Letters About Wizards Playing the Blues in Memphis, Tennessee | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Letters About Wizards Playing the Blues in Memphis, Tennessee

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Updated: October 31, 2016

Editor’s Note: What you will find below are hand-written letters which were exchanged between two individuals over the course of several years during the late-1800s / early-1900s. These letters have been adapted for the modern world’s internet and content edited for clarity in their application to the Washington Wizards, a professional basketball team that competes based out of the nation’s capital, the United States of America being that nation. The text is best consumed while imagining the authors (Kyle Weidie and Sean Fagan) dressed in heavy wools with thick beards in the dead of summer, sweating from their brows as they permanently implant their thoughts using quill to paper while contemplating the future of mankind, including those classified as wizards.

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Dear Sean,

The Wizards once again sputtered when it counts. This time it happened after two full days to compose themselves after getting outscored by 14 points (33-19) in the fourth quarter versus Atlanta, losing to the Hawks by 15 in the opener. This time Washington got outscored by 17 points (24-7) over the last nine minutes of game action in Memphis, including a five-minute overtime period where the Grizzlies scored 12 and the Wizards didn’t drop a single bucket until a meaningless Marcus Thornton 3-pointer in the waning seconds (1).

Bobby Marks, an NBA front office vet who now writes for The Vertical, recently tweeted that he’s always said, “the NBA is broken up into 10, 8 game seasons. Best to evaluate the season with that approach and not after 2 games.” Others may look at the season in four 20-game segments. Point is, this team has the talent to build on—and we’ve seen glimpses—but they are struggling mightily to put it together, and it’s concerning even if early. Atlanta and Memphis are quality squads, but the Wizards have not exactly looked ‘together’ in the lead-up to the crumble. Where is the militaristic, nay regimented, nay structured, nay professional Scott Brooks? Next six games: vs. Toronto, vs. Atlanta, at Orlando, vs. Houston, vs. Boston, and vs. Cleveland—at least five are at home, but historically that hasn’t been much of an advantage for the franchise.

I hate writing this next part—because it is so cliché—but this team has no identity. There’s been all this talk about a new-found focus on defense as if Randy Wittman didn’t go through painstaking effort to instill a more defensive mindset (that deteriorated last season). From a higher perch, this team has little along the lines of personnel that would allow it to be a quality defensive team. The only rim protector, Ian Mahinmi, is hurt. Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre are each erratic, for different reasons. Marcin Gortat looks to be in decline and Markieff Morris often lacks attentiveness. John Wall and Bradley Beal, as seems the intent, are supposed to be the team’s defensive leaders, and that’s fine. But their backups—primarily Trey Burke and Thornton—are scorers, neither of whom are really capable of defending, much less running a competent offense. Through just two games, Washington is allowing 111.2 points per 100 possessions (fourth-most so far per BBR)—not even the Eddie Jordan/Gilbert Arenas teams topped that mark.

Layered somewhere in this upside down cake is that when the chips are down, the offense becomes very much akin to the worst of the Durant-Westbrook trade-a-shot days in OKC … but with less talent. In fourth quarters and overtime through two games (33 total minutes), Wall and Beal are a combined 4-for-16 on shots with just five of those attempts coming at the rim (Beal is 2-4, Wall 0-1) and just three free throw attempts between them (Wall is 3-3). Where are we going with all this?

P.S. — Hope that you and your fiancée had a great weekend.

Sincerely,

K.B. Weidie



Dearest Kyle —

It is funny that you talk about identity, because I think this is where an observer (either casual or a dedicated analyst) can make the most hay from the Wizards’ early struggles. You state that this is a cliché, but we have been talking about NBA franchises in the mold of their coaches vision (née identity) for over three decades (the Pat Riley Lakers/Heat, the Red Auerbach Celtics, Phil Jackson’s Bulls/Lakers), and even though each and every one of those teams had transcendent superstars, each team had a “style” of play that one could easily identify. Even in today’s NBA, if you plopped a Martian down in front of a television and told him to differentiate between Golden State and Charlotte, that same Martian could report back to you that one team appears good at putting the ball through the cylinder while the other appears to good and preventing the ball going through the cylinder.

Plop the same Martian down in front of a Wizards game? I think your answer would be, “Man, that’s some basketball.”

I’m positive that even the most starry-eyed optimist did not expect Scott Brooks to transform the Wizards into his image overnight—but I’m a bit fuzzy on the identity of a “Scott Brooks” team. Normally, when a new coach takes over a squad, the change is readily apparent to the eye (see Memphis under David Fizdale having Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph hoist from beyond the arc), but with the Wizards I am at a loss to see what cosmetic changes have been wrought. The Wizards brass did not hire a Scott Skiles or a Tom Thibodeau (two coaches who defensive imprint appears early on with their team, but tends to grind them down), nor did they pursue someone from a more offensively minded coaching tree (Popovich, D’Antoni et al.) who would completely reinvent the Wizards on the offensive front.

Instead, I’m just seeing “some basketball,” and the Wizards just don’t have the personnel to skate by without locking down at least one end of the court. You illustrate a myriad of reasons that exist on the roster as to why the Wizards cannot be Brooks’ defensive team, but I would throw that ball back to you and ask if it isn’t Brooks job to develop and identity for the team that conforms to its current construction? By no means did I expect Brooks to have the aura of a Brad Stevens, where players are willing to run through a wall for him, but I certainly expected to see a bit more spark in a team that every expert assessed as “underperforming” last year.

Which brings me to perhaps my most pressing question (and one that may seem a bit hyperbolic) but did Scott Brooks inherit a poisoned chalice? Is there a chance that as long as Wall and Beal suit up in the same uniform this team is just going to keep underperforming as Wall grimaces through another night where Beal chucks up a 5-for-17 performance knowing that he makes $40 million more? Or that a player like Gortat might be going at half speed not because of performance decline, but because he knows that this team has only has limited ceiling?

I guess my question is that despite all the talk of Brooks making young players better, there is a rotten apple stink to this team. Do you agree and who would be the apple you chuck?

Watching games now through my fingers,

S.M. Fagan




Salutations, Mr. Fagan,

Since we’ve last corresponded I’ve given a lot of thought to your query. At this juncture, and considering the famine, I must advise against the throwing away of any apples. Of course, Marcus Thornton would be your easy answer, maybe even Trey Burke. But who throws out something you found in the bargain bin as soon as you get home? Then again, one man’s trash is sometimes merely another man’s trash.

Focusing on the affair in Memphis: the first quarter started off innocently enough … with both teams being guilty of terrible offense. At the six-minute mark, the score was only 8-7, Memphis, with the Wizards shooting 2-for-13 from the field (1-6 on 3s) and the Grizzlies shooting 2-for-10 (1-3 on 3s). But the Wizards appeared to be hustling, even if that involved Gortat helplessly flailing to contest a Marc Gasol 3-point attempt which would end up being the first points of the night, and which would allude to nails which would later be hammered into Washington’s coffin. This also marked the second time in as many games that a Wizards starter got in foul trouble, throwing off the rotations. Markieff Morris picked up two personals and a technical by the 8:35 mark and had to go the bench, creating an environment where no one else on the team could handle Zach Randolph, now pounding opponents off Memphis’ bench. In fact, nothing was innocent at all—innocence was sent to the lost and found box to join an offense where Wall bricked elbow jumpers sometimes; and other times the ball would find him, flat-footed somewhere, as other teammates tried in earnest to create. At least one time Wall hit a corner 3, which according to team mouthpieces, is a shot he will be expected to make as the season wears on (not the worst idea in the world).

It wasn’t until in the second quarter when we gained a sense of familiarity. Frustrated, and with his team down 40-25, John Wall started attacking relentlessly. He was inserted back into the game for Burke, with Beal for Oubre, and Morris for Nicholson at the 8:34 mark. Wall then forged his way to the rim three times but only made one of those attacks, arguing that the opponents had twice violated a wartime treaty in the process. Ex-Washington Bullet Haywoode Workman was having none of it on his battlefield and charged Wall with a technical. But that only added gunpowder to Wall’s musket. Over last seven minutes of the second quarter, Wall went 3-for-4 at the rim, earning two free throws, which he made (8 points), while dropping six times to zero turnovers. Washington outscored Memphis 25-17 with Wall being directly responsible for 21 of those points. The Wizards succumbed to intermission down just four points, 54-58.

Can you begin to describe what transpired before your eyes in the second half? And to address your concerned query—something which I’ve begrudgingly considered while enjoying a hypothetical smoke on the battlefield—we are far from requesting an annulment of the Wall-Beal marriage (they work so well together on paper!), but we shall nonetheless keep a close watch on how they mesh and might assign them the responsibility of guarding an unhatched egg for the duration of two weeks and then reevaluate their union at that juncture. I will, however, say that ex-general Phil Chenier observed during the second quarter, upon a Wall attack of the Grizzly front lines, that Beal was wide open in the corner … but that Wall really wanted to evoke a referee’s whistle instead as his battlecry.

P.S. — What’s your evaluation of Dear Otto Porter? Did you witness the little drummer boy throw in a turn-around, fading jumper over Vince Carter—formerly half-man, half amazing; now just half-man, half-old-man, but still quite amazing?

My best regards,

Kyle



Boss Weidie, 

Your use of a military analogy is apt because while this Wizards (and Wall in particular) spent most of their energy on blitzing the Grizzlies simply to get some footing back in the game. Memphis managed to keep their powder dry and Coach David Fizdale managed to keep his troops rested and well hydrated for the battle to come. In the late third quarter, the Grizzlies ran their offense through bully Zach Randoph who, as you noted, the Wizards have no answer for aside from foul plagued contributions of Markieff Morris. Randolph collected what appears to a rather pedestrian six points and three rebounds over that stretch, but the Wizards honestly had no answer for him, and they left they quarter clutching their pearls and a one-point lead.

As for the fourth quarter, well, all great military blunders are made by the generals and this case was no different as the Wizards—having managed to scratch together an eight-point lead with only 3:56 left in regulation. At the 3:38 mark the outcome appeared even less in doubt when Markieff Morris rejected an attempted layup by James Ennis. But at the 3:17 mark, things took a turn for the worse. General John Wall, who later stated he was “just trying to make a play” (so said Custer) clobbered half-man / half-fossil Vince Carter about his cranial region leading to a Flagrant 1 technical. From there, the #SoWizards cascade began. They immediately let Mike Conley slip free for a 3-pointer and despite holding their own for the last few minutes, fell prey to another Marc Gasol bomb from downtown to tie the game. Wall’s last second floater was errant and the Wizards headed to overtime having coughed up a winnable game.

Of overtime, perhaps the less said the better. Mentally and physically exhausted, the Wizards spent the opening minutes playing hack-a-bear—sending the Grizzlies in a conga line to shoot free throws. By time the dust cleared (and another two Gasol 3s) the Wizards had managed to put themselves in a 10-point hole and no Otto Porter perimeter shooting was going to pull them back within reach.

It’s interesting because the more I review our correspondence, the more I see my natural Wizards pessimism effecting my assessment of the game, which has become an almost Pavlovian condition at this juncture. With a clear mind (and a remote not tossed across the room), the Wizards had the contest in hand with only a few minutes remaining. The narrative in my head (and until I started to re-watch today during our discussion) was that they never really stood a chance. But there always seems to be that moment where things fall apart, which dates back to the early days of Flip Saunders. And when the gears of momentum begin to grind against you, the Wizards always become grist for the mill. This is the instinct that I was hoping that Brooks could fix: that one bad play would not cause the wheels to fall off or that adversity would force the team to focus. As is, it was like experiencing that one nightmare you have every month for years.

Your question regarding Otto Porter leads me to believe that you come not to praise Young Simba but to bury him. While I remain and advocate for the Georgetown project, I remain convinced that Porter is only as good as the system around him. Since we have ascertained that Brooks has yet to develop a system, Porter is simply there. That said, Porter needs to convert his open looks or he may find himself in a timeshare.

Which leads me to my last question. The one Wizard I have been impressed by to start the new season in Andrew Nicholson, who I believe might be on his way to becoming a cult favorite. Brooks seems to be allowing Nicholson to develop his game in the post a bit if he remains committed on the boards and defense. My question is if this improvement is noticeable in Nicholson, why has same improvement not been seen in Messr. Oubre? For every heads up play Oubre makes, he seems to double down on his errors by driving into the teeth of the defense with no sense whether he is passing or shooting.

Early season yips or a troubling lack of development?

P.S. — I think Kid Cudi should be the official rapper of the Wizards. You know, for emotional reasons.

P.S.S. —  Sunday night left a giant Nene-sized hole in my heart. Not that I think that the Wizards should have retained him. But I did miss the probable WWE-style throw down between him and Zach Randolph.

All the best. Your friend, Sean.

 



To be continued…


  1. Should I also mention that Memphis was playing in a back-to-back, having lost Saturday night in New York? Well, it’s true. —K.W.
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.