The trade of Jason Kidd during the season had been long-rumored, but when the New Jersey Nets dealt Richard Jefferson over the summer, it seemed they were intent on rebuilding.
The Washington Wizards committed a lot of money to retaining their core players, but they'll start the season without perhaps their most important piece.
No one knows exactly when Gilbert Arenas will return from offseason knee surgery, but the Wizards will try to survive without him once again starting Wednesday night when they open at home against the youthful Nets.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Wizards –6.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 192.5 (View Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 55% of bets for this game have been placed on Wizards –6.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).
Washington (43-39) made the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season in 2007-08, losing to Cleveland in the first round for the third straight postseason. Even getting in, though, wasn't easy. Caron Butler missed 24 games due to a hip injury and center Etan Thomas missed the entire season after open-heart surgery, not to mention Arenas playing only 13 games after having his second career knee surgery.
Butler and Thomas are healthy heading into Wednesday night's opener against the Nets (34-48), but the Wizards will be missing two starters, and they're not sure when either will return.
Starting center Brendan Haywood had surgery in mid-October to repair a torn wrist ligament, and he may miss the entire season, but it's the uncertain status of Arenas that is the even greater concern. Despite his injury history, the Wizards signed him to a six-year, $111 million contract in the offseason, just months before Arenas had a third surgery that will likely sideline him until at least December.
"It's just been the story with us - stay healthy, stay healthy. Everybody's saying the same thing for the last three years: 'We've got to stay healthy.' But that's the bottom line," forward Darius Songaila said. "Otherwise, we're never going to know what we can do."
Butler and Antawn Jamison will have to do the bulk of the scoring until Arenas returns, and they've certainly proved to be capable of carrying the team. Butler was the only player in the league to average 20 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals last season. Jamison - who signed a four-year, $50 million extension this summer - was one of only two players in the Eastern Conference to average 20 points and 10 rebounds.
"We have to do what we have to do until Gil comes back," said Antonio Daniels, who averaged 8.4 points last season and will replace Arenas in the starting lineup. "That's easier said than done, but last year, we got a little experience of what we need to do."
The Nets will be looking to stay competitive despite a more youthful group than they've had in years. Fourth-year point guard Devin Harris, who was the key piece in the trade that sent Kidd to Dallas, will be one of the few Nets with any significant playoff experience.
New Jersey has only seven holdovers from last season's team, the first Nets squad to miss the postseason in seven years. One of those is Vince Carter, New Jersey's leading returning scorer at 21.3 points per game.
Other than Carter and Harris (14.8 ppg), the next-highest returning scorer, Josh Boone, averaged just 8.2 points last season.
The big offseason move in New Jersey was the trade of Jefferson to Milwaukee for veteran small forward Bobby Simmons and Yi Jianlian, the sixth overall pick of the 2007 draft. Jefferson was coming off his best scoring season, averaging 22.6 points to finish ninth in the NBA, but general manager Kiki Vandeweghe felt with an aging core, the decision to deal Jefferson was the right one.
"If we stood pat and didn't do anything, we realized we weren't going anywhere," Vandeweghe said. "We're getting to where we wanted to be. Patience is what you want with young players as long as they are working hard."
Simmons and Jianlian will get plenty of time, and, up front, New Jersey will rely on a trio of young players. Boone, second-year player Sean Williams and rookie first-rounder Brook Lopez all figure to see major minutes in the paint.
Despite the youth movement, Nets president Rod Thorn says there's a lot of optimism.
"I can't say I have scaled (my expectations) back," Thorn said. "I think we will be competitive, I really do."
The Nets won two of three from the Wizards last season - all before the Kidd trade.