[Ed. Note: I'm going to warn you. Rashad is about to divulge himself as a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Please, do not be outraged. I already knew this and it is okay. He's a fine young man (who's older than me) and you should not hold his fandom of a certain team about 140 miles north against him. Now Mr. Mobley is going to explain why the Bobcats are worth checking out, aside from wondering if Gerald Wallace is going to injure yet another Wizard. -Kyle W.]
I have been a Philadelphia Eagles fan since 1985 when I saw Randall Cunningham running and passing his way to superstardom. And although they have just one Super Bowl appearance and no titles during my 25 years of loyalty, my allegiance remains strong.
Unfortunately, since sports is mostly about business and not fan loyalty, some of my favorite players have left the Eagles via trade, free agency or waivers. Randall Cunningham retired as an Eagle and then unretired and played for Minnesota; Reggie White left for Green Bay via free agency; Terrell Owens was released and then he signed with Dallas; and just this past summer, Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins.
In all four cases, my loyalty towards the Eagles was severely tested, but I hung in there, because that’s the code that true fans follow. But at the same time, I could not help but peek at the stat sheets to see how the former Eagles were doing in their new homes. In some cases I was glad they continued to thrive, and in others, I was more than happy to see them go down and go down hard.
Due to the recent makeover the Washington Wizards have undergone the past several months, their fans have had to sit and watch their formal players populate the rosters of other teams. Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson are in Dallas, Antawn Jamison is in Cleveland (for now), and Mike Miller is in Miami, just to name a few. Most Wizards fans, whether it be when these players come to town, or via a cursory glance at a box score, will always want to keep tabs on how and what these players are doing during the 2010-2011 season.
But there is one team in the Southeast Division, that arguably has the distinction of having the most interesting collection of ex-Wizards: The Charlotte Bobcats.
There are players Wizards fans used to root for, one player they flat-out hate, and a former player/president turned owner who sparks feelings of ambivalence. No matter what the emotion, the Bobcats are definitely must-see-TV for Wizards fans. Let’s start with the most hated ex-Wizards (with apologies to Juwan Howard).
The love-hate (with hate holding a substantial lead) relationship Wizards fans have with Kwame Brown has been well-documented, so there’s no need to rehash that at this point. In fact, when Brown made his only visit to the Verizon Center last November 14th as a member of the Detroit Pistons, the crowd could barely muster up any boos for him (although in fairness, Brown only played nine minutes). Wizards fans seemed resigned to the fact that Kwame was a bust, and there is seemingly little to no threat of him haunting the team the way Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber and Rip Hamilton did for what felt like an eternity.
But now that Brown is reunited with Mr. Michael Jordan (more on him later) in Charlotte, there are legitimate reasons in place for Wizards fans to resuscitate the boo-birds. Not only will Brown show his face in the arena twice (maybe more if a playoff series presents itself), but Jordan/Brown combination will remind Wizards fans of what should have been: A productive front office/number one draft pick tandem. Sadly, based on Brown’s career averages of 6.7 points and 5.4 rebounds, he is more likely to collect DNPs, than boos.
The mere mention of Jordan’s name to Wizards fans causes mixed and conflicted reactions. Some are forever grateful for the excitement he brought to the then-MCI Center for two seasons as a player. Some praised his ability to rid the Wizards of the bloated contracts of Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland as a President of Basketball Operations. But his detractors point to Kwame Brown, the trading of Richard Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse, and his failure to lead the Wizards to the playoffs during his tenure as a player.
The last image of Jordan in D.C. was back in May of 2003. Abe Pollin fired him, then he yelled at Ted Leonsis, and angrily zoomed away in a convertible. Now, seven years later, the man who fired Jordan has passed away, and Jordan and Leonsis are now part of the NBA owners fraternity. And with Jordan vowing to take the Mark Cuban approach to ownership, we could very well see he and Leonsis smiling courtside at the Verizon Center.
More importantly, Jordan’s success or lack thereof as an owner in Charlotte will always be linked to Washington. If he does well, his front office tenure with the Wizards will be viewed as a learning experience on his way to bigger and better things. But if he fails to meet expectations, his front office tenure in D.C. will be looked at as the first sign that is greatness did not extend beyond the basketball court.
While some Wizards fans will pay attention to Brown and Jordan with a certain degree of cynicism, the sight of a healthy, spry Shaun Livingston will cause those same fans to nod and clap in appreciation.
Livingston arrived in D.C. on a 10-day contract at the end of February, and the expectations were low. He had been cut in December of 2009 by the Oklahoma City Thunder, after averaging just a point and 1.4 assists in 10 games. During his first eight games, it did not look like Livingston was in the Wizards long term plans at all. He showed an ability to run the offense and see over the man guarding him, but his shot was inconsistent as was his playing time.
But on Saturday, March 13th, against the Orlando Magic, Livingston put it altogether for the first time. In 31 minutes of playing time off the bench, he scored 18 points, dished out eight assists and ran the point guard position much better than Randy Foye. After that game, Coach Flip Saunders hinted that Livingston would start , and when the Wizards tipped off two nights later in Utah, he was right there in the starting lineup. As a starter, he averaged 11 points and five assists, and his finest game came in 106-96 victory over the Boston Celtics– that night he had 25 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals.
I remember asking Livingston last season about possibly sharing a backcourt with Arenas during the 2010-2011 season and he said:
“Man, that would be great. I mean Gilbert is known around the league as a scoring guard during his career, and I think if I were running the point, that would free things up for him tremendously. Then obviously it opens the floor for me a bit as well. Plus I’m 6′7″, he’s 6′4″, a back court like that is a handful on both ends of the floor. Ok, yeah, I’m getting excited just talking about that [laughs heartily]. But seriously, a whole lot needs to happen for that to be a reality. I mean I don’t even know if the Wizards are bringing me back next year for sure, so I cant get too carried away.”
But when the Wizards drafted John Wall, signed Kirk Hinrich, and kept Arenas (despite rumors to the contrary) during the offseason, it made Livingston’s presence expendable. Still, Livingston found solace in the form of a two-year, seven million dollar contract with the Bobcats. And even though he’s currently in a battle for the starting point guard slot with D.J. Augustin, he still figures to get plenty of playing time–and Wizards fans can feel good knowing his career was rejuvenated here in D.C.
It was easy for Wizards fans to watch Kwame Brown leave the Wizards, because he never fulfilled the high expectations that
come with being the number one overall pick in the draft. Dominic McGuire started as a second round pick with low expectations and no guarantee to make the final roster, but he ascended to a player who was an integral part of the Wizards rotation.
During the 2008-09 season, McGuire averaged 5.5 points and 6.4 rebounds in his 57 games as a starter, and he frequently guarded the other team’s best player. At one point, then-head coach Ed Tapscott likened McGuire’s defensive skill that of Bruce Bowen (then regarded as one of the top defenders in the league, albeit aging). Going into the 2009-10 season, McGuire was looking to parlay the momentum from the previous season into a spot in Flip Saunders’ exclusive eight man rotation. He told me during media day last year:
“I’m trying to re-establish myself and earn minutes to get on the court…we have a deep team this year, so I know I have to earn that trust again…I wanted to work on mid-range game.”
Unfortunately for McGuire, he was unable to crack Saunders’ rotation, and not only did he not start, but he averaged just six minutes a game. Amid all the flashy moves the Wizards made during the trading deadline earlier this year, McGuire’s trade to Sacramento for a second-rounder (that the Wizards will never see because of stipulations) and cash was barely noticed. The move put the Wizards under the luxury tax, and allowed to McGuire to return to his home state of California; however, less than a month after the trade, McGuire suffered a torn right plantar fascia in his foot and was out for the season. The Kings chose not to offer him a contract, but the Bobcats did.
Given Larry Brown’s emphasis on defense, it’s quite possible that McGuire could be a part of the regular rotation. Imagine he and Trevor Booker guarding one another.
I’m quite sure Wizards fans will have more than enough time to occupy themselves with this current Wizards squad given that Wall, Arenas, Blatche and company figure to make this season an exciting one. But given the unique collection of former Wizards on the Charlotte Bobcats, it will surely be worth it for those same fans to keep tabs on them.
The real fun begins on November 12th, when the Bobcats and the Wizards square off in the Verizon Center. Ironically enough, just three days later, my Philadelphia Eagles will be in town to play to play Donovan McNabb and the Washington Redskins. It all comes full circle.