Washington Wizards: A Primer and a bold prediction - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Washington Wizards: A Primer and a bold prediction

It’s someone who can do things. It’s magic, flamboyant, smart and a winner. All those things connote a winner.” –Abe Pollin on wizards

Haven’t been paying attention to the Wizards in a while or maybe even ever? Not to worry. We’ve got you covered!

The Name Change

The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin proved to be the final straw for his friend, Abe Pollin. The owner of the Washington Bullets had been mulling changing the name of his franchise for quite some time, but it is never an easy thing to sever the ties to a storied past that spanned decades in both Baltimore and the District.

Yitzhak Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin (Wikipedia)

But “Bullets” was something uncomfortable, a grim reminder of the circumstances that people outside the wealthy fringe dealt with on a daily basis. The name carried uncomfortable connotations for a city with such a dire and depressing murder rate. Pollin wanted nothing to do with contributing to putting a positive spin on violence. The franchise allowed a certain amount of fan interaction when brainstorming possible replacement names. According to the Post, “The Bullets” and “None of the Above” were by far the most popular choices, with the other five finalists being the Sea Dogs, the Express, the Stallions, the Dragons and the Wizards.

The Wizards prevailed, and thus a new chapter of Washington D.C. basketball began.

Michael Jordan Era

The Michael Jordan Era! The infallibility of Jordan was finally punctured both on and off the court. In a fit of malaise or boredom, Jordan became a minority owner of the Wizards as well as the head of basketball operations. He drafted Kwame Brown with the first pick in the 2001 draft and that’s really all that needs to be said.

To be fair, Brown is universally regarded as a bust, but the Great One’s incessant berating and psychological torture perhaps contributed to stunting the big man’s natural growth. When Jordan declared his intent to make a second return to basketball, older and slightly chunkier, it was a blatant mixture of PR gone awry and the hubris of a former great.

MichaelJordanDepOfDefense

Michael’s magic ran out. (Wikipedia)

The Wizards failed to make the playoffs during Jordan’s return and he often called his teammates out for not being Michael Jordan. The only thing I can remember vividly about this era was Allen Iverson breaking Jordan’s ankles with a fairly routine (for AI!) crossover. It is a foggy time, and one best forgotten.

Gilbert Arenas and Superb Mediocrity

There was a “bright” moment not too long ago. Spectacular combo-guard and all around weirdo Gilbert Arenas, fresh off a breakout season with Golden State, became the new face of the Washington Wizards. Together with talented forwards Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, Arenas led the Wizards to an era of relevancy, if not exactly elite status.

Arenas was a consummate showman. He once celebrated hitting a three-pointer slightly after the ball left his hands! He was also the type to swear revenge on coaches that he felt had slighted him as well as forgo his scoring responsibilities if he was accused of taking too any shots.

Still, the always mercurial Arenas led the Wizards to the playoffs for several seasons but they failed to get past the second round. Often injured and paid enormously well, Gilbert Arenas was the grinning face of a team treading water. One final ugly episode of the Arenas era was his confrontation with teammate Javaris Crittenton over unpaid gambling debts. This confrontation culminated with both players drawing guns on one another. Most commentators would find a place in their columns or soliloquys to be thankful Abe Pollin didn’t live to see his beloved Wizards come to this. Arenas slowly bounced out of the league, never again to reach past heights, but he did better than Javaris Crittenton, who has since been indicted for murder!

Knucklehead Era

Overlapping the Arenas Era was the start of an accumulation of young talent through the draft. Three players in particular came to represent this new generation of Wizards: Nick Young, Andray Blatche, and JaVale McGee. Nick Young is what NBA types would call a “gunner” (not real guns this time!), a guy who will seemingly only take the worst shot possible. Unfortunately, when he makes them, he will take ten more.

Nick Young’s all around game never really came together, but his unabashed love of scoring and ball-hoggery was going against the grain in an NBA slowly moving towards a more sabermetric oriented approach to winning games. Of course, Nick Young really didn’t have anything on Andray Blatche, a forward who was as trigger happy (again, not with real guns) as any pick-up game All-Star.

Blatche was as selfish as they come offensively, and though he eventually came to put up gaudy scoring numbers, he was next to useless defensively and often seemed confused by the concept of passing. No stranger to temper tantrums and bad conditioning, Blatche ended his career in Washington cascaded by the voluminous boos of what seemed to be every soul in the Verizon Center. The crown prince knucklehead, though not quite as offensively selfish and one dimensional as Young and Blatche, had to be JaVale McGee. Standing 7 feet tall and a freakish athlete, JaVale looked like a future centerpiece. That didn’t pan out. I’d explain, but instead I’ll just let this clip do the talking.

This experiment of course failed. The Wizards were terrible, sometimes literally the worst team in the league. Young, Blatche, and McGee have all been exiled, to make room for yet another Youth Movement.

The Rising

With the help of a dismal record and some Ping Pong ball magic, the Wizards won the right to pick first in the 2010 draft and grabbed the consensus choice, John Wall. In Wall the Wizards have a potential Top 5 point guard on their roster, a speedy whirling dervish athlete that happens to have a great natural sense for the flow of the game and court vision beyond his years. His shooting can stand to improve and a spate of injuries early in his career may have stunted his development, but Wall is the ideal centerpiece for a rebuild.

John Wall

John Wall (Wikipedia)

Joining him on this slow crawl out of the basement is the sharp-shooting (not with guns) Bradley Beal, another recent draft pick, who has assumed the role of the starting shooting guard. With Wall’s penetration and the threat of Beal’s outside shot, Washington has an exciting backcourt with youth on its side. Management has also been pro-active in drafting “character” guys to replace the knuckleheads of yore.

The relatively unexciting and quiet (some would say less than amazing) play of Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin, and Trevor Booker is a far cry from the enthusiastic immolations of Young and Blatche and McGee. Their small forward of the future, Otto Porter, has yet to play a game, but the Wizards aren’t simply relying on the draft, as they’ve aggressively pursued trades and free agent poaching to get proven NBA quality players onto their squad.

Some of the fruits of these labors include Trevor Ariza (once a high flying glue guy that helped the Lakers win a championship), the utility man Martell Webster, former Brazillian superstar Nene, and most recently, the big man, Marcin “The Polish Hammer” Gortat, an underrated center who can defend and score shrewdly on the pick-and-roll.

This Season

When John Wall returned from injury about halfway through last season, the Wizards began their transformation from no hopers to a legitimate playoff threat. An improved defense and the dazzling play of Wall gave the Wizards a .500 record for the second half of the season, as well as victories over several of the league’s elite.

Martell Webster

Martell Webster (Wikipedia)

The strength of his play earned Wall a huge pay raise, and expectations on this young squad are as high as they ever been. It is a playoffs or bust season.

Questions remain:

  • Is Randy Wittman the right coach to take this team to the next level?
  • Why is Ariza eating up Martell Webster’s minutes?
  • Can John Wall stay healthy?

But the Wizards and their fans ought to celebrate the minor victories. They are now expected to challenge for the 8th seed, perhaps even the 7th or 6th.  Just to be in the conversation is a radical turnaround for a franchise that has long suffered from the two terrible NBA purgatories: mediocrity and misery.

Bold Prediction

Wizards. 7th Seed. Give the Indiana Pacers a fight in the first round in the playoffs. John Wall anointed the best point guard in the East.

 


About the author

Alex Siquig

Alex Siquig is a writer who recently left the San Francisco Bay Area for the lovely streets of Baltimore. His work has been published in Thought Catalog, Lubricated, Urban Image Magazine, and he is the co-creator of the web-comic Black Snow: Two Drink Minimum, which finished second place in the Washington Post's Best Web-Comic of 2011. He lives with two fine cats and a fine woman. Contact the author.
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