Etan Thomas' injury could derail Wizards promising season

It’s not often that a player averaging 6.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in 19.2 minutes per game can have such a huge impact on a team’s fortunes going into a new season, but given the injury to Etan Thomas that just might be the case with the otherwise promising Washington Wizards squad. Thomas, in case you didn’t hear, had open heart surgery today to repair a leak of the Aortic valve. Word out of Wizards camp is that the ailment will cause the big man to miss the upcoming season and may jeopardize his playing career. For a Wizards team coming off a playoff bound season, the loss of Etan Thomas is a major blow, which, unless one of their young players step up, could keep the team from making a repeat trip back to the postseason.

Thomas to the Wizards roster, as it is currently constituted, is as important as Manu Ginobili is to the Spurs or Peja Stojakovic is to the Hornets. Not saying that Thomas’ individual skills approach the level of those two near all-star caliber players, but like Ginobili and Stojakovic, Thomas, with his interior toughness, shot-blocking and hard-nosed offensive rebounding, brings skills to the Wizards team that really no-one else on the roster has shown they can replicate. Incumbent starting center Brendan Haywood is soft and is generally about as motivated as a high-school dropout. Behind him are 6’11”/248 pound Andray Blatche and European import 7’0”/234 pound Oleksiy Pecherov. Both players are perimeter-oriented big men and have little post game to speak of – though Blatche has shown that he can be a decent weak-side shot blocker. And behind them? Possibly, 6’9”/250 pound, 40-year-old Tony Massenberg, who is at Wizards camp and, given Thomas’ injury, is now almost a lock to make the squad. If a 40-year-old journeyman is your best power option up front, as a team, you’ve got some issues.

Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Eddie Jordan have done a pretty solid job over the past few seasons turning around the fortunes of a franchise generally crawling along the bottom of the NBA standings. But while busy collecting trophy pieces like Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas on the perimeter, they’ve generally been unsuccessful in finding tough big men that can give them a solid presence on the blocks and the boards. Etan was one of those guys, but now he’s gone for the season. The lack of depth behind Haywood will really hurt the Wizards this year, particularly with the massive improvements that some Eastern Conference teams have made this summer.

The Wizards frontcourt depth was already rather thin, but now it’s downright anorexic. Unless they make some roster moves to solve the problem, the occasional scoring outbursts from “Hibachi” won’t be nearly enough to keep the team’s season from heading south in a hurry.

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