What The F*** Is Wrong With The Wizards? A TAI Roundtable | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

What The F*** Is Wrong With The Wizards? A TAI Roundtable

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Updated: January 25, 2018

Many questions could (and should) be asked about this floundering Washington Wizards team, but one stands out above the rest. It’s the simplest question and the one I posed to my TAI colleagues:

What the f*** is wrong with the Wizards?

The answers (almost 3,000 words worth) came fast and furious. The explanations for this particular incarnation of the perpetually underachieving Washington Wizards were as varied as the team’s list of baffling losses to sub-.500 teams is long. No one was spared from the mighty pixel—not player, not coach, not general manager nor owner.

Without further ado, take a trip into the minds of five Wizards observers as they ponder the whys and hows of the sorry state of the 2017-18 Washington Wizards.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

If you drive about 300 miles in any direction away from the sad sack franchise known as the Washington Wizards, you start to get a sense of perspective. Sure, things might appear to be uniformly shitty in the District, but a quick glance around the league will make you realize that the entire Association is ablaze in rebellions as players (thanks to Golden State and now Houston) realize that franchises don’t really give a fig about them as “people” and instead view them as cogs in their little profit making machine. Thus, Damian Lillard is holding meeting with his owner, Kawhi Leonard wants to de-assimilate from the Borg, and the Cavs just nearly pulled a Lord of the Flies internally on Kevin Love.

So forgive me if I think that these “internal whispers” of players not liking John Wall and Bradley Beal is just a bunch of crap to keep things stirred up in the parochial, myopic little environment that is the DMV. Jared Dudley said it best on Twitter recently: John Wall gets cats paid. Dudley, Trevor Ariza, go on down the list and you see dudes walk out the door who have had their stats inflated thanks to Wall. Now, after a triumphant 2016-17 season the fact that he is trying to get his (and possibly a shoe deal) doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a pariah in the locker room.

The sad part is that whenever the calendar flips, the Wizards go into a fugue state that last somewhere till late-February. This has been true whether it was Gilbert Arenas leaving baby powder on donuts or whether Flip Saunders was standing on the sideline. The one truism about the Wizards is that they have been consistently inconsistent and that in turn is infuriating.

This comes down to fans being sick of this current iteration of the team and even more sick of the fact that they have had the same GM since the Paleolithic Age. Fans have come to accept the fact that Ernie Grunfeld is NEVER EVER leaving, so it is much easier to hope that the cogs that annoy you most, whether it is Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat, or even John Wall can be switched around for a newer and shinier toy for fans to grow sick of in 3-to-5 years.

Am I upset that the Wizards look like they would rather be on vacation than playing basketball? Sure, I’m upset. But I’m more upset in that I don’t trust management to get Wall and Beal the help they need or to not make another panic trade and give away future assets. I’m more upset that I have MORE hope for the plan Brooklyn is enacting right now than for the future of the Wizards, who seem to be charting the future by licking their finger and holding it up into the wind.

If there is one thing that has been destroyed in my 10 years covering this franchise it is trust. Trust that management has some plan to right the ship. Trust that they are not huddling in offices and drawing up nonsense on the back of napkins. So forgive me if I don’t blame John Wall or Bradley Beal, because they certainly have done much more to earn my trust over the course of the last few years.

Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202):

I have conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, Sean is right in that seemingly half the league is in turmoil right now. And it’s also true that so much of the league is to a certain extent irrelevant for at least another year or two, or until whenever the Warriors and LeBron are no longer shoo-ins for the Finals.

But I can’t help but feel, more and more, like this team just really doesn’t mesh all that well.

Part of it is Wall and Beal never having an especially buddy-buddy relationship, sure, but another part of it is wondering how many Jared Dudleys and Trevor Arizas—unheralded role players who John Wall turned into valuable assets and, later, wealthy men—are on the team right now. Beal and Otto Porter were both top picks and considered part of the team’s core. Wall has made Gortat look great for years now, but that effect can wear off. Kelly Oubre hasn’t quite gotten The John Wall Effect for a variety of reasons. Markieff Morris? He’s basically just a disinterested version of his previous self, and, again, is part of the core.

Jodie Meeks has been awful. Mike Scott has his moments but plays mostly with the bench and has done a surprising amount of creating for himself.

Between the absence of that player and Beal and Porter being asked to create more for themselves, there’s less opportunity for Wall to make magic happen, which is part of why Wall’s assists are down this year after four consecutive seasons of them going up.

But, and this is purely a hunch of mine, I also can’t shake the feeling Wall loathes the general niceness, the blandness, the boringness of the team. Wall says what he wants and has a tendency to play angry and has shown an ability to take over. Beal is soft-spoken and reserved, with only the occasional outburst (hey, Delly) breaking the mold. Porter needs to be punched in the face to play well (hey, Paul Pierce). Oubre is more sassy than angry, more petty than vicious, with the exception of one poorly-timed incident (hey, Kelly Olynyk). Gortat talks more shit on Twitter to fans than he does to opposing players (heym @mgortat).

Is it any surprise that Wall’s especially close with Morris, likely the most intimidating player on the team? There’s nobody else on the team like a Nene or a Pierce or even a Brandon Jennings. Put it this way: If there was a Rockets-Clippers situation and opposing players tried to get in the Wizards locker room, who do you expect to be the first Wizards players up to fight? Wall is the first, then probably Morris. Then, maybe Oubre yells something?

None of this is to advocate fighting or bringing Bill Laimbeer through that door. But when Wall looks around the locker room, who does he see like him?

If you were to create a chart and put every Wizards player, based on personality and overall demeanor, into either the Wall category or the Beal category, how many would Wall’s side get? Morris. Probably Gortat. Anybody else?

I don’t know if Wall cares about that. After all, he did petition for Paul George. But I think when you pair that with the annual modest-improvement-at-best roster changes, the frequent free-agent whiffs, the lack of roster flexibility, and the slow (albeit steady) growth of Beal/Porter/Oubre without much else as far as future youth movement goes, Wall probably doesn’t like this team very much. And the team probably knows it and probably doesn’t appreciate it. And that probably is causing some strife.

Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_it):

What the F? Indeed.

Players: I suspect that lingering, minor injures are playing a role in individual suboptimal performance—Wall’s knee/migraine, Porter’s hip, Morris’s foot/hernia, Gortat’s pride. But this team isn’t bad enough—and it’s too early—for those excuses to start surfacing.

I’ve laid a lot of blame at the feet of Wall and Beal. Don’t want to, don’t feel great about it, but it’s a player’s league and they are the head All-Star honchos. If there are seeds of discontent, they certainly are not inspiring examples of resolute leadership. Hero ball shots are a prime example. These two also let missed shots serve as a detriment to their overall game—an accusation that goes back to the Wittman Era—and it’s contagious to others. Grow up a little, babies.

Coaching: Mild-mannered Scott Brooks doesn’t command attention to his instructions, I suspect. Who knows if his offense by default becomes reliant on ISO ball, really, but there’s certainly been a pattern between stops. If players think it’s on them to get away with it, then they just might.

Grunfeld:  Things under him are way past stale. You can only paint over the room so many times with a coat to freshen things up before it’s better to break out the thinner and strip things down to the walls. And this isn’t even accounting for the fact that Grunfeld has failed over the past two offseasons to appropriately boost the supporting cast. Apparently that doesn’t count for much, and so no one is left to pay for the consequences, save for the fans.

Rashad Mobley (@rashad20):

The most maddening aspect of this malaise the Wizards seemed to be ensconced in, is that it isn’t any one thing—it is an amalgamation of things ranging from lack of effort to limited personnel to an absence of creativity from the head coach.

You know when someone uses the expression “get out,” and the word “you” is always implied but never said? That’s how I feel about the first issue with the Wizards, which is Ernie Grunfeld. Grunfeld bellyaching is low-hanging, but plentiful fruit, and everyone knows his hands are all over personnel moves . . . more specifically the lack of depth on the bench (Mike Scott and Sato have been great, but Frazier, Jason Smith and Meeks have been meek) and the baffling non-usage of a second two-way contract (something Ben Standig covered here). But he’s a made man, so we’ll move on.

Scott Brooks got a pass in the first half of the season because he dealt with injuries to Wall, Morris and Otto Porter intermittently. It is is hard to develop trust and consistent rotations when players are on minute restrictions, out of shape or just flat out hampered by lingering injuries. But he hasn’t been shackled by those factors this year, and he’s coming up short. He’s blamed Otto for his inability to get open, rather than designing plays for him—something Brooks did during the recent Charlotte Hornets game but has failed to do consistently.

Before the January 10 home game versus Utah—which was the Wizards’ first game against the Jazz since the 47-point blowout—Brooks said he did not have to say anything to his struggling team, because they should be self-motivated as NBA players. While that may be true, the coach should still provide motivation, and he did not. The Wizards lost that game.

Aside from making the decision to play Satoransky over Tim Frazier (thanks, Ernie), Brooks hasn’t been creative at all. He hasn’t made a lineup change, he hasn’t benched his starters for a quarter to send a message, and he hasn’t even gotten himself thrown out of a game to motivate his team. He just mentions the ball not going in the hoop and he makes a series of empty threats followed up by a things-have-to-change platitude. The Wizards’ underachievement is not that different from the Milwaukee Bucks’, which Jason Kidd his job.

I wanted to blame Markieff Morris for his uninspired play since he got healthy and in shape, but it is hard to tell whether his success last season was an anomaly and he’s come back to earth this season, or if he’s just in the slump of life and he’ll wake up after the All-Star break. So for now, I’ll give him the same pass I gave Scott Brooks in the first few months of the season.

And finally, I think John Wall deserves some of the blame, despite his recent All-Star selection—something he didn’t look too happy about discussing on TNT. Beal has clearly taken another leap this season. Free throws and fourth quarter clutch play notwithstanding, his career numbers across the board reflect as much. Wall is averaging four points and 1.5 assists fewer than he did last year, and he’s still fixated on drawing fouls in the lane rather than looking to score or pass, which is something he mentioned yet again during the aforementioned TNT interview. The Wizards work when Wall and Beal are operating at the highest level. Beal has held up his end of the bargain, and Wall—assuming that his game has not plateaued which I don’t believe it has—needs to step it up and fast.

I suppose I should be comforted by teams like San Antonio and Cleveland going through their own type of problems, but I’m not.  This Wizards franchise has lived by the continuity creed from the offseason to now, which means there really should not be new issues with the same roster.

Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur):

The main problem I see with the Wizards is their lack of organizational leadership from top to bottom. The product on the floor is a reflection of the nonchalant attitude from Ted Leonsis, Ernie Grunfeld and John Wall.

Leonsis has undoubtedly put in the financial resources to allow the Wizards organization to thrive over the last few seasons, as they have come back to life from a period of sports purgatory post-Agent Zero. However, sometimes fulfilling financial obligations isn’t enough. Ted has allowed the Wizards’ front office to build a culture of mediocrity and, as the CEO of this corporation, he has done a poor job holding management accountable. Because Ted seems content with the team’s performance, there is no pressure on anyone to improve and no fear of consequences for falling short.

Grunfeld is the culprit of the managerial issues and it’s largely because of his antiquated style of doing business. Ernie is still running the team like it’s 1999 and the only thing he has to worry about is signing free agents and drafting a few players. The Wizards are clearly behind the curve when it comes to a lot of the advanced technological tools of the modern NBA front office.

There is a complete lack of initiative and innovation in terms of roster construction. There is no logical reason why the Wizards are the only team of 30 who elected to not use their allotted two-way roster spots. There is no reason why the Wizards have $34 million invested into the center position when every other team in the league is playing smaller and smaller by the game.

The honeymoon phase for Scott Brooks has come to a screeching halt after he has continued to expose his lack of understanding of new-age basketball. Brooks had the benefit of coming in last season and being better than the guy he replaced so any modicum of success was deemed acceptable. But with every passing game, it’s hard not to notice that Brooks is not equipped with the necessary tools to properly direct this team in the X’s and O’s of the pace-and-space movement. You cannot fault a man for not knowing what he hasn’t been taught, but we can fault Brooks for not taking the initiative to learn details of the craft that will take him to the next level.

Finally we get to the on-court aspect of why the team is struggling. There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the team and it’s lack of leadership—and where there is smoke there is usually fire. Wall and Beal are still figuring out their leadership voices and until they can fully grasp that, the best thing they can do is lead by example. So far they have set a poor example as to how their teammates should be playing.

Wall and Beal have been playing a brand of selfish basketball—to no fault of their own—because there is literally no one here to show them a different path. They both understand that as the perceived leaders of the team when they win they will get the praise and when they lose they will take the blame and somewhere along the way that thought process has caused them to lose trust in their teammates. The Wizards offense at the end of games consists of either Wall or Beal isolations that end with the other four players standing around and watching.

There is an easy solution for the Wizards to avoid this problem: John Wall as the leader of the on-court aspect of the Wizards organization has to get everyone aligned with what their roles are on the floor, starting with himself. Wall is one of the best passers in the entire NBA yet he does not get a chance to display this gift when it matters most. John should sacrifice his pride and allow himself to be the true conductor of this orchestra and put people in the best possible position to succeed. That is why he was deemed the “3-point whisperer” and got former teammates like Trevor Ariza paid. Once Wall asserts himself in that role, everything else on the team will fall into place and the Wizards will at least give themselves a shot at competing against the other top four teams in the East.

As for the other organizational issues, Ted Leonsis will have to ask himself some tough questions this offseason regarding who he has managing this organization and get back to using the technological tools that gave him so much success as an AOL executive.


 

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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.