Draft Talk in the Mailbag

I don’t think the Wiz thought they’d be picking fifth this year. Now that they’re likely out of the running for Blake Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet or Ricky Rubio, should the Wizards trade their draft pick?

I don’t think the Wiz thought they’d be picking fifth this year. Now that they’re likely out of the running for Blake Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet or Ricky Rubio, should the Wizards trade their draft pick?

Michael J.

Yeah, Mike, this draft looks about as strong as that Kwame Brown draft when the Wizards “lucked out” with the No. 1 pick. After the top two in 2009, the talent drops big time. Thabeet could be a defensive monster, but he’s still got a lot of work to do on the offensive end. I don’t know if he’s an upgrade in the near term.

In theory, there are some solid players that could still be on the board at No. 5. If James Harden is there, I think they should keep the pick and take him. He would be great insurance against another injury to Gilbert Arenas and I think he could contribute immediately.

The latter point is the key I think. By re-upping both Agent Zero and Antawn Jamison last year, the Wizards put themselves firmly in a win-now mode. That’s fine, particularly since about three quarters of the league is trying to position themselves for 2010 when they can make a play for either Dwyane Wade, LeBron James or Chris Bosh. The Wiz decided to spend their money now, which apparently means Ernie Grunfeld thinks they can win now. If that still holds at the draft, I’d expect to see the Wizards package their pick for either a true veteran point guard or an upgrade at center.

If the thinking has changed and the front office no longer believes this core group of Arenas, Jamison and Caron Butler can win a title, then a draft day trade to move up and select Ricky Rubio would probably be just the first move we’ll see in a much larger process of overhauling this team.

If it’s me, I don’t know if the current roster could ever contend for an NBA title as is. So, I’m shaking things up on draft day, welcoming Rubio and off-loading Jamison to a contender so the veteran can get a much-deserved title shot that won’t come in D.C. After that, you still have to cross your fingers that Arenas stays healthy, but if title contention is off the table, then it isn’t quite as important. If he’s out, it stinks, but your draft pick likely improves in a year with a much better talent pool than 2008. If he sticks for good, then you have one of the most electrifying young scorers in the NBA on your court every night playing with a point guard of huge potential in Rubio.

The MLB draft is almost upon us, Mike. Will the Nats continue their inept ways and take a pass on the best pitching-prospect since Roger Clemens?What would you do if they let him get away?

Jim B.

I’ll take your second question first. Here’s the game plan if the Naionals don’t select Stephen Strasburg. No. 1: Cry. No. 2: Unleash a string of words that would make the most seasoned sailor sound like Miss Manners.

They simply can’t pass on him. Yeah, Scott Boras has the Nats right where he wants them, but so what? The Yankees would pay. The Red Sox would pay. The Mets? Phillies? Any team that considers itself a legitimate franchise would pay. If the Nationals pass? Just take this team off our hands right now, Bud Selig, because I don’t want any part of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ strategy for endless mediocrity.

Fortunately, the word around the league is that the Nats will make the pick and spend the summer haggling with Boras over the contract. And in the end, they’ll sign him.

On thing the Nationals shouldn’t believe, however, is that they hold any leverage by not inking him this season. Last year they failed to sign P Aaron Crow, assuming he’d blink rather than spend a year in an independent league where his draft stock might fall. A year later, Crow looks like he’ll be selected even higher than the Nats picked him last year and is even more attractive since his arm hasn’t thrown 120-plus innings this season like Strasburg’s has. ESPN scouting guru Keith Law even says Crow could make the majors ahead of Strasburg for just that reason.

So, don’t mess around, Nats. And don’t screw this up.