No, there are no magic wands in a rebuild. The impetus of the recent turnaround for the Washington Wizards doesn’t amount to any wizardry, either. Rather, it had quickly become evident – for who knows how long – that three players from the previous organizational generation were malignant tumors on the culture of the franchise. Nick Young and JaVale McGee are gone. Andray Blatche is almost gone — in the box score against the Nets he received a “NWT – Conditioning,” and looks to be “NWT (not with team) – Permanently” after the Wizards likely amnesty his contract this summer. Once Blatche’s departure becomes official, John Wall becomes your longest tenured Washington Wizard, technically, since he was drafted before both Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker on that fateful June 2010 night.
The sole action of slicing three players, all perhaps well enough human beings in their own right, but who formed an infectious combination on the basketball court nonetheless, is no magic bullet, either. Expect these new Wizards, now truly worthy of this year’s franchise catch-phrase “new traditions,” to continue to struggle. But it’s a beautiful struggle when you play as a team, only lacking in developed talent and cohesiveness, and not under constraints of selfishness and stupidity. Were the Wizards really that much better without Larry, Moe and Curly in their 108-89 win over the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday night, a win that featured 22 points and 10 rebounds from new acquisition Nene (or even in the two post-trade games before Nene joined the starting lineup)? Yes, they were.
They passed the vision test, by far. Numbers looked good, too. This season, when the Wizards’ team totals for free throws made, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks (minus turnovers) add to 83 or higher, their record is 7-4 (8-4 after the Nets win). Losses under such conditions have come against Boston, Milwaukee, Denver and Golden State; wins have come against Portland, Detroit, Charlotte, Toronto, the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland, and Oklahoma City. The total of those categories against the Thunder amounted to 101, a season-high. The total against New Jersey: 88, which would rank sixth-highest.
Even former NBA coaches, and current television analysts, are on board with the quick-change Wizards. During a break in the action in Wednesday night’s Dallas Mavericks-Los Angeles Lakers game broadcast on ESPN, a promo for the “National TV Big Board” was displayed — essentially the league’s cross-network schedule of upcoming nationally-televised games. I’ll let Jeff Van Gundy take it away:
“I love the big board, and I tried to get the Washington Wizards banned from the big board, but they have to come off suspension now. They are playing outstanding basketball, won on the road again tonight, in New Jersey, and this shows you, basketball is a game as much of basketball character as it is of just skill and athleticism. They rid themselves of McGee, Young, and they sent Blatche away for poor conditioning. And what you’re seeing is the emergence of John Wall [eds. note: John Wall had already emerged, his team hadn’t], and the rest of the team is coming together and playing hard as well, and I give Ernie Grunfeld a lot of credit for those moves.”
“It’s a secret society, all we ask is trust,” is a lyric that’s appeared on more than one track commanded by Jay-Z and his Roc-a-fella Dynasty. Most notably, Jay-Z, who was in attendance to see his Nets lose to the Wizards in New Jersey last night, spit the words out the song, “Get Your Mind Right,” from the year 2000 Roc La Familia: The Dynasty album. Former cohort Beanie Sigel also said it on his song, “It’s On” (featuring Jay-Z) off his 2005 album, The B.Coming.
How does this apply? Well, apparently all the Wizards needed was some trust, or rather, to jettison those who proved themselves to be untrustworthy over and over again. But to say the formula for change was a secret would be admitting the same obliviousness that Blatche, Young and McGee each had unto themselves. All they needed was to get the hell out of town.