Who Are We? The Collective Identity Crisis of Washington Wizards Fans | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Who Are We? The Collective Identity Crisis of Washington Wizards Fans

Updated: September 14, 2017

Being a Washington Wizards fan can be a bit disorienting. No other fan base experiences such manic swings between unbridled enthusiasm and impending doom. One day you are dancing on the scorer’s table, the next you are out on a ledge.

It’s like the entire fan base suffers from split personality disorder.

The Wizards are great!

Are the Wizards even good?

The answer changes from one day – or injury – to the next.

The problem, in a nutshell, is this: I can paint two completely opposite pictures of the Wizards’ prospects without knowing for certain which is the Picasso and which is the forgery.

Reality #1

The Wizards are a consensus top-4 Eastern conference team. They won 49 games last season for the first time in 38 years. They have one of the best starting lineups in the NBA. They have a bonafide superstar who wants to play in D.C.

The Wizards enter the 2017-18 season with the most promise of any Washington team since the Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Rod Strickland and Gheorghe Muresan-led 1997-98 team fresh off a hard-fought playoff loss to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.

In short, there has never been a better time to be a Washington Bullets/Wizards fan in the last 35 years.

Reality #2

Thousands of Wizards fans would sacrifice their first born to see Ernie Grunfeld fired. Open #WizardsTwitter (better yet, don’t) and check the first 25 mentions under any Wizards-related tweet from Ted Leonsis. It’s the type of knee-jerk vitriol you’d expect from fans of a bottom-dwelling lottery team run by Vlade Divac or Phil Jackson.

Ted likes to describe the #FireErnie crowd as impulsive, win-now fans lacking the foresight to appreciate the long-term horizon of the 10-Point Plan. He may be right about the most vocal detractors, but the anti-front office sentiment is not limited to those who cry themselves to sleep every night with images of Jan Vesely, Kawhi Leonard and Eric Maynor running through their head.

Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney – an objective, outside observer – recently penned a lucid, well-reasoned analysis of Washington’s prospects. His conclusion: The Wizards are stuck with their current roster and have no available assets for an arm’s race with the Boston Celtics because of their ill-advised spending spree in the summer of 2016:

Come that summer [of 2019], the Wizards will have almost $108 million committed to just four players (Wall, Beal, Porter, and Mahinmi). Morris will be in line for a significant raise and free to sign with a team of his choosing. Gortat will likely be gone. Inertia is the default state of many NBA franchises, but in two years the Wizards might not have that luxury. Washington will be faced with bringing back a lesser version of the same team at incredible cost, trading away some valued player, or repopulating its roster under severe financial constraint.

Yikes. The opening scene of Mad Max: Fury Road paints a rosier picture of the future.

So, which is it? Is Washington on the cusp of multiple trips to the NBA Finals or are they doomed to be leapfrogged by Toronto, Milwaukee and (gasp!) Philadelphia because of imprudent spending?

This is the existential question tearing at the hearts and minds of Wizards fans.

I genuinely don’t know which direction this franchise is headed.

On the one hand, I can lay out a simple, realistic case for Washington being a Finals contender for years to come:

1) LeBron goes to Los Angeles in 2018;

2) Kyrie Irving proves to be who we thought he is (not a team leader) and

3) Boston loses its defensive identity without Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder.

On the other hand, I can argue that Washington squandered its chance to join the Eastern Conference elite by overspending in the summer of 2016:

1) Washington still lacks depth and was blessed with near-perfect health last season;

2) Boston still has enough assets to trade for a superstar (e.g., Anthony Davis); and

3) Teams like Milwaukee and Philadelphia are only getting better.

How do you reconcile these equally plausible – yet diametrically opposed – worldviews? Is this the best Washington team in 35 years? Or did the Wizards already botch their chance to overtake the  Cavaliers and the Celtics?

Or, maybe both statements are true. Remember, Washington’s 35-year track record is such that even the best season in almost four decades might be something far short of NBA Finals contention.

I am partial to the optimistic view, if for no other reason than the presence of John Wall. He is the second-best player in the Eastern Conference (soon to be first?) and he has improved significantly every year of his career. Washington should have the best back-court in the Eastern Conference (Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward be damned!) and with incremental improvement from Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre, the Wizards would only need league-average bench play to exceed their win total from last season. Still, that’s a whole lot of “ifs”.

With the season fast approaching, the reality is that no one knows for sure who these Washington Wizards really are — and we might not get the answer until May. Until then, the Wizards’ fan base will probably switch personalities so many times, they will make Elliot Alderson seem well-adjusted.

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.