Somewhere, deep inside the hallways of Verizon Center, someone flipped a switch, and suddenly, the Washington Wizards get it. After moving to the second round of the playoffs last season before bowing out to the Indiana Pacers, the Wizards faced an interesting offseason with the impending free agency status of post Marcin Gortat and outside shooting threat Trevor Ariza, both players who were critical to the Wizards’ new-found postseason success. Stunningly, in less than a week, the Wizards have gone from a team facing multiple questions to a team with multiple options and a smart roster. That trend continued on Wednesday, as reports came out that the Wizards were about to acquire 6-foot-7, 270-pound post DeJuan Blair from the Dallas Mavericks in a sign-and-trade deal.
Blair, just 25, adds to a frontline that already saw 6-foot-9 veteran Kris Humphries acquired, along with the return of 6-foot-10 forward Drew Gooden. Washington made a big splash over the weekend, signing small forward Paul Pierce, most recently of the Brooklyn Nets but known for his many years with the Boston Celtics, to a two-year contract. Combine that with the standout play so far in Summer League of both small forward Otto Porter, Jr. and guard Glen Rice, Jr., and you have the makings of a roster that can be right in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference with the Cleveland Cavaliers and perhaps the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat. The Blair trade has been reported by Sports Illustrated and ESPN’s Mark Stein, among others, and is pending finalization.
Blair’s acquisition, however, is a key turning point in some ways. Blair isn’t some old veteran like Pierce who will contribute but whose biggest asset might be as a mentor to youngsters like John Wall and Bradley Beal. And he’s not your well-traveled journeyman like Humphries, for whom Washington will be the seventh stop in the league in his 11th season.
After five seasons in the league, Blair should just now be coming into his own. He has the build to succeed and many thought he was a steal with the 37th pick of the NBA Draft when the San Antonio Spurs picked him in 2009. He played four years with the Spurs before moving on to Dallas. He hasn’t played big minutes in his career (18.2 per game), so he’s a young 25 if you like, and the Wizards are banking on Blair’s rebounding numbers improving. He averaged 4.7 per game last year with Dallas and his career number is 5.6.
Blair showed potential of that improvement in the recent playoffs, posting games of 10 points, 14 rebounds and 12 points, 11 rebounds in wins over the Spurs before Dallas was eliminated in seven games by the eventual NBA champions. Blair has shot nearly 53 percent from the field for his career, but that spiked to 59.3 in last year’s playoffs. Much like league observers saw the growth of Gortat during the postseason, Blair could do the same as part of a regular rotation assuming the reported deal goes through and none of the other newly acquired parts go to Dallas.
Blair isn’t the final piece in a title team. He’s not that good, and the Wizards aren’t yet that close. But to win a title, you’ve got to get out of the East first, something that will never be easy as LeBron James resides in Cleveland or whatever other Eastern team he bolts to next. But with the Bulls missing out on Carmelo Anthony, Miami weakened with the loss of James and Indiana facing its own questions, there’s no reason why Washington can’t be at least in the conversation now given everything its done just this week.
A core of Wall, Beal, Gortat, Pierce, Humphries, Gooden, Nene (6-foot-11) and the improving Porter and Rice should give the Eastern Conference a fair share of trouble in 2014-15. Blair adds another valuable piece to that.