Wiz of Woes

Here we are. 32 days after the NBA season opener, and the Washington Wizards remain the only winless team in the entire league. A season which was supposed to be full of optimism and hope has virtually gone down the toilet. A team which was considered a playoff contender — nevertheless a playoff team by myself and others — has yet to win a single basketball game. How did we get to this point?

Let’s start at the top. The Washington Wizards front office isn’t doing anything to significantly improve their chances of winning. On June 20th, Wizards General Manager,Ernie Grunfeld, traded small forward Rashard Lewis to the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. I for one was really encouraged by the fact that the Wizards were able to dump Lewis’ huge contract for two solid veterans in Ariza and Okafor. Even though Grunfeld was likely to burden Washington with Okafor’s overpaid contract, to say the least, the Wizards would at least have a greater chance to compete.. .  so we thought.

We’re eleven games into the season, and neither Ariza or Okafor are in the starting lineup. Okafor, who is getting set to make close to 15 million dollars next season has had minimal impact this season. His post skills are non existent, making him a huge burden on offense. Not to mention he consistently settles for mid range jump shots, which he’s clearly struggling to hit. Although his defense is above average, he lacks the lateral quickness to keep up with more agile big men. Ariza on the other hand, is one of the most inconsistent players I’ve ever seen. While shooting a career-low field goal percentage (33 percent from the floor), it’s clear that Ariza is sorely missing John Wall and his ability to push the ball out on the open floor. Ariza seems lost and often settles for jump shots he cannot hit, hence his historically low field goal percentage. It’s seemingly understandable as to why New Orleans Hornets GM, Dell Demps, was so willing to trade Ariza and Okafor.

The Wizards could’ve gotten more for Lewis, or just simply buying out his contract, but they opted to trade for two veteran players which have clearly not produced. By buying out Lewis’ contract, the Wizards would instantly become a player in free agency, and their ability to sign free agents would’ve significantly improved. However, by adding Ariza and Okafor, the Wizards lost their financial flexibility. In return, they’re stuck with two players for a number of years, which have done minimal to improve Washington’s chances of winning.

Now let’s break down the Wizards roster.

Coming into the season, we all thought the Wizards had significantly improved their roster and chances of winning. After making the Rashard Lewis trade, Ernie Grunfeld was quoted with saying “we think we’re a better team today than we were yesterday.” Boy, was he sorely mistaken. After drafting Bradley Beal third overall, Grunfeld chose to draft Tomas Satoransky out of the Czech Republic in the second round, rather than picking another decent collegiate player in such a deep 2012 NBA draft. To think this team had enough talent, and had opted to pick a ‘draft and stash’ player, is completely absurd. The Wizards had won a pitiful 20 games to close out the 2011 season,and it was clear that the team was talent deprived. Choosing a player who may never even put on your team’s jersey, is mind boggling to say the least.

Trading enigmas, JaVale McGee and Nick Young, and amnestying Andray Blatche all looked like the first steps to success for the Washington Wizards. And here we are, 11 games into the season, and the Wizards roster is still talent deprived. The Wizards were (and are) in desperate need for talent. Acquiring guys like A.J Price, Earl Barron, and even fan favorite Martell Webster at last minute isn’t going to win any games. The Wizards basically looked for scraps, after not pursuing the other well established free agents. Opting out for the bottom of the barrel, will not serve any team well, especially the Wizards. They should’ve, and could’ve, went after players which would’ve helped fill their void in positions which were in dire need of filling. The backup point guard position is one of the most important bench roles an NBA roster has. After John Wall suffered a stress injury to his knee, that back up point guard would inevitably become their starting point guard for quite some time. Let’s be honest, though probably NBA caliber, A.J Price or Shaun Livingston (as much as I love him) have no business leading an NBA team. Other franchises such as the Chicago Bulls, make it a point to address their important roles (Derrick Rose injury) in case of mishaps and such. The Wizards can’t afford to not investigate their ‘due diligence’ in free agency. With this franchise’s luck, injuries are prone to happen. Injuries cannot become a reoccurring excuse. They should’ve attempted to acquire more players, with actual talent, rather than settling for players which have no other options.

At least the “Wall-McGee-Young” era was fun to watch. That team had a weird identity, and was comprised of players with actual, gifted talent. Now the Wizards are comprised with hustle players, which have no clear distinction on the roster. There is virtually no difference between player X and player Z. The talent on this team does not correlate, and when head coach Randy Wittman says “I don’t know who to play anymore”, he means it. There is no such talent disparity on this roster. And every successful sports organization, can disparage between their talent. The bench roles, and starting roles, should not be reversible. And in Washington, they are. It’s simple. Acquire more talent.

In fact, the best of franchises seem to have stability, longevity and dependability.-Ted Leonsis

The best of franchises seem to have stability, longevity, and dependability. That is virtually everything the Wizards can’t seem to have. John Wall, a third year NBA player, is the longest tenured Wizard on this roster. He’s been coached by two different coaches in two separate seasons. If the Wizards continue their successful streak of moral victories, the Wizards are bound to have another coach by the end of the season. It’s pathetic when people’s jobs, such as Randy Wittman’s, are at stake when the team isn’t producing. How can you coach a team to victory, when the team isn’t built for success?

The Wizards have gone through dozens of players, including a handful of DLeague talent, over the past few seasons. Call me crazy, but consistently trading players, firing coaches, and burning through players, doesn’t scream dependability. Heck, the Washington Wizards have even changed their logo multiple times.

Let’s get this straight, the only person who arguably should’ve been gone a long time ago, is the person who caused all of this havoc, General Manager Ernie Grunfeld. Getting rid of the root of the problem, can start the beginning of something new. I understand that firing a person who is so heavily influential on your franchise, isn’t a walk in the park. But it’s something that needs to be done, and probably should’ve been done a relatively long time ago.

So why do we keep continuing to follow the Washington Wizards? Why do we continue to be supportive after all of these years of suffering? Because Bullets/Wizards fans, have hope. It’s easy to choose another franchise to root for, and ‘jump on the bandwagon’. Adam Gerloff, a longtime Wizards fan, has had enough of this team, and opted to root for the fresh and exciting, Brooklyn Nets. Though Adam may have made his video in humor, it’s easy to see why fans would discontinue their support for a franchise such as the Wizards. I for one, cannot imagine rooting for another team. I truly believe that the Wizards have one of the most loyal, and devoted fan bases in the league. Which NBA fan base has endured what Bullets/Wizards fans have endured? None.

Being win-less and constantly being the ‘butt of the sports world’s joke’ is unacceptable. Putting out a product of basketball such as the Washington Wizards, is disrespectful in some eyes.

But after all that, we still obtain some optimism that, “everything will be alright.” I believe that this is a huge bump in the road, and Ted Leonsis who has clearly stated that he does not want to be back in the NBA lottery this season, will take this 0-11 start personally.

The Wizards wanted to build through the draft, and set their roster according to young talent. That young talent, including John Wall and Bradley Beal, will never progress and develop in a environment such as Washington’s. I hope the players are not being set up to becoming ‘numb’ to losing. Players which become used to losing, will never reach their potential or ceiling.

After all, it’s nice to see that everyone on the roster has kept their heads up high.

I can’t wait to see what, if anything, unfolds with this franchise. Be sure to check out tonight’s game, as the Wizards host the Spurs in tonight’s match-up.

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