Pessimism: it’s often all you got when optimism is all you need. With a season-ending six-game winning streak, things are looking on the up-and-up for the Washington Wizards, or are they? We’ve been down this road before, the path of hope, to the point where actual ‘hope’ has been greatly diluted by dusty roads, cloudy visions, and weary travelers. Still, if Wizards fans can’t find reasons to be hopeful, optimistic, then why are they fans? To gauge the overall optimism of the tired, huddled masses, Truth About It.net asked six different contributors to explain (and rate) their optimism in five key areas which are weighted differently, but come together to total 100 for an Optimism Index on the Washington Wizards franchise. The areas of evaluation are:
Current Players (out of 40);
Future Players via draft picks and free agents/cap space (out of 25);
Coaching/Player Development (out of 20);
Ownership/Team Management (out of 10); and
Arena/Atmosphere/Fan Support/Etc. (a catch-all area rated out of 5).
Read through what the collective minds of TAI — Dan Diamond (@ddiamond), Ryan Gracia (@rgracia2378), Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20), Sam Permutt (@SammyVert), John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend), and Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) – have to say about the state of the Wizards and optimism, and then give us your own rating by voting in the polls below.
(Rating out of 40 points)
DAN DIAMOND: The Wizards have some pieces… for a good team’s bench. Crawford, Booker, and Vesely are promising but may be destined for the rotation. Wall and Seraphin are undoubtedly talented, but still raw. Nenê is the only clear starter on a playoff-caliber team.
(16 out of 40)
RYAN GRACIA: Yes, the majority of this past season was extremely difficult to watch, but getting rid of JaVale McGee and Nick Young to go along with the sudden improvement from so many individual players is encouraging (and very coincidental, perhaps). I think the young squad has really benefitted on and off the court from the added veteran presence in Nenê. The team is starting to find a good balance of talented scorers, blue-collar big men, and players with high basketball IQ. I’m sounding way too much like Ernie Grunfeld…
(35 out of 40)
RASHAD MOBLEY: Andray Blatche (despite Ernie Grunfeld’s attempts to play coy) and Rashard Lewis will most likely be wearing new uniforms next year. Nenê and John Wall are bona fide starters, and I can be talked into believing Trevor Booker or Kevin Seraphin are, too. The rest of the current Wizards players have the potential to be solid to good role players. But the team as it is currently constructed, will not make the playoffs next year, despite Jordan Crawford’s predictions. There is promise but more help is needed.
(25 out of 40)
SAM PERMUTT: The Wizards certainly fall into the “cupboard isn’t bare” category, which marks a notable improvement from the beginning of the season. The pantry has been mostly cleared out of junk food (Andray Blatche cheese balls, Nick Young Top Ramen, and JaVale McGee pork rinds), and there is some real substance left. Although the Wizards likely have no long-term answer at either of the wing-positions from current starters or bench players, they possess talent (and accompanying positive attitudes) in the front court and at point guard. John Wall is a very good point guard, especially when he can focus on distributing and scoring in transition. Nenê is solid, Seraphin is surprisingly solid, and Trevor Booker and Jan Vesely play hard enough and do enough little things to merit long-term consideration, even if their current abilities are not on par with most NBA starters. That means the Wizards are two-deep (if we include Shelvin Mack as the back-up point) at the three most important and difficult positions to fill, arguably. Not bad.
(25 out of 40)
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND: There’s a lot to like on the current roster, beginning with John Wall, Nenê, Kevin Seraphin, the almost-forgotten but much improved Trevor Booker, Jordan Crawford version 2.5 (fewer 3s, more control), and Jan Vesely, who has been one of the team’s best pick-and-roll defenders since he walked through the door and co-starred in a few end-of-season highlight clips. And let’s not forget that the knucklehead-powered Wizards had a point differential of minus-8.5 before boys turned it around after the trade deadline to record a plus-1.4 point differential (plus-10.3 with Nenê on the floor).
(33 out of 40)
KYLE WEIDIE: Suddenly, two very solid pillars are in place. A point guard who will win the 94-foot race nine out of 10 times, and who also displayed a much improved understanding of pace, spacing and creation toward the end of this season; Second pillar: a veteran post player, Nenê, who can be trusted with half-court offense running through him (sometimes). The fact that Nenê has a promising understudy, Kevin Seraphin, makes this post piller stronger. However, each support beam has uncertainty to go with its optimism. Otherwise, the Wizards have a nice stable of developing role players and periphery contributors — Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely, Shelvin Mack, Singleton (both Chris and James), and Cartier Martin. And Jordan Crawford? Well, all we really know about him is that he’s a better pair with John Wall than Nick Young*. This isn’t saying much, obviously. Otherwise, the Wizards are far from contending for anything. This team needs to find not one, but two more star-quality players to compete for a title.
(22 out of 40 stars)
*Wizards Team Stats feat. 2-Man Unit of Crawford & Wall:
45.4% FGs; 98.6 points per 48 minutes; minus-6.3 plus/minus per 48.
Wizards Team Stats feat. 2-Man Unit of Young & Wall:
43.1% FGs; 94.5 points per 48 minutes; minus-8.5 plus/minus per 48.
>> AVERAGE: 26 out of 40 — 65% Optimism.
Future Players: Cap Space & Draft Picks
(Rating out of 25)
DAN DIAMOND: I’m extremely optimistic here — and with good reason. If the Wiz amnesty Rashard Lewis, they could drop $23 million below the cap. They’ll get a high draft pick in two months (assuming the Anthony Davis lottery is fixed for the Brooklyn Nets, I’d be fine with a consolation prize of Kidd-Gilchrist). The core young players on the team are locked up for the next two, three years.
(20 out of 25)
RYAN GRACIA: Despite the fact that the majority of teams during the Wizards’ end-of-season winning streak were either quietly tanking or resting their stars, Washington still finished off the season with some impressive play. The awful play throughout the majority of the season, though, will allow them to still sit pretty come draft time. I’m also really interested to see what comes out of the cap space Grunfeld has freed up with his personnel moves in recent years. I think the tandem of John Wall and Nenê could be attractive enough to lure a noteworthy free agent or two.
(23 out of 25)
RASHAD MOBLEY: Anthony Davis is top the prize, and the Wizards have a 19.9-percent chance of landing him. But they can also pick no lower fifth, which means a quality college player is on the way. And if the Wizards don’t get the help they want in the draft, they will have about $12 million to spend via free agency in 2012. One way or another, the Wizards will get two to three players who should immediately help Wall during one of his 100 MPH fast breaks.
(20 out of 25)
SAM PERMUTT: Although the Wizards are committed in the long-term to Nenê, the rest of their future is wide open. With Blatche amnestied, Rashard bought out, the second-best odds in the upcoming lottery, a lot of cap flexibility, and young players with trade value, the Wizards have options and hope. Depending on the patience factor, the lottery results, and player development, the Wizards should be able to gradually return to relevance or possibly push for a more immediate playoff presence. Few teams have more flexibility and opportunity than the Wiz Kids.
(22.5 out of 25)
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND: The three draft picks in the Wizards pocket will help to kick off a monumental offseason, before the brass make a splash in free agency. Adding Anthony Davis to the mix would be fantastic, and there’s a 19.9 percent chance that will happen; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Bradley Beal would be fine alternatives.
(17 out of 25)
KYLE WEIDIE: This rating is highly contingent on what happens in about a month (NBA Draft Lottery, May 30), but even if two teams jump the Wizards in draft order, which at this point, even the most optimistic of Wizards fans should expect, they still stand to land themselves a very nice piece — a potential star — for the future. Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Thomas Robinson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist… one of these guys alone is reason enough to be optimistic. And then you have impending cap space (assuming good management moves RE: Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis). The Wizards might have to overpay a top-notch free agent like any team, but trust me, if they have the core and the money, a star seeking payment and shine time could easily find himself picking the DMV.
(19 out of 25)
>> AVERAGE: 20.25 out of 25 — 81% Optimism.
(Rating out of 20)
DAN DIAMOND: Some franchises help players get the most out of their talent. (San Antonio, Oklahoma City, even Boston). This isn’t one of them.
(5 out of 20)
RYAN GRACIA: I really like what Randy Wittman has done to coach, develop and teach this team during his short tenure. But at this point, nobody knows yet what will happen with the head coaching job next season, so there’s a hit or miss chance that whoever comes in will be the “right” coach for this group of guys if Wittman isn’t retained. I mean, we all thought Flip was the one, until a whole mess of incidences occurred…
(10 out of 20)
RASHAD MOBLEY: During a live television interview, Ernie Grunfeld mentioned how tough it was for the coaches to not have contact with the young players during the lockout. Assuming the current coaching staff remains intact, they will be able to work with the younger players before and after summer league, and focus in player development. Randy Wittman performed well enough to be brought back as head coach, but the question is will he perform as well WITH expectations as he did without them.
(10 out of 20)
SAM PERMUTT: On the optimistic side, the Wizards now seem to possess a very coachable and hard-working core, a group which has won the last six games. On the pessimistic side, almost all of these players have experienced the bitterness of the constant losing over the past two years, and bad habits and attitudes learned from this era may be difficult to shake. With coaching up in the air, it will be the player’s attitudes that are most important going forward. Will they listen? Optimism wins out, but cautiously.
(12.5 out of 20)
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND: Wittman stepped into the head coaching job with the fourth-worst win-loss percentage in NBA history, and the Wizards’ 18-31 record didn’t do much to change that. However, his job might very well be safe. The players respect Wittman and appreciate his aggressive no-nonsense style, and at the end of the year, the coach found a way to turn lead into gold: Washington’s six-game season-ending winning streak is the longest for a non-playoff team in more than three decades. With six first-round picks and the staff to develop that talent — Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin make you forget about the painfully slow progress of some former Wizards – the team looks to be in decent shape, with or without Wittman at the helm.
(14 out of 20)
KYLE WEIDIE: In many cases, player development is only as good as the willingness of its subjects. That being said, it doesn’t mean Ernie Grunfeld’s team didn’t fail the franchise with the results of Nick Young, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee. The best way to get knuckleheads to listen is to try to perform due diligence and not draft said knuckleheads in the first place. With Ernie Grunfeld still in place, with what appears to be a re-tooled drafting strategy under Leonsis, I imagine player development will have some better constancy going forward. But, with the coaching staff currently up in the air, my optimism rating for this area must remain a notch below half full.
(9 out of 20)
>> AVERAGE: 10.1 out of 20 — 50.4% Optimism.
(Rating out of 10)
DAN DIAMOND: This may be an unpopular opinion, but hear me out: The Wizards repeatedly draft well at their slot — Wall was the right #1 selection; McGee, Young, and Booker were all solid picks in the mid-first round; Blatche was a second-round steal. Several recent trades have worked out very well; the Wizards turned half a season of Kirk Hinrich into Crawford, Seraphin, and Chris Singleton. There have been some awful contracts, true, but I’ll buy the “Ernie was only doing what Abe Pollin wanted” line. For one more year, at least.
(6 out of 10)
RYAN GRACIA: Leonsis transformed the Capitals and fans are all praying that he can do the same for the saddening Wizards. Will that happen with Ernie Grunfeld doing the play calling? My mind wants to tell me “No!” yet I can’t help but have high hopes that something good will come out of it this time around.
(7 out of 10)
RASHAD MOBLEY: Ted Leonsis made the call to fire Flip Saunders, and Ernie Grunfeld got rid of JaVale McGee and Nick Young and brought a legit low post presence in Nenê. They should be commended for that. Ted also said there is a plan in place, and he has faith that Grunfeld will continue to make the right decisions to carry that plan out fully. But given there has been roster, ownership and coaching turnover in the past two years, why not just make it a clean slate and replace Grunfeld instead of extending him?
(4 out of 10)
SAM PERMUTT: While Ted Leonsis has proven his mettle with the rebuild of the Capitals, his early work with the Wizards suggests more flash (new uniforms) than substance (the team was pretty “turrible” for most of the year). Nonetheless, his energy and positivity are undeniable, and there is something significant about his belief in Grunfeld and subsequent re-commitment. Much maligned for some questionable moves (the Gilbert Arenas contract, the undeserved commitment to knuckleheads such as “Baltche”), Ernie has also made several shrewd moves (including solid drafting) and has the Wizards in decent shape looking forward.
(5 out of 10)
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND: Washington hasn’t been competitive in years… Well, outside of the draft lottery, where the team is set to make its fourth consecutive appearance. The team’s .291 winning percentage is the fourth-worst total since 2010-11, the start of the John Wall-Ted Leonsis era. The Wiz have been bad “by plan” — that’s how rebuilding goes; you have to be bad before you can be good — but there are plenty of reasons to believe more wins are on the way. Stability is one of them, gained by extending the contract of nine-year team architect, Ernie Grunfeld. Grunfeld has earned Leonsis’ trust, and in this what-have-you-done-for-me-
(7 out of 10)
KYLE WEIDIE: We’re hard on Ted Leonsis, but he gets it. Yet, sometimes he doesn’t. But overall, that’s OK. He wants to win, he understands a professional team’s relationship with the community, and he has his own way of doing things. After all, he is the owner. Ted’s all for transparency, and he’s got a blog to let you know that. But let’s not confuse transparency with the adept understanding of communications in an ever-changing environment (while Leonsis is also trying to figure out the landscape himself — no one ever trains for a career in sports franchise ownership). Leonsis sees the need for pixels, and he wants to satisfy that. Not such a bad thing. But, just like his plans for Monumental Sports to create its own media network for coverage of its teams (which will never be able to maintain a non-influenced standard), the blog Ted’s Take is always going to provide filtered thoughts through the guise of openness. Otherwise, Ernie Grunfeld is back and is apparently executing Leonsis’ marching orders to satisfaction. So, as much as I may criticize, I still believe in Ted as captain of the ship.
(7 out of 10)
>> AVERAGE: 6 out of 10 — 60% Optimism.
(Rating out of 5)
DAN DIAMOND: No knock on TAI readers — who are passionate about Washington basketball — but the Verizon Center is often so lifeless, it can feel like a mausoleum. And as my friend Dov points out, D.C. is a city of transients; for many NBA fans, the biggest draw about the Wizards is going to see your favorite team … from another city.
(1 out of 5)
RYAN GRACIA: As sad as I’ve felt sitting with the sparse crowds inside the Verizon Center during recent years, I remember the crowd when it was really jumping during the playoffs in 2006 and 2007. Some nice additions this offseason could spark similar results from the hometown fans, even if this particular group doesn’t slip into the playoffs next season.
(3 out of 5)
RASHAD MOBLEY: Right now the Washington Nationals have one of the best records in baseball, they have Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and (an injured) Ryan Zimmerman, but they still cannot fill up Nationals Stadium. The reason? Fans can appreciate a good turnaround from afar, but they don’t pay money and fill seats until they know they are supporting a consistent winner. The Wizards’ six-game win streak to end the season was nice, John Wall’s improvement is, too, and Nenê is clearly important. But, the Wizards need another high draft pick, a big free agent, some consistent wins, and a playoff berth before fan support fully returns to the Verizon Center.
(1 out of 5)
SAM PERMUTT: Though there was more booing of the home team in the Phone Booth than ever before this season (except maybe during the worst of the Juwan Howard era), this may be a positive sign going forward. Andray Blatche was the target of most of the boos, a symbol for larger organizational issues of unrealized potential, unfocused basketball and lackluster professionalism. The fans are ready for hard-working, smart and humble players — even if that team isn’t a championship contender. John Wall is still the star and leader the city craves, the perfect captain to usher in a new era for the Wizards. Stylish and substantive, D.C. will continue to embrace his swagger.
(4 out of 5)
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND: Support and enthusiasm, with a winning team, typically take care of themselves. Now if only there were something we could do about the team nickname….
(4 out of 5)
KYLE WEIDIE: Washington being a transient city, thanks due to its capital nature, the resulting federal government, and tourists — oh, the freaking tourists — certainly works to the Wizards’ detriment when they are bad. However, more than not, transplants want to adopt the hapless Wiz as their second, now-local team, or those in Washington from abroad want to embrace D.C.’s team wholly. But with the franchise traditionally not giving people much to cheer about, general interest in opponents becomes magnified. Winning cures everything, and with a downtown arena to lend the atmosphere some support, winning will fix the following: bringing back local fans; turning the tide of general-interest pro basketball fans; quelling the presence of opposing fans (in most cases); and most of all, eliminating dissatisfaction from non-playoff competition. The people of Washington are yearning to prove they can support a winner; if you build it, they will come.
(4 out of 5)
>> AVERAGE: 2.8 out of 5 — 56.7% Optimism.
- Dan Diamond — 48% Optimism.
- Ryan Gracia — 78% Optimism.
- Rashad Mobley — 60% Optimism.
- Sam Permutt — 69% Optimism.
- John Converse Townsend — 75% Optimism.
- Kyle Weidie — 61% Optimism.
>> AVERAGE: 65.2 out of 100 — 65.2% Optimism.
How optimistic are you about the current players on the Washington Wizards roster (out of 40)?
How optimistic are you about the potential of future players on the Wizards (draft picks and free agents via cap space) (out of 25)?
How optimistic are you about the coaching staff/player development of the Washington Wizards (out of 20)?
How optimistic are you about the ownership/management of the Wizards (out of 10)?
How optimistic are you about fan support, the arena, etc. surrounding the Wizards (out of 5)?