Opening Statements: Wizards at Lakers, Game 73 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards at Lakers, Game 73

Updated: March 27, 2016

Teams: Wizards at Lakers
Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Television: CSN
Radio: WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 9 points.

This isn’t the first time it’s been said, nor will it be the last, but it needs to be emphasized:
The Wizards are wasting an opportunity plenty of teams would kill to have. They employ a top-tier point guard on a second-tier salary who is still yet to reach his prime, a shooting guard younger than some of the players currently thriving in the NCAA Tournament (1) with a shooting stroke worth drooling over, a pair of athletic wings who were both recent lottery picks, a 26-year-old power forward who recently put Anthony Davis on a poster, and a center who is putting up 13 and 10 a game. All of these players are under contract next year, with the exception of Bradley Beal, who is a restricted free agent.

What the Wizards don’t have is a coach who can work with this collection of talent—and make no mistake, this is one of the top 10 collections of talent in the NBA—nor a GM who can figure out how to elevate the team from capable to contender. They also don’t have a first-round pick this summer, which really isn’t a big deal, considering they have five lottery picks from the past six drafts—John Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, and Markieff Morris—already on the team (the current coach probably wouldn’t let next year’s rookie get any tangible experience, anyway). But a new coach, which has to be expected after Washington’s total whiff of a 2015-16 season, might be willing and able to develop a rookie with an eye toward the future while still be a playoff threat.

I’d like to submit a hypothetical scenario for consideration. Assume, for a moment, Randy Wittman, Byron Scott, and Sam Mitchell, the much-maligned coaches of the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves, respectively, are all fired after this season. And assume there is an elite superstar hitting free agency this year without ties to any of those areas (2). In what order would you rank the attractiveness of each of those three destinations?

This is a question that would sound absolutely insane just a few short months ago, and Washington would have to be considered the runaway favorite, but really consider all the factors in play.

The Wizards boast a promising core of Wall, Beal, Porter, Morris, Gortat, and Oubre; they have recently enjoyed some degree of success; they offer the appeal of living in the District; and they offer a much less intimidating path to the conference finals. The Lakers have an intriguing core of their own in D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance Jr., and they can offer the appeal of living in Los Angeles and playing in the iconic purple and gold—whether that still has much value is up for debate, but let’s just say putting on a Lakers jersey has a better chance of giving you chills than putting on a Wizards jersey. The Timberwolves not only have the two most recent No. 1 overall picks in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, but they have an athletic freak who is developing into a quality sidekick in Zach LaVine, emerging center Gorgui Dieng, promising young players Shabazz Muhammad and Tyus Jones, and that Ricky Rubio fellow.

Based entirely on current talent on the roster, you could make the case for any of the three teams. Now move forward in time three months. The Wolves have likely added a top-5 pick, ideally a wing who can become the team’s go-to scorer (3), to their collection of young talent. The Lakers have likely added a top-3 pick, perhaps Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. The Wizards have added nothing. (Of course, there is the possibility the lottery goes wonky, the Lakers lose their pick, and the Wizards somehow sneak into the top three.)

Let’s also factor in how far along in their development each of the young players is. Towns and Russell have each played a full rookie season, and their production has skyrocketed as they’ve progressed through the growing pains typical of rookies. Towns averaged 13.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 0.8 assists per game in November, but he has averaged more than 20 points, 10 rebounds and 2 assists per game in both February and March; Russell has suffered through a less conventional developmental arc, but his scoring has jumped from 10.7 points per game in November to 16.3 points per game in March.

While we’re at it, consider how the young players on the three teams have spent their brief time in the NBA: The Timberpups have grown alongside fellow burgeoning stars still learning the league while making no attempt to fool themselves into thinking this year matters for anything more than development. The Puddles (4) have struggled to convince their stubborn head coach that they’re worthy of playing and have had some of their production hindered by Kobe Bryant’s swansong, but they also accepted the notion that this season’s win total is irrelevant long ago. And the Boy Wizards have watched their team sign players off the street—whatup Ryan Hollins, Jarell Eddie, J.J. Hickson, and Marcus Thornton?—only to then lose playing time to those scrubs.

Finally, add in the leadership aspect. The next generation of Timberwolves has had NBA champion, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and 15-time All Star Kevin Garnett by their side all season; while the next generation of Lakers have had 5-time NBA champion, MVP, and 18-time All Star Kobe Bryant yelling at them throughout the year. Kelly Oubre has surely enjoyed having 2002-03 first-team All-Rookie Nene showing him the ropes, I guess. Garnett and Bryant, while undeniably mere shells of their former selves, are nearly as legendary for their work ethic and commitment to greatness as they are for their on-court triumphs. They also both came into the league before they turned 20 and quickly assimilated to the professional game, therefore giving them value as leaders. Nene has a reputation for not talking to media after he’s had a bad game and, while he’s generally seen as a good dude, he’s never been considered much of a leader.

When Wall said he didn’t want to waste a season, it’s tough to imagine a season being more wasted than this one has been. After losing to the Timberwolves, at home, in double overtime, the Wizards season is all but over. We’ll continue to hear noise from the team’s PR machine (5) about how Washington was screwed over by injuries and poor officiating and the works, but all the positive spin in Monumental Sports’ offices can’t undo the fact that the Wizards unequivocally, and unintentionally, threw away a year of Wall, Beal, and Porter all being on relatively cheap deals, in a soft Eastern Conference, and they did so while (likely) forfeiting another first-round pick (6), all in the hopes of attracting a star who is soon to become a free agent and presumably won’t come to the 202.

That’s what we’re left with, coming out of Friday’s defeat at the hands of the Timberwolves and heading into Sunday’s game against the Lakers. Each team is among the league’s worst, yet each team has a strong case as a more appealing destination than Washington, and each team has beaten the Wizards already this season, in D.C. But hey, at least Washington has a slightly lower income tax for the wealthy than Minnesota and California do. That ought to bring all the stars flocking to the nation’s capital.

A Note On Kobe.

When I first signed up to write this preview months ago, it was exclusively so I would have the opportunity to write something of a tribute to my all-time favorite player, Kobe Bryant, from a Wizards-centric perspective. With how the season has played out, perhaps that would be more fitting now than it would have been if the Wizards were jockeying for playoff position, but on the heels of the worst lost of the season, it was scratched from the gameplan.

But just for the record, we’re talking about a guy who, entering Sunday, has scored 799 points against the Wizards in his career, which began when the Wizards were still the Bullets. Only 80 players have ever scored more than that against the Washington franchise, and they each played more games against Washington than Kobe’s 31, due to his playing in the opposite conference his whole career and also the Wizards never making the Finals during his 20-year career. Over that time, Bryant averaged 25.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game against the Wizards, while shooting .400 from beyond the arc—fittingly, his 3-point percentage is substantially higher against the Wizards than it is against any other team, with his .371 against the Knicks coming in second.

On three occasions, Bryant has surpassed the 40-point mark against the Wizards, and on three other occasions, he’s notched triple-doubles. Another time, he put up 39 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and just 4 turnovers while playing 44 minutes. One game, he scored 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting, and added 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, 2 blocks, and just 2 turnovers. That’s eight games right there that would rank among the best any Wizard has had in years, all against the Wizards.

The last time Washington held him below 20 points was 2009; before that it was 2005.

There is plenty of criticism for Bryant floating around, and most of it is well-deserved. It’s totally fair to claim he wouldn’t have thrived as much in today’s analytics age. He should have passed more when he was younger, and he should pass more now, in his final season. He has often been a dick to his teammates and not easy to be around, especially for those who can’t keep up on the court. But this man was an absolute offensive juggernaut, one of a very few wing players who could probably have held his own in a one-on-one against Michael Jordan in each player’s prime. He had some of the best footwork the NBA has ever seen, he was a master of his craft, and he worked harder than just about anybody to ever pick up a ball.

Suffice to say, the game will be different without the Mamba in it, and I’m pretty bummed about it.

  1. Malcolm Brogdon was born exactly 200 days before Bradley Beal.
  2. So basically Kevin Durant, minus the D.C. connection.
  3. Buddy Hield, perhaps
  4. Yeah, I’m not proud of that one either.
  5. He goes by Ted.
  6. For the record, the Wizards are currently projected to receive (and subsequently send to Phoenix) the 12th overall pick, which could have had them in play for athletic freak Brice Johnson, stretch-4 Skal Labissiere, or triple-double machine Denzel Valentine.
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Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.