The idea of the future has long captivated the minds of men, but it seems that looking ahead will soon become particularly fashionable to fans of the professional sports teams of Washington, D.C. The reason for the future-gazing is simple — the present stinks.
The Cleveland Cavaliers eliminated the Wizards Monday night. The Capitals showed no progress in the standings in 2006-07. The Redskins just spent their only meaningful pick of the NFL draft essentially selecting a player they already have. And for the Nats … well, heck, the mantra since the Lerner family took over the ball club has practically been “2008.” And if my summer held about 80 more losses, I’d probably drink that Kool-Aid too.
While the Skins’ immediate future-building is over (I’m telling you now that Joe Gibbs is going to have nightmares of opposing wideouts turning post routes into six points), the D.C. area’s three other major sports teams are approaching their drafts this summer. With each team at a different stage of team construction, let’s take a look at what the Wiz, Caps and Nats might be looking to add.
The end of this season, which coincided with Gilbert Arenas’s season-ending injury, was particularly hard to swallow for the Wizards. The Wiz spent a solid portion of the season at the top of the Eastern Conference and looked like they could challenge for the NBA crown … at least until Arenas and Caron Butler went down with injuries. Even if they had remained healthy, however, the Wizards seem to lack a couple of key elements that could make them pre-season contenders in 2007-08 — a big body at center and a lock down defender.
Not that Monday’s loss in Game 4 of the opening round of the playoffs was completely indicative of the season, but the Cavs’ Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden dominated the Wizards inside. The Cavs out-rebounded the Wizards 46-35, with 19 of those 46 belonging to the 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas. Washington’s leading rebounder was point guard Antonio Daniels with six.
There are 11 players at 6-foot-10 or taller (not counting Greg Oden and Kevin Durant) currently available in this year’s draft. It’s likely that some underclassmen will remove themselves before the June 18 deadline, but the Wiz should still have a shot at one of them when they pick 16th. Brazil’s Tiago Splitter (7-foot) or Croatia’s Ante Tomic (7-foot-2) may warrant consideration at that spot, as could troubled-but-talented former Boston College center Sean Williams at a lanky and athletic 6-foot-10.
After two years of rebuilding, 2007-08 is going to be the season for the Caps’ playoff push, and it’s going to start with an aggressive offseason. Washington has two glaring needs, a playmaking center to take some of the pressure off of Alexander Ovechkin and a tandem of effective defensemen. Washington has the No. 5 pick in June’s draft, which could land a nice prospect like center Kyle Turris, winger James vanRiemsdyk or defenseman Karl Alzner. Or it could be shipped off in a trade for a more established NHL player.
With plenty of room under the recently imposed salary cap, Washington is looking to reinvest wisely. In my eyes, the best use for that money would be towards a strong and savvy two-way player like Chris Drury or Scott Gomez. Those two names will be among the most sought after this summer, but both would help the Caps’ offense that finished 17th in goals scored last season. A bigger area of concern is on the blue line, where Washington must improve on a dubious mark of 33-plus shots allowed per game, the second most in the NHL in 2006-07. A veteran like Calgary’s Roman Hamrlik (18 power play points and plus-22 rating) or Ottawa’s Tom Preissing (a whopping plus-40 rating in ’06-’07) would be a great addition.
The Nationals present an intriguing case. Ownership has said they would like their rebuilding process to begin to bear fruit when they move into the new ballpark in 2008, but most of the team’s top prospects, like last year’s No. 1 draft pick Chris Marrero and teenage Dominican free agent signee Esmailyn Gonzalez, are years away from the majors. That means that 2007 may be good for something yet, like discovering which members of the current major league roster will be staying next season. Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann have been pleasant surprises, both with ERA’s under 3.00 through April, but Washington still needs major-league ready starting pitching. With that in mind, look for the Nationals to target a college pitcher like N.C. State’s Andrew Brackman or Vanderbilt’s David Price if they make it to Washington with the sixth pick. College pitchers are usually ready to contribute sooner rather than later for the simple reason that they’re older and their bodies are sturdier. Just look at the Giants’ first round pick last year. Tim Lincecum is sporting a 0.29 ERA in five starts at AAA Fresno and will likely crack San Francisco’s roster before season’s end.
Now, numbers like those are why it is quite a bit of fun to look towards the future.