Opening Statements 17: Wizards at Thunder — Remains of the Gambit | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements 17: Wizards at Thunder — Remains of the Gambit

Updated: November 30, 2016

Washington Wizards vs Oklahoma City Thunder - Jan. 7, 2013

Prior to the disappointing 2015-16 season, the Wizards hired David Adkins, an assistant for the University of Maryland women’s basketball team, as a player development assistant. On the surface, it was (as former Washington Post beat writer Jorge Castillo wrote) an “unusual” hire, as coaches do not typically follow a straight line from college women’s ball to the NBA. But one notable aspect of Adkins’ history immediately found its way to the headlines: he was an assistant coach at Montrose Christian, a K-12 private school in Rockville, Maryland, and was coaching during the tenure of one of the school’s most successful athletes: Kevin Durant.

This was before the Wizards fired Randy Wittman, fully committing to building a time capsule of Durant’s past by hiring Scott Brooks. Of course, they did retain one member of Wittman’s staff: Adkins. This was also before Durant refused to meet with the Wizards, and instead met with a select few teams before signing with the Golden State Warriors. The gambit, never given voice, was nevertheless a massive failure. Whatever pitch the Wizards made, or call they placed, or text they sent . . . it couldn’t as much as secure a meeting. It’s tempting to chalk it up as bad luck, as subject to the recondite whim of a reclusive NBA star. But even during the middle of the 2015-16 NBA season, reports came in that some executives anticipated Golden State as a landing place for Durant. And bad luck can be mitigated.

When the Durant gambit failed, and the backup plan (Horford) fell through, the Wizards struck quickly to secure—through overconfident overpayment—several non-factor players on multi-year deals. The entirely predictable result is a 6-10 team with a frustrated star (John Wall), second-tier players that are improving (Bradley Beal and Otto Porter), a decent starting center with defensive liabilities (Marcin Gortat), a below-average starting 4 with a penchant for taking himself out of games (Markieff Morris), and a bench unit that resembles the frantic nature of Ernie Grunfeld’s summer shopping spree. Each player looks good on the cardboard packaging, but man, you should know better!

It’s too early to know whether Adkins is responsible for Beal and Porter’s improvement, but one shouldn’t fault the Wizards for keeping him on after Durant went to the Bay. By all reports, Adkins is a quality hire. But it’s impossible to look at today’s Washington team and not see the fragments of an alternative history that never happened. In that sense, Washington (6-10) and Oklahoma City (11-8) have similar scars. But one can see the machinations of preparedness in the Thunder roster. A daring trade that sent long-time starter Serge Ibaka to Orlando for Victor Oladipo, for one example. A young center, Steven Adams, drafted in the late lottery (No. 12, in 2013) several years ago, brought along slowly and carefully. Mistakes were made along the way, like the trade for Enes Kanter, but the Thunder tried, and it wasn’t a gimmick.

Still, both teams were ultimately spurned by one of the NBA’s most talented and unique players. Some teams, like the Warriors, have all the luck. At least in this history cycle.

And so it is that Scott Brooks returns to Oklahoma City for the first time as a coach of another, non-Thunder team. Brooks put on a good face in front of D.C. media, and displayed some of the genuine good-guy sentiment that made him a popular figure in OKC—name-checking arena staff and expressing gratitude for experiences, relationships, and opportunities alike. From Brooks:

“I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m not going to stand here and just say it’s one of 82 games but it is one of 82 games.”

Coach-speak for: “Ionno, man. Let’s just get through this.”

The Thunder have dominated the Wizards in the John Wall era, and have won the last four meetings between the teams.

Last season, Wizards fans seemed confused when Durant came to town, respecting his pre-game wishes not to be cheered by those in D.C. desperate to see him switch sides over the summer. Instead, some half-hearted boos emerged when Durant touched the ball, and some odd courtside inducements were offered.

Now, maybe, the relationship between these two teams is less complicated, tinged with fraternal loss and suddenly free of soap opera drama. Despite the farrago of Durant lures still lining the Wizards sideline, detritus from a silent campaign, Washington is no longer a hostage of its own making. And the Thunder have a new identity, too. It’s Russell Westbrook, and like John Wall, he’s pretty fucking good.


Conor Dirks on EmailConor Dirks on FacebookConor Dirks on GoogleConor Dirks on InstagramConor Dirks on LinkedinConor Dirks on Twitter
Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.