Reasons for Wizards fans to hope
With the win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, the Washington Wizards have the longest current winning streak in the East. During that five-game stretch, they defeated the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, who will be the top two seeds from their conference.
Maybe the situation in Washington, D.C., is not as bad as it previously seemed?
Before we all burst with over-enthusiasm, it is important to note that Miami was resting LeBron James and Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade was injured in the first quarter, and Chicago was without Luol Deng and last season's MVP, Derrick Rose. The Charlotte Bobcats are on the longest losing streak of their franchise history and in last place in the NBA, and the Cavs are only a couple bounces better than the Wizards. But wins are wins, and this team embraced the role of spoiler for the Milwaukee Bucks, who missed out on the final playoff spot.
So why am I optimistic about the future of my former team?
Start with commitment to the franchise's current plan. The re-signing of team president Ernie Grunfeld surprised many people. The blogosphere was filled with endless chiding for this decision, but the only opinion that matters is that of CEO Ted Leonsis, who gave Grunfeld the nod of approval.
"Like you, I now expect the Wizards to transition from a work in progress to a team that competes for a playoff spot," Leonsis wrote of the decision.
Just as factions of the Republican party continuously castigated Mitt Romney throughout the primaries but are now uniting under one common goal, with doubts about Grunfeld's near-term future cleared up, fans will have no choice but to unite behind their management.
Leonsis has said he is looking at the Oklahoma City Thunder as the template to follow, and he seems to be executing that plan. The team is rebuilding through the draft, adding young quality players, retaining salary cap flexibility and adding a few veterans to give guidance. That final role has been filled by Roger Mason and Maurice Evans.
That's framework that in theory (or with Kevin Durant) should result in success. While young players are developing (or until a superstar asserts himself), it is important to do something that makes fans excited about coming to games. A developing team doesn't have to win every game, but playing hard, giving good effort and keeping games respectable are important from a fan's perspective. It is crucial that fans feel they are getting their money's worth and the players are leaving everything on the floor, are passionate and show that they care.
The fans in D.C. are some of the best fans in the country, and the Verizon Center is a wonderful place to play, but that magic was missing for a while this season. The boo birds found their way into the stands far too often.
As this tumultuous abbreviated season went on and the losses continued to mount, it became apparent that a move was needed. In March the Wizards gave up incredibly talented players JaVale McGee and Nick Young as part of a three-team trade that broughtNene to town.
Nene, is not only a proven center, but was one of the most sought-after free agents in 2011. They are able to pair him with the ever-improving Kevin Seraphin, whose minutes and contributions have increased all season (he's averaging 15.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in April). Add to that mix Jan Vesely, who does so many of the little things well, such as running the floor, boxing out, tip-ins, etc., and the Wizards have a very capable front line.
That brings us to the future star and the guy who can make the Wizards' strategy pay off. John Wall has the talent and ability to be one of the premier point guards in the NBA. He has an explosive change-of-speed attack to the rim that catches opponents completely off guard and on their heels, even though every scouting report says "one of the fastest guards in the NBA."
Can he improve on his outside shooting? Yes, and he has publicly acknowledged this and vows to work on his outside shot. If Wall continues his improvement, his first All-Star appearance shouldn't be too far away.
He'll also face increasing pressure to raise the competitive level of this team. Fans and management only have so much patience for the overall No. 1 pick to start delivering, especially as they watch players such as Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin mature and take once-bad teams to the playoffs.
There are plenty of complementary players and other young guys with upside as well: Rashard Lewis, although the elder statesman of this roster, is still a great spot-up 3-point shooter. Trevor Booker earned a starting spot in February and had four double-doubles in points and rebounds in two months before being sidelined again by a foot injury. Jordan Crawford, although he could improve his shot selection, is capable of creating his scoring opportunities, which is invaluable to any system. Brian Cook is a versatile big man who can play inside and outside, and James Singleton gives maximum effort every time he steps on the court.
It is unclear whether the team will decide to move Andray Blatche, who despite the tough season is a very talented player.
However, having talent isn't enough. Until this team starts winning more, it and the front office will hear endless criticism as reporters have grown fond of the moniker "the Woeful Wizards." The Wizards will be chastised for finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA for the second time in four seasons.
On the bright side, they can also finish with no worse than the fifth overall pick in the June 28 NBA draft in which college standouts such as Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal and Jeremy Lamb are just salivating at their chance to make their splash in the NBA.
Things aren't as bad as they may appear to be.