Two of the three below are gone, the third on this Wizards Mount Rushmore might be gone by President’s Day. And that would make not one, but two banners needing to be removed from the 6th Street facade of the Verizon Center in 2010.
“Character, Commitment, Connection”
-Wizards 2009-2010 Season Motto
The Wizards aren’t putting Josh Howard’s face next to that on a banner anytime soon … unless they want to ad a fourth ‘C’ for cap space. Like Caron Butler, Howard was once an All-Star. And like the one they call Tuff Juice, the one they call J-Ho has recently fallen far from basketball skill grace.
Both players were once considered untouchable by their respective teams. Both also represent very different persona off the court.
Caron was the guy who came from rough beginnings to make a community leader out of himself. He’s the family man who gives away bikes, owns Burger Kings, cries on Oprah and chews on straws. He made himself known by giving back to his hometown of Racine as well as his adopted hometown of Washington, DC.
He may still give back to the District, but his playing days here are over. Because Caron Butler was also the basketball fashionista whom his teammates criticized for having an ego, one going by the code name of Agent Zero publicly insinuating that Caron wasn’t on the same page as the other 14. Butler drastically diminished his basketball value by passing less, going rogue on his coach, and becoming the player who sought isolation plays instead of team-oriented offense.
In Butler, Dallas knows they are getting a former All-Star, but they don’t know if he’ll be compatible. Sure, Butler liked to be seen on the scene, but he always kept it classy. Caron Butler is a good guy with strong character. But can his game get along with Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki? Will he adjust for them as he did not do for Flip Saunders? Brendan Haywood has been playing motivated enough in a contract year, what happens to the games of Butler and DeShawn Stevenson in their respective fresh starts?
The Wizards don’t know what they’re getting in Josh Howard either. It’s unlikely he’d stick around past the next 32 games on the schedule. Howard, who is making around $10.9 million this season, is an expiring contract we are told the Wizards should crave, but not a true expiring contract. The franchise now holds an $11.8 million option on Howard for the 2010-11 season. Ain’t happening. Way too much for a guy who was once considered all but untouchable in Dallas, but is now yesterday’s news.
Howard may be able to revitalize his basketball career in D.C., but becoming an Ernie Gurnfeld reclamation project is highly unlikely. Players usually don’t sign for market value or less with the team that just decided not to pick up their eight-figure option. Hopes that J-Ho can become who he once was and stay a Wizard should be checked at the door.
But who is the guy Howard once was? Much different than Butler, and not necessarily worthy of a marketing banner. Sure, Howard is active in the community, but just about any NBA player with a large bankroll and an official website is. And sure this season Mavs owner Mark Cuban praised Howard for working harder to be a better teammate and for being a bit more “invisible” off the court. But hold it right there. What is this “off the court” stuff you speak of?
Howard has been caught street racing, disrespecting the national anthem, and admitting to smoking weed, which I don’t have a problem with, but him saying so publicly and then putting his NBA colleagues on blast for it is quite stupid. Just a couple of days after his weed admission, and after coach Avery Johnson had banned parties during the playoffs, Howard handed out fliers to his club birthday bash in the Mavericks locker room after they lost a game to the New Orleans Hornets, putting them down 3-1 in a playoff series. The game and party were on a Sunday, the Mavs had practice on Monday, and the next playoff game was on Tuesday. Dallas lost the series. Damn, Andray Blatche didn’t even do it that bad. At least his end of season party before the actual end of the season came in a 19-win season.
All of these issues with Howard came within a six-month span in 2008. He has been relatively quiet off the court since. Still, the Mavericks don’t want him. The fact that Howard is supposedly “sensitive” has even sparked a debate as to whether Cuban’s regime has babied and coddled him too much. Evidently there was an unofficial team policy of not mentioning Howard’s name in trade rumors for fear of affecting his psyche. Speaking of psyche, Howard once famously said, “You can’t control what the ball do, man!,” as if an inanimate object had a mind of its own. Sounds like the Wizards are trading Tuff Juice for cracked egg shells.
So what about Howard’s past. Who cares at this point. Close your eyes and imagine Mike Miller saying, “It is what it is.” This trade is not about Josh Howard’s contrast to Caron Butler. But it’s worth pointing out the irony.
Fans have been sold a credo of “Character, Commitment, Connection,” and in turn, they’ve given their money, time, and fandom to the Wizards and the game of basketball. But the trade isn’t about franchise feel-good marketing buzz words, nor is it even about basketball.
It’s about saving money while attempting to erase the memory of past mistakes with salary cap space. Just like cash received for a second round pick that could have been DeJuan Blair cannot get a rebound, neither can cap space.
I’m not anti-cap space. It provides GM-envious flexibility. With cap space, you can do things like gain cheap assets by just helping facilitate a trade between two other teams. Recently the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to get Virginia Commonwealth’s Eric Maynor from the Utah Jazz for just a second round pick and for being able to take on Matt Harpring’s retiring/expiring contract so Utah could reduce their 2010 luxury tax hit.
But with cap space comes risk. With more and more talented players on the market seemingly willing to take less pay to play for a contender, the Wizards run the risk of competing against high, frugal competition by over-paying for a free agent. Or, by throwing money at one less likely to pan out, especially possible since there are not really any building blocks. At least Wizards fans can (hopefully) trust Ernie Grunfeld not to pull a ‘Joe Dumars’ and throw money at a Ben Gordon or Charlie Villanueva-type player. And hopefully the ghost of Jaromír Jágr has been exorcised from the Verizon Center.
Part of the rebuilding effort also requires luck in the draft, something the franchise hasn’t had in my living memory. When people start basking in the possible ownership of Ted Leonsis, which is something I can’t wait for myself, I still can’t help being a Debbie Downer by pointing out that the Washington Capitals got damn lucky to land the best hockey player in the world in Alexander Ovechkin. A friend also recently pointed out to me that the Caps have one of the best farm/player development systems in the NHL, if not “the” best.
Too bad the NBA doesn’t have an even ratio with the NBDL. Too bad the Wizards have rarely used their current NBDL affiliate, the Dakota Wizards. And too bad the team’s player development has a history of falling below expectations, especially in recent times.
Remember in the first Batman when the Jack Nicholson said, “This town needs an enema.” Well, the Joker is just getting started. If you’re going to do it, do it all the way. Trade Jamison’s contract, send him and his framed photo of the Larry O’Brien trophy to Cleveland for Zydrunas and a pick. The Mistake By The Lake can Keep J.J. Hickson. Or you could send Jamison to Boston with Mike Miller and Randy Foye for Ray Allen, Glen Davis, Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens. Trade them all. Send Andray Blatche to Charlotte for D.J. Augustin. You got to figure that Seven Day Dray would be more desirable to Larry Brown and Michael Jordan than rumor of a Big Baby from Boston becoming a Bobcat … I’m guessing, but now that I type that, who knows.
The demolition is likely not yet complete and remaining fans could see an even more ravaged team when Oleksiy Pecherov and the team holding the rights to Ricky Rubio comes to town next Wednesday. But the DC Sports Bog’s Dan Steinberg has a point, don’t get your Wizards lottery luck/John Wall expectations higher than anything past doubtful.
Farewell Tuff Juice.
Farewell Haywood formerly known as Brenda, who, with 579 games with the franchise under his belt, leaves sixth in games played behind Wes Unseld (984), Elvin Hayes (731), Greg Ballard (643), Charles Jones (595) and Kevin Loughery (591).
Farewell friend of Gilbert Arenas, man with the Abe Lincoln neck tattoo.
Hello flushing assets down the toilet. Hello new beginnings.