Well ... another year i in the books for Washington's D.C. home team fans. Looking back, it occurs to me that the worst thing we could do is look back. Seriously, making a "best of 2010" ranking would be sad and depressing, and I already did a "Naughty in 2010" list.
Therefore, we are going to look ahead and allow ourselves to hope for a more prosperous year in 2011. As the Capitals continue to be the bright spot for our sports landscape, I will focus elsewhere, assuming that we all can depend on our hockey team to keep us going.
No. 1: A "Legitimate" Front Office for the Redskins
Let history judge what Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen are ultimately able to accomplish here in their tenure. Let that judgement take place years from now. Today, we need to appreciate the difference between a regime led by Vinny Cerrato, Jim Zorn and Dan Snyder and a regime overseen by Shanahan and Allen.
Going into 2011, we have something we have not had in the Washington organization for a long time -- front office stability. I think we tend to pile on top of Vinny more than he may deserve -- but he deserves a lot. This franchise is inherently stronger without him. While we will debate for years to come the wisdom of spending precious draft picks to bring in Donovan McNabb this past season -- especially given the high priority Shanahan has placed on "evaluating" the roster he inherited -- we still did what Vinny seemed reticent to do: draft a left tackle at No. 4 overall last year.
I am waiting for a handful of mind-blowingly good decisions made by Shanahan and Allen before I officially anoint them as our saviors, but they have at the very least rescued us from the circus that Cerrato ran in this town for a decade.
No. 2: John Wall + ANOTHER Top Draft Pick
If you tied an anvil to the Washington Wizards, they still wouldn't fall out of contention faster than they did in 2010. John Wall is exciting to watch though, isn't he? I would love to actually watch him play instead of see him on the sidelines, but I am glad they are treating him with kid gloves in a year that we have absolutely nothing to play for already.
Barring an unforeseen winning streak, this team is heading for yet another healthy serving of ping pong balls in next year's draft. Assuming we are one of the three worst teams in the league, we would be assured of a top-six pick, right? Seems to me we should be able to add a "Best Player Available That Isn't a Point Guard" that will look awfully nice next to the Great Wall of Chinatown. With a little bit of Ted Leonsis' luck bringing in the right guys, we could have ourselves a pair of superstars in the making on the front side of their careers.
I get that Ted Leonsis does not make the draft picks for the Capitals. George McPhee deserves a lot of credit. But a part of me believes that if Dan Snyder had been the owner that drafted Alex Ovechkin, No. 8 would not be No. 8. Instead, Leonsis is at the wheel and the guy is a superstar on the ice and a contributor to the community off it. I'm just hoping for a little bit of that luck when we pick John Wall's running mate next year.
No. 3: Year No. 2 in the 3-4 Defense
What in God's name happened to our studly defense? It was all we had for so many years. The change in philosophy under Jim Haslett has been painful.
But a quick scan around the league shows we have reason to believe. Take the Green Bay Packers, for example. When Dom Capers changed them over to 3-4, there were significant growing pains. Though they made the playoffs last season, who can forget the 500 points they gave up to Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals? This year they have given up a lot less yards and they have looked a lot more comfortable in the new system.
I am optimistic that we will add a few players either through free agency or the draft that will fit into what it is Haslett is trying to do. The combination of a few fresh faces, the subtraction of a few old faces and an increased familiarity with the 3-4 tenets should provide us all with a much fiercer defense in 2011. (Note I did not use the word "scheme" at all.)
No. 4: JaVale McGee
I wanted to make sure to include one player that plays in this town that has an incredible amount of upside for one of our teams. John Carlson, Brian Orakpo and even Stephen Strasburg were contenders, but to me, JaVale is the guy I am looking forward to watching most in 2011.
He is only 22 years old, is still growing and seems to be catching the eye of legit talent evaluators, as evidenced by his inclusion in the Team USA mini camp in 2009 and 2010. Still raw, this athletic big man is our best hope right now to develop a high-low game with John Wall. He can dunk it from half court, thanks to his obscene wingspan, and he can jump right out of the Phone Booth. If he can continue to add some bulk to his frame, he could be a force in the Eastern Conference for a long time.
JaVale, Wall, and our top draft pick next year should form the nucleus of a team that could swing the fortunes of the Wizards sooner rather than later.
No. 5: Ben Olsen is the Head Coach of D.C. United
As you all know, I do include D.C. United in my top tier of D.C. sports teams. Our fans are great, we have championships as well as a real history, and like our other favorite teams in town, we are struggling mightily.
Hiring Ben Olsen as the head coach is huge for D.C. United. He embraces an attacking style of play that is very much the way United has historically liked to play. Other coaches may have been more ready for this opportunity, but none were as gung ho about employing the style of play that D.C. United became famous for as Olsen was in the interview process. This team should also benefit greatly from the fire and passion that Ben brings to the sidelines--he brings it everywhere.
Finally, the rumor mill out there is churning -- could it be that 24-year old Rodrigo Brasesco, a Uruguayan defender, is coming to town? I'm told this kid can really play - here's hoping he comes to D.C. next year.