Saturday night’s loss to the Miami Heat followed a script all too familiar to Wizards fans, and in a sense, begrudgingly emulated the now defunct tenure of Gilbert Arenas in Washington, D.C.
Against all odds, the Wizards competed with the Heat. It wasn’t a situation where Miami was just cold and Washington was making unbelievable shots like it just happened to be their night. No, the Wizards got by on their own merit — thanks to hustle, footwork and inspired play that’s been infrequent beyond acceptable means this season.
Agent Zero was created through an “against all odds” persona. Arenas’ flair and passion that once-upon-a-time injected energy into a re-inspired D.C. professional basketball team now faintly seems like decades ago. The Verizon Center hasn’t rocked like it did on Saturday in a long, long time, especially without Arenas.
But in the end, the Wizards caused their own downfall. They had the game all but in the bag after the returning Josh Howard hit a runner in the paint to put Washington up 91-86 with 32 seconds left … just don’t do anything stupid and make free-throws. Neither of those things happened and those commonplace jaws of defeat rose up out of the waters and snatched a prey that thought it had escaped victoriously.
Arenas’ reign in the District followed a similar course. Robbed by uncontrollable fate in the form of injury, and snatched from reason with guns in the locker room, the Washington Wizards franchise is once again left as the loser. The last glimpse of the happy times of yore snatched away by the uncertainty of rebuilding on the shoulders of a 20-year old with uncertain knees. Arenas may claim that he was docile during his last days in Washington because he was no longer the man, but that wasn’t really going to spark sympathy for the situation he had hand in creating.
In another sense, Flip Saunders likes to convey the idea that when crunch time gets tough, and when the game is on the line, that’s when players revert back to their old, poor habits that put their team in difficult situations. Usually Flip is referring to JaVale McGee in such instances, but it can be applied to young players in general … young players such as the 24-year old, 6-year NBA veteran Andray Blatche. Blatche returned from missing four of the previous five games due to knee injury with better effort, focus and composure, but resorted to bad habits and old mistakes as the Wizards team made several gaffes so aptly described by the Washington Post’s Michael Lee to give the game away.
When asked if there were any plays he wishes he could take back, Blatche indignantly insisted, “I don’t wish I had no plays back, the game is meant to be played how it’s played. I’m not trying to take back no plays at all.” Unfortunately, for much of the season, Blatche hasn’t played the game how it’s meant to be played. If it was ultimately deemed that Arenas’ personality simply would not mesh with a rebuilding project, Blatche’s can’t be too far behind.
Pick up the pieces and move on everyone must. A stoic Ted Leonsis made the rounds in the Wizards’ locker room after the game to offer his condolences on the tough loss. At Leonsis’ side was American Express chairman and CEO Kenneth Chenault and sons, whom Leonsis introduced to a couple Wizards.
As you’ll hear just about any NBA player talking about their league being “a business,” the same goes for those actually responsible for running the business. And Leonsis, who sits on the board of directors for American Express himself, was busy multitasking pixels in the algorithm of life, weaving a currently downtrodden rebuilding team with the corporate growth that allows for rebuilding.
In related news, American Express recently ended it’s five-year absence from top-level league sponsorship and is again the official charge card of the NBA. According to the New York Times, the company is also set to expand upon its existing deal with the Wizards, in addition to the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers.
Onward we go.