Point/Counterpoint: Would it be Good or Bad if the Raptors Swept the Wizards? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Point/Counterpoint: Would it be Good or Bad if the Raptors Swept the Wizards?

Updated: April 13, 2018

The Washington Wizards are in the playoffs for the second straight year. For most NBA fan bases, this would qualify as good news. However, the Washington Wizards are not most teams. Immediately after the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Orlando Magic, which set up a first round matchup against the Toronto Raptors, several fans expressed a variant of the same thought:

This raises two questions: 1) How did we get to the point where a life-long fan openly pines for a swift playoff loss? And, more importantly, 2) is Conor right?

To settle these questions, TAI’s Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks) and Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace) engage in a lively debate about the Raptors series, what it means to be a fan and the future of the franchise.

Adam Rubin: Conor, explain your tweet.

Conor Dirks: I think that people assume I want the Raptors to sweep the Wizards because it will prompt the Wizards to replace their team president. While that’d be nice, it’s equally the case that I want the Raptors to sweep the Wizards so that a correction can occur. On a macro level, the Wizards believe that they are better than they are. On a micro level, let’s say each game, the Wizards believe that they are better than they are, that there’s a switch they can flip and become the team that swept the Raptors in 2015 (but not the team that lost in the next round). On an even more micro level, let’s say each quarter of basketball, the Wizards believe that they have plenty of time to demonstrate that they’re superior than their opponent, or that their superiority will carry them to the final bell. On an ultra-micro level, each possession, the Wizards think their talent can carry them to points. None of it is true.

All that said, I put that tweet out into the wild so that it could exist before my playoff-cognitive-self takes over, and roots for the Wizards to win every game through the filter of immediate glory attainable. In other words, I’ll want them to win, but it would be better if they didn’t. Did I explain it, or did I just sound like an asshole?

AR: I understand your basic point that the Wizards suffer from a collective delusion of grandeur that manifests itself in big and small ways. This is holding the team back from reaching its full potential and needs to change. However, your plan to rebuild the Wizards psyche by forcing them to endure a humiliating sweep, Clockwork Orange-style, butts up against a very strongly held principle of mine, forged through decades of being a Bullets fan: Never Take The Playoffs For Granted.

I, like you, have been a Bullets fan my whole life. You know when I first saw the Bullets/Wizards in a playoff game? I was a freshman in college. You know when I first saw the Bullets/Wizards win a playoff game? Eight years after that. My childhood/teenage/adult years consisted of 16 straight seasons with a total of one playoff appearance and zero wins.    

So, I look at the playoffs as a precious commodity to be cherished and preserved. I don’t care what the odds say, or what can theoretically be accomplished by punting a post-season trip. A playoff appearance is just too valuable to waste. Also—and this may go a long way toward explaining our differing levels of interest in watching this particular Wizards roster in the playoffs—I kind of do think this team has a switch they will turn on come Saturday.

CD: Man, I hope you’re right. There’s some limited data to suggest the Wizards are better than their record. They were a winning team before the All-Star break, at least. And they have their best player back—at the end of it all, he’s looking mostly good, save the turnovers.

I hear you on not taking the playoffs for granted. Like the Little Mermaid, I want more. I would like the Wizards to win a title. But I’m not one of those championship-or-nothing guys, and I’m more than happy to watch a team develop into a title contender. What’s frustrating is the inertia. Consider the 2007-08 Atlanta Hawks, who made their way into the 8th seed after 8 seasons of missing the playoffs. And they’ve made the playoffs every year since other than this season. Most of the time, they placed 4th or 5th. There’s another 8th sprinkled in there, and a 6th. AND also a 1st. Point is…that’s cruel. None of those Hawks teams were serious contenders aside from the 1st place team in 2014-15 that beat the Wizards in the second round after Washington swept Toronto. And even that team got rolled by LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals.

I’m not advocating for the Wizards to go Full Process. They have a legitimate star (Wall), an evolving star (Beal), and an underrated stud in Otto Porter. This isn’t the Jrue Holiday Sixers team. But they need better decision-making from upstairs, and the players need a kick in the ass. Do you think a good playoff run could accomplish the same objective as some good old fashioned negative reinforcement?

AR: Ah, now you are asking the important question. Would getting swept by the Raptors even lead to any significant changes? If you told me a sweep would result in Ernie’s termination and a set of fresh eyes evaluating the roster and finally building an appropriate team around Wall (read: loads and loads of 3-point shooting guards and wings plus an athletic big man—think Capela not Vesely), then sure, I’d have to think about it.

But I don’t think Ernie is judged based on on-court performance. If so, he wouldn’t still be here. It’s more of a business decision and as long as Ted’s Wizards, Caps and Valor are playing in late-April—even as the 8-seed—Ernie is safe. Only a season-ticket holder mutiny that affects the bottom line, and not just Ted’s Twitter mentions, could oust Ernie after a playoff season.

The Atlanta Hawks comparison is apt and a bit scary. No one wants to look back at the John Wall era as a decade of 40-win 4/5 playoff matchups. I think we both want the same thing—for the Wizards to take that next step as a perennial threat to win the East—but I feel a sweep at the hands of the Raptors would be much more likely to nudge this team toward an implosion than catapult them up the 2018-19 standings.

Ironically, these very Raptors present the best argument in your favor. Toronto averaged 51 wins over a four-year stretch but they were swept by the Wizards in 2015, lost convincing to the Cavs in 2016 then were swept again by the Cavs in 2017. Despite that regular season success, which dwarfs anything Washington has accomplished in the last 40 years, their general manager Masai Uliri announced that the Raptors need a “culture change.”

The front office and coach took a hard look at the team and instituted a major overhaul of the their outdated style of play. The result was a faster-paced team with a deep bench that was top-5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season. And they accomplished that turnaround without a coaching change or roster overhaul.

That sounds like the type of kick-in-the-ass you envision for the Wizards if they get swept in the first round. There’s only one problem: Ernie Grunfeld is not making that same proclamation Ujiri did if the Raptors win 4-0. If there wasn’t a call to arms after missing the playoffs in 2016 or sleepwalking through this year or even going back to the low-40-win Gilbert Arenas years, then there won’t be one now. If Washington ever pulled off a four-year run like the Raptors did, which included two 50-win seasons and an Eastern Conference Finals trip, Ted and Ernie would be celebrating, not demanding an organizational overhaul and a “culture change”.

That, in a nutshell (a big nutshell), is why I think the fun and excitement of a playoff run—even a six or seven game one—far outweighs the small likelihood that a sweep will bring about lasting, institutional changes for this franchise.    

CD: You bring up an interesting point regarding culture potential. In the NBA, culture is a complicated thing. It can come from the team executives, like Masai Ujiri in Toronto, and trickle down to the coach and the players. But I think we both know that Ernie Grunfeld is not Masai Ujiri in either culture, character, or the ability to conjure forward-looking proclamations that ignite the fanbase. Grunfeld’s id is the introductory veteran addition press release, which you have chronicled elsewhere on our website.

Culture can come from coaches, but I get the sense that Scott Brooks views his role as being there to help the players excel in their own skin, rather than impose his own personality on the team.

And so we reach the players. Culture can, and often does, bubble up from the bottom. After all, the players are the public face of the Association, and the defining feature of any team. Do the Wizards have a culture that can benefit from a first-round victory and another second-round thumping? Will they take the right lesson from that? Alternatively, do the Wizards have a culture that can benefit from a beatdown in the first round, or will it unravel the team’s psyche and force a series of moves that could ultimately put them in a worse position?

I don’t know that I’d describe Washington’s culture as good. Or stable. Or even defined. That lack of definition could make the team receptive to a culture shift, which I’d argue has to come from the replacement of the team’s de facto visionary, Grunfeld. The lack of definition could also make the team vulnerable to deterioration and infighting, which you’ve seen on display a few times this year, most notably when Marcin Gortat subtweeted Wall and Wall retaliated by going after his teammate on national television during a series of promotions for Kumho Tires. What a world.

These are tough questions. As we get closer to Saturday, I’m ready to see what happens. My resentment is already melting into excitement for the playoffs. But I remain steadfastly curious about the potential ramifications of a Toronto sweep, and how it might spur this team to better things. In other words, my mind is telling me “no,” but my body…my body…is telling me “yes.”

AR: If you are asking me whether the players would react well to a first round sweep, then the answer is a resounding “no.”  Whatever kick in the ass this team needs to get them over the hump is going to have to come from ownership and the front office. Scott Brooks is who he is—a player’s coach who is two parts enabler and one part disappointed dad. Since we both seem to agree that a sweep won’t spur Ernie to make major changes, the only way a 4-0 loss would help is if it led to Ernie’s dismissal. But as I said above, I don’t think that’s happening. So, there seems like very little upside in a sweep.

I’ll close with this thought. Conversations like ours about the direction and leadership of the franchise are necessary at a macro level. The Wizards won’t succeed unless they take a good honest look at themselves in the mirror—that goes for the owner all the way down to 15th man on the bench (correction: 14th man, because ya got to maintain that roster flexibility). The points you are making are good ones.

But that’s a conversation for another time. This is the playoffs. This is the entire reason we sat through those miserable 82 games. This is what John Wall and Bradley Beal live for. This is their opportunity to re-write the narrative. You don’t get that many shots at the playoffs. You need to take advantage of all of them.


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.