A new era of basketball in Washington starts tonight, but first, it must start in Orlando. No. 1 draft pick John Wall and the Wizards open their season against Dwight Howard and the Magic in what will be Wall's NBA debut.
The Wizards finished last season 26-56 and entered the NBA Draft Lottery for the 14th time in team history since the lottery began in 1985. With just over a 10 percent chance to claim the top draft pick, the Wizards did just that for the third time in team history (1961, 2001).
Unlike Kwame Brown's selection nine years ago, Washington hit it big by selecting the overwhelming favorite to go first. Wall starred in his only season at the University of Kentucky, averaging 16.6 points and 6.5 assists per game, earning him First Team All-American honors among many other distinctions. On draft day, Wall and four of his teammates were selected in the first round, making it the only time in NBA history that five players from the same team were selected in the first round.
Wall was not the only big change to take place within the Wizards organization. Ted Leonsis, majority owner of the NHL's Washington Capitals, acquired the Wizards in March after the death of former team owner Abe Pollin in November 2009. Leonsis has implemented a similar rebuilding plan to the one he mastered with the Capitals. Several of the Wizards' biggest contributors, including Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, were traded and key role players were brought in. Also gone are Mike Miller and Randy Foye and in their place came Josh Howard, Al Thornton, Kirk Hinrich and Yi Jianlian to complete a core group that includes Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee.
Meanwhile, the Magic enter the season relatively unscathed. Orlando (59-23 in 2009) lost journeyman/swingman Matt Barnes, but brought in fellow journeyman Quentin Richardson and guard Chris Duhon. The Magic have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals the past two seasons and the NBA Finals in 2008-09, falling to the Los Angeles Lakers. Howard has averaged a double-double in points and rebounds throughout his six year career and will look to add to that in a highly-competitive Southeast Division that features the Wizards, the new-look Miami Heat and the burgeoning Atlanta Hawks.
The Magic will open a new arena tonight, the Amway Center, but the Wizards will be without their Arenas. Gilbert Arenas will miss the Wizards' first two games of the season with a strained tendon in his right ankle. After being suspended for the final 50 games of last season after a gun incident involving former Wizard Javaris Crittenton, Arenas will have to wait to play his first regular season NBA game since March.