The Emotion is More or Less Palpable — A Story About the Wizards in Philadelphia | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The Emotion is More or Less Palpable — A Story About the Wizards in Philadelphia

By
Updated: November 17, 2016

Early in the third quarter of Wednesday’s tilt against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Washington Wizards trailed Philadelphia by 11 points—the scoreline standing at 69-58, 76ers. During a stoppage in play, the CSN video team focused a tight shot on a young Wizards fan sobbing uncontrollably, flanked by his two parents whose own visage could be described as stoic or dazed, depending on your interpretation.

The camera lingered on the family for about five seconds until Wizards commentator Phil Chenier noted: “Boy, that young man is upset!”

Steve Buckhantz then related to Chenier that the family, Polish but living in the Philadelphia area, came to see their son’s favorite player, Marcin Gortat. Then in a voice that managed to betray both wistfulness and disgust he remarked almost offhandedly, “Big fans of the Hammer.”

Chenier, for his part, was still focused on the plight of the young fan and closed off the discussion by remarking, “That young man has a reason to be upset!” Buckhantz could only respond to his broadcast colleague by noting, “Well, if you look at the scoreline…”

buckphil

[image via @wzzntzz]

We have been here before with Phil and Buck. As professional as they are, sometimes you have to let a little air out of the balloon. Whether that is meant as a display of empathy to the viewer at home or their own feelings can be argued, but the discourse seemed genuine. Perhaps the family had obtained tickets to watch the Wizards play the 76ers because the game happened to be the cheapest available. More than likely, they picked that game so that their son could witness the rarest of occasions, a Wizards win, and bought their tickets with the knowledge that the Wizards would be facing the worst team in the league. A team which held total control of the game throughout the evening and now stands with the same total of victories as the Wizards (2).

The Wizards would ultimately lose to the 76ers by the score of 108-101. The closest Washington came to pulling equal to Philadelphia in that quarter was five points—an occurrence that happened shortly after CSN rolled the footage of the young boy. The Wizards managed to drain two 3-pointers (by Markieff Morris and John Wall, in that order), a brief display of offensive competence that was ultimately outshone by an avalanche of mistakes, miscues and poor decision-making that led to the loss. The sheer ineptitude on the evening was enough to drive anyone to tears, but if I were to guess a motive for the young man’s grief I would shorten the list to three factors:

#1) The Wizards rushed shots early and often throughout the night. Every time they would come within spitting distance of retaking the lead from the Sixers, the next offensive play would be an ill-advised, semi-open look early in the shot clock. Several perpetrators of this infraction were the usual suspects (Marcus Thornton), but it was also the steadier Wizards (such as Otto Porter), whose shot jacking were all the more galling. Porter’s value add to the team is that of a competent player who finds his flow within the offensive system. Against the 76ers, he misfired to the tune of 5-for-17 shooting and only his commitment to rebounding on the evening (13 total, 5 offensive) made his play at all palatable.

#2) Scott Brooks’ inability to trust his bench is burning out his starters. With Bradley Beal out and John Wall on a minutes restriction, the head coach faces an almost impossible personnel problem. Having lost faith in the abilities of key acquisitions Trey Burke or Jason Smith to contribute meaningfully, and the lack of development from Kelly Oubre, Brooks has to leave his starters out on an island without any hope of relief. This lack of depth has ballooned into two huge problems—first that Thornton is now receiving a lion’s share of playing time (and has refused to adapt his game), and secondly that the starters have become so fatigued by the second half of the game that they settle for lazy jumpshots listed in the aforementioned paragraph. It also did not help that Markieff Morris picked up two fouls in the game’s first 60 seconds—a theme that’s plagued a Wizards starter in other games this season.

#3) Once again we’re a stuck in the temporal loop of narrative. Marooned in an endless Groundhog Day, the Wizards find themselves being described by national media and the AP as an “injury ravaged” team. One would have to go back three years to find a time where that sobriquet was not applied before the word “Washington.” As such is the way with all things Wizards, both the head coach and team president have cover as it relates to the travails of the team, as they can simply point to the DNP list and say “what are we supposed to do?”

It is this last point that is the most frustrating and should elicit the most tears from Wizards fans. How many times in the past few years did we have to hear Randy Wittman excuse another loss due to the unavailability of a star or one of his key cogs of the bench? How often have we seen the grand plans of the Wizard’s franchise ground to dust due to a balky knee, broken hand, or twinged hamstring?

Management and ownership would most likely tell you that the future is unknowable, that the franchise can only chart a path forward by considering the rosiest and most positive of outcomes—that the basketball world is a cruel and fickle universe and that sometimes bad things happen. But how many years does this narrative hold water? When do we begin questioning the fact that a majority of Washington’s signings almost immediately go under the knife (Dudley, Anderson, Mahimini), thus shattering any depth the team may have planned for? Or trust in the medical staff’s knowledge and acumen to keep fragile players like Bradley Beal upright and functional for more than two games in a row?

Or they could turn to call of the craven—to the need for #MaximumEffort in order to win. Scott Brooks, leaning into that noxious phrasing, took it one step further than #WittmanJava and stated after losing to Philadelphia, “You are playing for your family’s names,” which on the face of it is meant to puncture the professional pride of those wearing the red, white, and blue. To which I say, horseshit, how much more do you expect John Wall to do within the confines of a basketball game? Do you expect him to turn Pepsi into wine? Do you expect him suddenly turn the dregs, castoffs, and misfits assembled by Ernie Grunfeld into a passable basketball unit under a minutes restriction? How much more #MaximumEffort can you honestly expect out of team relying on Trey Burke, Marcus Thornton, and Jason Smith?

And this is where the problem really lies. As long as either Beal or Wall remain somewhat upright, you can always demand more effort, more return on your investment, or flag that they are not getting the requisite “help.” It almost makes you want to turn back the clock to 2008, burn it all down, and roll with the Chris Singletons and Roger Masons of the world.

Engaging in the consideration of the #InjuryRavaged or #MaximumEffort Wizards is liable to leave fans suffering from fits of uncontrollable sobbing as their team tumbles toward the bottom of the league. Sometimes emotion is intemperate and ill-considered. In the case of the Wizards—and at this juncture—any emotion at all is welcome.

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.