Al Harrington plans to bring a winning attitude to the Wiz
The Wizards don't want to answer this question, but they will get it a lot: What about Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton?
By scoring a proven veteran such as Al Harrington in free agency this week, they lock up their 15th and final player under contract that will cause a ripple effect throughout the roster that will result in the 2011 first-round picks probably getting less playing time.
That'll happen if Harrington, who only played 10 games with the Orlando Magic last season because of a staph infection in his right knee, returns near the form that made him a leading candidate for NBA's Sixth Man of the Year with the Denver Nuggets from 2010-12.
He expects nothing less.
"We talked just overall about me being here, being a leader, just knowing that If I do what I've done in the past I'll find minutes on the floor," said Harrington, who has career averages of 13.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, about his conversations with president Ernie Grunfeld and coach Randy Wittman before signing a one-year deal for the veteran minimum of $1.4 million. "That's kind of where we left it. I don't want no promises. I feel like I perform better when my back's against the wall. A lot of people wrote me off last year because of an injury that was out of my control."
At his best, Harrington, 33, provides the Wizards some options going into his 16th season that the rest of the forwards behind him do not. Vesely and Singleton are entering their third seasons with team options on their fourth. Both were required to participate in Las Vegas summer league while Trevor Booker, entering his fourth season, wasn't. All three have similar skill sets as Booker rose to the top of that pecking order on Wittman's bench during a 29-win season.
They all need to get better and speed up their development, but that's going to be more difficult to achieve if Harrington, who can bang inside, hit the mid-range jumper and is a threat from the three-point arc, is eating up the lion's share of the playing time.
When the Wizards acquired center Emeka Okafor and small forward Trevor Ariza in a trade before last season, that depth caused the deck to be reshuffled in favor of the veterans.
The result: Booker averaged 19 minutes, 5.3 points and 5.0 rebounds last season; Singleton logged 16 minutes, 4.1 points and 3.2 rebounds; and Vesely played only 12 minutes when he averaged just 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds.
Vesely was used primarily as a center in summer league, and maybe he could score minutes there in the regular season with his 6-11 frame if he can play with the same confidence and handle the physical play from bigger opponents. Still, he has to contend with Kevin Seraphin, who has the body for the low post but only is 6-8 and not as high of an upside.
Singleton is 6-8 and settles a lot for mid-range jump shots. Is he a viable option at small forward if he can shoot better than 38.2% from a year ago? He could be, but that spot already is crowded with Ariza, Martell Webster and Otto Porter chewing up those minutes. Even with all the injuries to the roster last season, Singleton's starts dipped from 51 as a rookie to 11.
Booker has doesn't have the shooting range or the offensive versatility, but he does do a lot of the dirty work in the paint that can prove invaluable. His lack of offense doesn't seem to impact his effort as much as the others which means there still might be space for him in the lineup.
In the end, this all is a good problem for the Wizards to have, and the safe bet here is they'll figure out who will be their best options in training camp that begins Sept. 28 at George Mason University in nearby Fairfax, Va. If any of them can prove to have value in the trade market -- and that's the key because no team is going to do the Wizards a favor by taking Vesely or Singleton off their hands unless they show promise -- then those players aren't likely to go anywhere.
They'll just be forced to sit and watch until their clock runs out on their rookie deals.