Opening Statements: Wizards vs Rockets, Game 74 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Rockets, Game 74

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Updated: March 29, 2015

Washington Wizards at Houston Rockets - Dec. 12, 2012
It is perhaps just a tad gauche to criticize a team after a victory.
One can hear the voices muttering about the negative nancies of the blogosphere – about how this Wizards team is still headed towards the playoffs – and that even that won’t be enough to quiet the bitching from the media. So after snapping a four game losing streak against the foundering Charlotte Hornets, it might be more appropriate to bask in the afterglow or at the very least try to lean towards the fraction of light that peaked through the clouds and offered some amount of respite to District fans who had seen their team crushed (Los Angeles), embarrassed (Sacramento), disrespected (Golden State) and finally have the wheels come off (Indiana) in such a way that any hope of pulling out of a tailspin was rendered the most remote of possibilities. So to see the Wizards actually win a professional basketball game and watch John Wall be John Wall in said win was almost enough for jaded partisans of the team to remember what this team is capable is achieving simply due to one of the most singular talents in the NBA.

Then the postgame press conference with Randy Wittman took place and one is reminded of why the prospects of a Wizards resurgence remain dim.

To quote: “The group that closed out the game, gave us unbelievable effort and sustained it for a long period of time. It’s not always good plays; we made some mistakes but our effort was chasing down loose balls.”

This appears to be the most innocuous of quotes until you realize that it is just one more #EffortTalk laid out by Wittman, that games are going to be won or lost because a lesser player appeared to care more than his more accomplished teammates. Nevermind that riding substitutes like Rasual Butler and Drew Gooden are rotational moves best left to November, when the pecking order between the 7-12th men on is still being figured out by the staff, but to leave starters like Paul Pierce and Nene pinned to the bench in a close game with only nine games left in the season and playoff seeding on the line is either the ultimate act of hubris or a honest (if misguided) belief that the team that “hustles more” and “shows good effort” is the one that is going to come out on top.

Long ago, in the Mesozoic era of the Ernie Grunfeld regime there was a debate (now lost to scholars) about whom should start at the pivot position for Wizards – Etan Thomas or Brendan Haywood. Haywood was by all means the more complete basketball player but would often appear (to put it kindly) disinterested in events taking place around him., Thomas, by contrast, appeared to give shit when he was on the basketball court and would throw his body around with abandon, screaming with every block or putback dunk. Did this make Thomas the better basketball player? No. All metrics point to the Wizards being more successful with Haywood on the floor than with Thomas, even if Haywood looked like he was on a permanent Benadryl hangover and Thomas had just chugged two Red Bulls.

This debate, which lead to the famous Eddie Jordan quote of “bench, butt, brain” in regards to not playing Haywood is playing out in front of us today with Wittman’s Wizards, but with players of a greater stature than those Wizards of yore. Wittman could never make the “bench, butt, brain” comment to a player like Nene or Paul Pierce, but he can exercise his authority in playing those whom he views as putting in the requisite “effort.”

You can admire Wittmans chutzpah in actually following through with his promise to “find the guys willing to put effort in for the entire 48 minutes” but you have to question how divisive this is to the team and whether Wittman actually believes the content of what he is preaching. Rasual Butler and Drew Gooden are not going to beat the Houston Rockets today because they are willing to put in more effort. It’s unlikely that the Wizards would defeat the Rockets even if players like Pierce and Nene were meeting the imaginary effort line that gets you out of Wittman’s doghouse and onto the court. Because instead of making tangible changes to the broken aspects of his system, Wittman would rather create a strawman for the media to argue about and attribute the decline of the team to a nebulous concept that is impossible to prove, or even discuss objectively, on its own.

However, I am sure if the Wizards go out there today and give 110% and get after some loose balls they will be completely capable of handling the Rockets. I especially look forward to the contributions of Ramon Sessions, who should play the entirety of the fourth quarter if he expresses his passion for the game more vociferously than John Wall.

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Sean Fagan
Reporter / Writer/Gadfly at TAI
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Sean has contributed to TAI since the the dawn of Jan Vesely and has been on the Wizards beat since 2008. His work has been featured on ESPN, Yahoo and SI.com. He still believes that Mike Miller never got a fair shot.