[Editor's Note: What was formerly the "Rundown" in the preseason is now the DC Council -- after each Wizards game: setting the scene, rating the starters, assessing the bench, providing the analysis, and catching anything that you may have missed. Unlike the real DC Council, everything here is over the table. For the season opener, in addition to my first-hand game coverage, we have two guest contributors, Gregg Cobert and Sam Permutt. More on both of them at the bottom of this post. -Kyle W.]
The end of the Slam Dunk contest on Saturday night signified the end of any Washington Wizards involvement here at NBA All-Star weekend in Los Angeles. My plan was to attend the game, tweet a little during, and then hang around the media scrum afterward to see if I could snag something interesting. Luckily for me, something interesting fell right into my lap involving Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz.
First, a little background. A week and a half ago when Jerry Sloan resigned, there were rumors and reports that Williams was the reason. At halftime of a game against the Bulls, Williams and Sloan had argued (as they had several times during the year, and as Sloan has done with other players, such as Karl Malone, many times before), and when Sloan retired the next morning, Williams was essentially blamed. He was not happy about it at all. Williams lashed out at the media and named names over the radio airwaves on KFAM 1320AM:
All those guys, Ric Bucher, Chris Broussard, they’re all in our locker room everyday. I’ll let them report what they want to report, that’s what they are paid to do. That’s why I’m always short and rude with the media, because they’re your friend. Ric comes in and sits by me every time I see him, acts like he’s my friend, but the day they find something they want to spin, they jump on it. That’s why I am the way I am and will continue to be the way I am.
I had just talked to Williams about a month earlier in Washington, and he was nothing but forthcoming to both myself and David Aldridge. Even when I talked to Williams after the All-Star practice this past Saturday, he didn’t appear short or rude. Rather, his answers were expansive and thoughtful, and I appreciated his time.
As I left today’s All-Star practice media session, one of the workers at the Los Angeles Convention Center asked me what it was like to be on the practice floor with all the players and media. I pondered for a minute, and then I told him to imagine what it’s like when a men’s college basketball team wins the NCAA tournament, and people frantically run on the floor. Then I told him to imagine that he had to look for 24 people in that frantic crowd, while trying to get audio, video and whatever else was needed.
His one-word response? “Damn.”
Despite the madhouse that was today’s post-practice media session, there were uplifting and useful moments to be had. The morning started with Justin Friedlander dunking home his 63,000th shot to raise brain tumor awareness. Justin was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor called an optic nerve glioma back in 2009, and he vowed to shoot 63,000 shots — one for everyone diagnosed with a primary brain tumor per year. Justin, who hails from Rockville, Maryland, visited the Verizon Center last year prior to the Wizards/Pacers game, so it was nice to see him complete his journey. All the coaches and players from both the East and West All-Star squads shook his hand, and signed a t-shirt for him. Very moving stuff.
Next, the East and West All-Stars conducted the kind of practice that even Allen Iverson would not turn down. Gregg Popovich, who was mic’d up during the entire session, walked through some very remedial plays he planned on running in tomorrow night’s All-Star game, and then he just relaxed and watched like every other fan. At one point he ran up to Blake Griffin and said, “I’m a huge fan of yours!” Griffin just laughed and said thank you.
John Wall has shown signs that he’s starting to hit that dreaded rookie wall. He’s been struggling to fight off injuries, and as a result, his aggressiveness, his explosiveness and his ability to defend opposing point guards has suffered. I’ve been watching basketball long enough to know that all rookies go through this type adversity at some point, let alone rookies who are assigned the arduous task of running a team and saving a franchise. With the Utah Jazz in town to face the Wizards on Martin Luther King afternoon, I knew I would have the opportunity to get some point guard perspective from three different members of that model franchise.
Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan instructed Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton for 15 seasons, and he’s coached All-Star Deron Williams for six. Williams is in the ‘best point guard in the league’ discussion along with Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo. His backup, Earl Watson, was coached by former Sonics great point guard Nate McMillan and mentored by a future Hall of Famer Gary Payton.
Among those three men, I was sure I could learn the traits of a good point guard, what Wall might be going through right now and get a good assessment of how he’s progressing almost halfway through the season.
Before the game, Sloan talked about how little the Wall/Williams match-up meant to him, and how important intelligence is to playing point guard:
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2007 Gilbert Arenas hit a game-winner walking away against the Utah Jazz in Washington… barely looked to see if it went in. Tough shot against a tough player in Deron Williams.
Four years later, the consistency of the Utah franchise and a Jerry Sloan-led team continues to carry an air of toughness wherever they go. The Wizards franchise remains in vastly different territory, with a fan base yearning for something they’ve never really known, that same toughness and consistency Utah always conveys.
“This is going to be a great test because this is by far the most physical team that we’ve faced,” said Wizards coach Flip Saunders before this afternoon’s game. “The other teams we’ve faced, Orlando and Miami, they’re good teams and they’re good defensive teams, but they don’t have the physicality of what a Utah has, and they do a lot because they have such great talent — a LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can take the game over — this team has a guy in Deron Williams who can take the game over, and [Al] Jefferson can do some things inside, but they’re so much better as a whole, such a great offensive execution team.”
As much as Sloan exhumes the toughness of his team, his second great point guard, Williams, carries that message while on the court.
“He’s tough, hard-nosed. Offensively, he knows how to run a team, he’s aggressive. He’s one of those guards who will sneak up behind you, set a good screen,” Wizards backup big man Hilton Armstrong told me before the game.
I managed to catch up with LeBron James in the visitor’s locker room before tonight’s Wizards-Heat game. He had plenty to say, on topics ranging from the Orlando Magic, to Justin Bieber, and even Yao Ming.
His most interesting answer was just one word — two letters. When asked if winning games will ultimately change people’s perceptions of both LeBron and the Miami Heat, LeBron responded:
Well, I guess not everybody loves a winner. What can he do? What should he do?
[Editor's note: Check out the debut of new TAI author, John Townsend. Read more about that John at the bottom of this post, but first, check out his piece about another John. -Kyle]
America always seems to need an enemy, whether they’re found in politics (terrorists!) or in sports (referee Dan Crawford for Mavericks fans). Sure, there are times when our criticism of these villains is justified (British Petroleum), but just as often it is not (Steve Bartman).
The most celebrated, captivating products and people are the most polarizing as well. We should expect this, especially considering the amount of time, money, and hopes being invested. This all brings me to John Wall – savior or setback? The question was never will the Wizards select John Wall, but instead what will happen when they do.
photo courtesy of thomasbeisner's Flickr
The debate over whether or not John Wall is the answer in Washington, DC is groundless. John Wall isone part of the solution to a greater basketball challenge.
[Editor's Note: Truth About It.net photographer Adam Douglas once again brings you an excellent edition of "Under The Hoop" -- because Wizards games aren't just about basketball, they're about the whole fan experience, and Adam brings you that experience from up close with pictures and commentary. The below post is from last Saturday's game against the Utah Jazz.]
Andray Blatche knows who might butter his bread at the free throw line.
[Editor's Note:Rashad Mobley has reported on the Wizards with media credentials since the 2008-09 season for Hoops Addict. He occasionally contributes to Truth About It.net, providing excellent analysis and a different perspective from his up-close coverage of the team.]
I’ll admit I was feeling pretty good about myself going into last night’s Wizards/Jazz game. Prior to the game, Coach Flip Saunders mentioned that Shaun Livingston would get the starting nod over Randy Foye. After Friday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic, I asked Flip about a Livingston over Foye situation, and said he didn’t know–but he didn’t say no, which to me was a strong indication a change was going to be made. And eventually it was.
Based on my observations, Livingston got the Wizards into the offense earlier, he made more decisive passes, and when things broke down, he always seemed to make the right play to navigate his way out of trouble. Plus, Flip never missed a chance to praise Livingston’s “basketball IQ”, and since he is notoriously hard on point guards, it seemed like a good temporary fit. Livingston would start, Foye would channel his frustration over being benched, and regain that missing mojo, and Earl Boykins, being the veteran that he is, would be a threat to come in and drop 14 points in a minute and a half. Sounds like a plan right?