TAI Roundtable: Is It OK to Root Against the Wizards? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

TAI Roundtable: Is It OK to Root Against the Wizards?

Updated: November 9, 2018

There is one universal rule of fandom: Never root against your team. Sports fans usually hold this truth to be self-evident, but what if your team’s short-term success actually hurts its long-term prospects? What if prolonged mediocrity only makes the inevitable rebuild that much more painful?

After the Wizards demoralizing 2-8 start to the season, a large segment of the fan-base is resigned to the fact that the Wizards, as presently constructed, are going nowhere. They have been surpassed by Indiana, Milwaukee, Boston, Toronto, and Philadelphia. There is no switch to flip. There is no panic button to press.

However, those fans also recognize that the owner will never make any meaningful organizational changes as long as the team keeps winning 40-something games each season. This realization has caused an existential crisis for fans who want to root for the Wizards but also want to see major changes with the team.

To help ease their existential angst and provide some guidance for Wizards fans during these troubled times, I posed the question to the TAI crew: Is it ok to root against the Wizards?

The answers ran the gamut from “absolutely” to “hell no” to more nuanced equivocation. For the record, I am aligned most closely with Troy Haliburton’s “hell no” camp. Once the ball is tipped, for those 48 minutes, the only rooting interest is for a Wizards win. Once the game is over, then you can consider the implications for the Wizards future. However, some strong arguments were made in favor of sacrificing the present for a shot at a brighter future.

Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202)

Yes, it’s absolutely OK to root against these Wizards. In fact, I would question whether it’s actually responsible for Wizards fans to root for them.

You know that old bit about if you love something you should set it free? It’s important to remember here. This Wizards’ core was so much fun in May of 2015 and May of 2017, but May of 2019 won’t be a fun one for Washington at this rate. That Wizards core was young and full of hope, while this current Wizards core is rapidly aging, cynical, and painfully complacent.

There’s enough talent here to convince yourself that a players-only meeting or a similar psychological shakeup will right the ship, but that’s not a healthy way of looking at this situation. That kind of thinking leads to overconfidence in your roster and a belief that you’re one role player away, which is how we got where we are now.

Don’t root for them to win in 2018. If you love this team, root for them to have long-term success, and that means losing in 2018.

The only way this roster can be fixed in a reasonable and efficient manner is to tear it down. This can mean one of two things: Trade at least one of Wall, Beal, and Porter, and try to put together a run based on the remaining one or two of those three and whatever you get back in the trade; or trade all three of them for future assets, ideally a combination of draft picks and young players on cheap deals, tank hard for one of Duke’s three stars (or UNC’s Nassir Little!), then start all over again.

Oh. And fire Ernie Grunfeld. Obviously. And Scott Brooks. Equally obviously.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)

To turn this question on its head slightly, the act of rooting “against” the Wizards would require sentiment that rises above apathy towards the organization. And not since the heyday of the Susan O’Malley/Wes Unseld “come see the other team’s superstar” has there been such a sense of resignation surrounding the Washington basketball franchise. It’s not that rooting against the Wizards is the act of a traitor—it is that fans are so disengaged with the product that they can’t be bothered to register any emotion at all.

To put a finer point on it: The last two weeks have seen everyone outside of the DMV, from Stephen A. Smith to the local dog-catcher, issuing innumerable #HOTTAKES on how the Wizards are trash, how the Wizards need to be broken up, and how the John Wall needs to be shipped off to Siberia in the next 24 hours. Almost zero defense has been mounted against this stream of criticism. Compare this to when the Washington Capitals hit their annual playoff wall two years ago: The first take was printed suggesting that the Caps trade Ovechkin; people lost their goddamn minds. No such defense has been put forward for a single player on the Wizards. Trading Bradley Beal might be the only player who would raise the ire of what few loyal fans remain.

Because to root against the Wizards is to actively root for change. That change, according to the front office is not forthcoming in either the immediate or long-term future. Further, any change that would happen would need to be down to the roots of the organization, from the players, to the head coach and the general manager. To wit:

  • The GM: Ernie Grunfeld is such a poisoned chalice at this point that even the positive moves he makes for the team come with an asterisk. With a seemingly lifetime appointment, Wizards fans have become inured to being angry at Grunfeld’s continued place atop the org chart but also refuse to engage with the team as long as he remains. Grunfeld could pull a rabbit out of his hat and trade for Giannis tomorrow, and the collective reaction of Wizards’ fans would be “Awesome, but Ernie is still in charge.”
  • The Coach: When Randy Wittman was let go, there was a real excitement about which way the Wizards would turn in their coaching search. Perhaps they would pluck someone from the Popovich team and issue in a new style of basketball in the District. Instead the shortlist read, Brooks, Brooks, Brooks. After taking his work in OKC into account, fans and pundits were worried about Brooks’ ability to manage lineup and inflexibility in play-calling. The honeymoon with new head coach lasted exactly one year until the criticisms sprouted up again. Brooks is who many thought he would be and that perhaps is the most disappointing fact of all.
  • The Players:  The Wizards are such a curmudgeonly, cranky group of dislikable dudes who currently play such an ugly brand of basketball that they have even managed to make the doofy combo of Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre unwatchable. Yet, with three max contracts that are under-performing, the Wizards are stuck with the toxic mess of personalities who seem just fine with gunning for their own stats. The worst part is that the locker room dysfunction has more or less been an open secret for four years. The Wizards response? Continuity.

To want the Wizards to lose is to hope for a change to all three of the above situations. At best, one can hope that things get so terrible that at least one of these elements change. But it won’t be enough to fix the optics surrounding the franchise. If you want to root against the Wizards, you should be rooting to burn it all down so that nothing is left but charred ash and a bag of Dwight Howard’s candy. Just know that when it comes to the Wizards, change is not all the rage.

John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend)

Yes, of course, it is okay to root against the Wizards. In 2018, in this economy, I wish more people would.

I’m not a native Washingtonian, and I’ve rooted against the team for years now, so perhaps this is easier for me to say: Being on the other side of things, even during the playoffs, is a beautiful thing. Because if there’s one thing you can always count on, it’s the Washington Wizards being disappointing. But for a few shining moments, disappointment is the brand.

With that said, from a sports and entertainment perspective, there are two main reasons to root against the Wizards in 2018-19 and beyond.

The first is that, despite impassioned and intermittent cries for attention from both players and ownership, the team does not win enough games to be taken seriously. Every year, there’s talk about big leaps, better benches, deeper squads, and every year it’s the same story. Washington came into the season with a .442 winning percentage since the 2003-04 season (ranked 23rd), when you-know-who was hired as president of basketball operations. They are 2-8 now.

Changes are not forthcoming.

Ask yourself why you spend part of your paycheck on new, overly complicated jerseys or, worse, seasons tickets to prop up a franchise that does not see winning games as a priority. (Oh, have you heard the latest news? Monumental and Etihad Airways announced a multiyear partnership extension.)

The second reason is more about the aesthetics: The Wizards just don’t play pretty ball, nor have they for the better part of the last decade.

Ask yourself why you invest so much time watching a crap (at times gutless) team, when you’d better enjoy your favorite sport by following the action in *checks notes* literally any other contest.

Many of you who were born and raised in the DMV may feel a patriotic duty to support the Wizards. That is fine, even good. It is your right to want this team—your team—to compete. But the truth about it (looks directly into camera) is that, in its current state, under this current administration, it cannot and will not win. To be clear, I’m not suggesting you pledge allegiance to another franchise hundreds of thousands of miles way. I’m simply arguing that it’s possible to love the Wizards deeply and still root against . . . all of this.

The way I see it, too much has been invested in the illusion of competency and continuity for its own sake. By hating on the Wizards now, you’re actually helping to save them—and not a moment too soon.

Rashad Mobley (@rashad20)

When the question of whether or not it is fair to root against the 2-8 Washington Wizards was first posed to me, my knee jerk response was hell yes.

John Wall seems disinterested, Bradley Beal is visibly showing frustration like he did during the Wittman years, Otto Porter’s game seems to have plateaued and maybe even regressed, and while Dwight Howard is performing well, it isn’t translating to wins. Kelly Oubre has been a bright spot intermittently, but he did this last year, too, before fading horribly and drawing the coach’s ire by season’s end.

To make matters worse, Troy Brown, the Wizards 15th pick in this year’s draft, has yet to crack Scott Brooks’s rotation, despite showing promise in both the summer league and in preseason.

All of these things combined with feckless efforts on the defensive end of the floor, and the continual angst attached to Ernie Grunfeld still being allowed to construct and deconstruct underachieving rosters, would naturally lead one to root against the team right now. After all, more losses would lead to a terrible record, a slot on or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and it would surely be a stick in Ted Leonsis’s craw given his “no excuses” speech at the start of the season:

“We need to raise the expectations. We have to make the playoffs. I’d like us to win 50 games. I’d like us to go to the Eastern Conference Finals.We have one of the highest payrolls in the league with the Wizards. They have a beautiful, world-class practice facility. They’re healthy entering the year,” he said. “Alright Wizards. If you have this practice facility and one of the highest payrolls in the league and you’re getting well-tended for your health, nutrition and the like; no excuses. Let’s play ball.”

Then I’m reminded of some words of wisdom from the late, great Angelo Dundee.

Mr. Dundee was trainer/corner man for Sugar Ray Leonard and in the middle of Leonard’s fight against Tommy Hearns, Dundee repeatedly said to Leonard, “You’re blowing it, son, you’re blowing it!” Not only did Leonard regroup, he knocked Hearns out to win the fight.

The Wizards don’t have an Angelo Dundee. Scott Brooks throws out less-than-inspiring platitudes like “its on me,””we’ve gotta do better” and “stay the course.” Dwight Howard is happier than a Pharrell Williams song and Wall and Beal seem to prefer the passive-aggressive method of calling teammates out without actually saying their names. But you know what the Wizards do have as motivation? Bad teams on their upcoming schedule.

Technically the stretch of bad teams began with the Knicks and the Mavericks and the Wizards went 1-1. The next five games are against the Magic, the Heat, the Magic again, the Cavaliers, and then the Nets. Yes, with the exception of the Cavaliers, those teams currently have better records than the Wizards, but those games aren’t nearly as daunting as the next stretch of games against the Trailblazers, Clippers, Pelicans, Rockets, and 76ers.

If the Wizards win three or more of these next five games and start to develop a bit of that proverbial swagger, there is no need to root against the team—which could start to resemble the Wizards from two years ago who won 49 games. Under that scenario, perhaps the team will find its identity offensively and a scintilla of intensity on the defensive end. Maybe then, even a higher playoff seed will be worth discussing again.

If that happens, Wizards fans can longingly look back at that stretch of easy games as the catalyst to a better season (à la Angelo Dundee).

But if these games come and go, and the Wizards win just one, two or none at all, it’ll be justified to root against this team and openly root for trades, firings and tank-for-Zion-Williamson signs, because at that point the ship would be sinking and there will be more angry think pieces on this site and others (I see you, Stephen A. Smith). If that level of losing becomes pervasive, the Wizards frankly would have blown it, son.

Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur)

Under no circumstance is it “OK” to root against the Wizards because that goes against the laws of fandom. What kind of fan-base gives up on their team but expects the players to fight until the end? Fair-weather fans, that’s who.

D.C. sports fans should be used to not receiving nice things and anyone who roots against the team is a coward.
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.