The Sky Done Crashed Down — Wizards at Nuggets, DC Council 65 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The Sky Done Crashed Down — Wizards at Nuggets, DC Council 65

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Updated: March 14, 2016

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards at Nuggets, Game 65, March 12, 2016, from Denver, Colorado, via Sean Fagan (@McCarrick).

hoopsmascot

M.V.P.

Thirteen years worth of chicken littles.

Maligning the Wizards and their prospects at success has been a cottage industry in the District of Columbia and its surrounding states ever since the glory days of the later 1970s faded into patina and the reality of the 1980s set in. The 1980s Washington Bullets—spearheaded by talents such Ledell Eackles and consisting of sideshow entertainment like Muggsy Bogues and Manute Bol—were often derided, but almost never analyzed at the level that observers put teams under on a game-to-game level (thanks to the relatively recent introduction of statistical analyses and the necessity of feeding the maw of a relentless news cycle). If you had fed those 1980s Bullets rosters into a computer the results would have spat out something like “What the fuck?!”

However, there was no pretense as to why the team was so terrible for so long. Owner Abe Pollin was openly known to be one of the poorest in the league (by NBA owner standards) and while his love for the team was unquestioned, his willingness to open the checkbook and compete was always a standing issue. The franchise’s marketing campaigns existed on the platform of “come see X team’s star,” a call today’s fans still answer. And there was an open (if gentle) war of words conducted monthly between Bullets President Susan O’Malley and then-Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser about whether the team existed to become a competitive venture or whether it was nothing more than a historic shell game perpetrated on District residents.

But at least it was fun. From the uniforms to the weird journeymen down to the low-rent mascot, Hoops (seen above), the Wizards were distinctly but enjoyably cheesy. Losses came in great and abundant numbers but that element of playfulness to the franchise never really waned. Even when the Bullets were down by 22 in the fourth quarter, you could hope for the team to put Manute in the game to do something that bordered between sublime and ridiculous.

That sense of fun (or being let in on the joke) is completely absent from the present day Washington Wizards, who lost the second of two “must-win” games to the Denver Nuggets 116-100 on Saturday night. If you could distill the joylessness of Wizards basketball into one evening, you could pick from several dates on the 2015-16 calendar, but the loss to the Nuggets stands out because it checked all the failure boxes that the Wizards seem determined to mark off by season’s end.

Failure to take advantage of opponent’s mistakes (in this case 15 first-half turnovers)? Check.

Losing the battle of the boards (44-37)? Check.

Letting a team’s reserve unit destroy both starters and bench? Check.

Hold terse press conference centered around lack of effort? Check. Check. Check.

It’s almost as if the particulars don’t matter. (Actually they do matter: check out Rashad Mobley’s amazing piece on this particular catastrophe.) For the entire season, this Wizards have trudged through each month with a sense of grim determinism, stoic in the knowledge that the next month would lead to better results/health, and the team would finally find some sort of upward trajectory. The problem of course (as it has been for a long time) are expectations.

Before the season ever began, there were expectations attached to this Wizards team—expectations the team has tried and repeatedly failed to meet. With the initial expectations of making the playoffs in danger, Team President Ernie Grunfeld reached into his bag of tricks one more time to mortgage the future by sending the Wizards’ 2016 first-rounder off to the Phoenix Suns for forward Markieff Morris, a move that has failed to provide a jolt to a team hovering on life support and whose fit remains suspect. The team still remains a moribund and profoundly depressing basketball experiment, with the brief moments of brilliance from All-Star John Wall serving to illuminate the deficiencies rather than inspire hope from the future.

The only winners from Saturday night’s debacle are the chicken littles who have screamed that the sky will fall as long as Grunfeld holds the reins to the organization and now have been proven right thrice in Grunfeld’s 13-year tenure. Throughout his time in D.C., Grunfeld has applied gorilla glue to situations he thought were fixable, willing to mortgage the future of the franchise in the spirit of stabilizing the present. Such quick fix adhesives—such as the trade for Mike Miller,  the acquisition of a Marcin Gortat or a Markieff Morris—were all made in the name of improving the current product without blowing up its fundamental core. Grunfeld has always been more content to paint around the edges, acquiring stock whose value is known rather than venture into the great unknown that is player development. This might be in large part due to the fact that his fingers have been singed on a frequent and ongoing basis whenever he does attempt to dive headfirst into the pool of player development. (See, for example, fire-starters JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche.)

Now Grunfeld stands over the yawning chasm of failure and in control of what might be “Wizards Rebuild 4.0.” Except this time he doesn’t have a player-incited fiasco such as GunGate to help extricate himself from his self-induced quagmire. He can’t blame the failure on a coach he inherited (Eddie Jordan), as he selected Randy Wittman and gave him an extension. Nor can he blame it on the failure of professionalism of his players (Arenas, Blatche, McGee, Young, Crawford, etc.) because he has managed to assemble of team of veterans and stars who can point to exactly what the problems are (see: any quote by Jared Dudley or Nene or Gortat) but are helpless to actually address them when they arise. Grunfeld managed to assemble all the ingredients of what a cake should look, smell, and taste like, but the end result isn’t cake—it’s a gloppy saccharine mess that fails to form in a cohesive manner and has set fire to your oven.

However right the chicken littles may be (and I being one of them can say this for a fact), there is no fun to being able to state “I told you so” when a project fails. No one at the outset of this season expected with the Wizards to be outside the playoff picture come mid-March, playing a dispiriting brand of basketball and little hope for a better future with assets being ransomed off for little return. It is almost enough to make you wish for the old Washington Bullets of the 1980s, because they left so little room for disappointment. As a fanbase we had been conditioned to expect losing and to instead enjoy the brief glimmers of entertainment brought to us by a Bernard King throwback game or Muggsy Bogues scooting through a defense.

Such, alas, is the weight of expectations.

L.V.P.

Optimists who have grown up watching John Wall.

Reason: see above.

X-Factor.

The Washington Capitals.

For the entirety of the 2015-16 season, the Capitals success has provided cover for the Wizards’ failure. Now recent stumblings by the Capitals have fans of the franchise grumbling (if you can grumble with the best record in the NHL), and if the hockey team should fail to “meet expectations” in the playoffs, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Ted Leonsis made changes on the basketball side of his organization to detract from negative coverage of his better-loved child. So die-hard fans of the Wizards should probably hope for a ritual Capitals collapse, though there is probably only so much psychic pain the Washington area can endure before it explodes in self-hatred.

That Game Was … The Season Writ Large.

If you love yourself, take a step back from Wizards basketball for a moment and consider that there will be a future where every night doesn’t seem like a repeating “Groundhog Day.” As Randy Wittman stated after the team’s loss to Chicago Bulls, the core issues with the team have existed not just for this season, but for for many previous seasons. So don’t panic. It’s all part of the process.

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Sean Fagan on FacebookSean Fagan on Twitter
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.