeld. "We'll continue to do so all the way up through the draft."

One obvious question that was brought up on Tuesday -- and will continue to be asked for weeks to come -- is how the addition of Wall affects Arenas. Grunfeld said that the results of the lottery had no impact on Arenas's future with the team, adding that Arenas has been a regular at the team's facility since the season ended.

"The more good players you have, the better," Grunfeld said.

Still, Grunfeld will likely listen to -- and perhaps even make a few -- calls about Arenas this summer. Depending on where James, Wade and Bosh land, there will be several teams (New York, New Jersey among others) with available cap space and a strong desire to add an All-Star caliber player like Arenas to their roster. And with the Wizards owing Arenas $80 million over the next four seasons, it makes fiscal (and basketball) sense to at least consider a solid offer.

If Arenas stays, the onus will be on Wizards coach Flip Saunders to devise an offense that emphasizes Arenas and Wall's strengths. Saunders scrapped his flex offense late last season for a two-guard front that deemphasized the point guard and created more opportunities for center Andray Blatche.

That system probably needs a few tinkers, if not a complete overhaul. Wall is a one-man fast break who is most effective with the ball in his hands in the open floor. With two explosive guards in Wall and Arenas, Saunders may consider a more up-tempo offense that maximizes possessions (the Wizards were 21st in possessions per 48 minutes last season) and creates opportunities for Wall to make plays.

And he can make plays. Wall has been compared favorably to Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, the last two players to come out of John Calipari's system. He gives the Wizards hope for the future. Before Tuesday, not many people in the organization felt much of that.

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