Antawn Jamison is on his own level and you can’t get on it, atleast that’s what the promotional party flier above seems to indicate. Jamison’s level these days involves sitting out the past 13 games — likely the rest of the year — due to a broken pinkie finger; and he has to watch the 15-58 Cleveland Cavaliers all the time, which probably isn’t that much different than watching the 18-55 Wizards. Jamison’s level also involves getting paid over $13.3 million this season, which is a pretty nice level regardless of the environment. Back to the promotional flier … Jamison’s level will evidently be on display this Thursday at the Shadow Room, as he is welcomed back to D.C. with a party the night before his Cavs take on the Wizards. Speaking of the Shadow Room, that’s the venue where Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee once got on the level of fighting with each other outside the club on Christmas Eve. The Wizards are just a classic team, on so many levels.
In other team party news, Josh Howard, who has appeared in 409 minutes over 18 games this season, has lent his name to the Wizards-Heat post-game party at Oxygen tonight. The most recently injured Wizard, Trevor Booker, had provided his name for use as well. Wale will also be performing … I still wonder if he roots for the Cavaliers and/or Nuggets.
As my eyes wandered away from the court for a moment during Tuesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, a rarely-seen-before sight from my peripheral view quickly brought my attention back to the court. The Wizards’ 56th pick in the 2010 draft was headed to the scorer’s table, getting ready to make just his fifth appearance all season. That sight got me smiling and fist-pumping – and definitely would have unintentionally gotten me on the Verizon Center “Fist Pump Cam” if it were happening then.
It wasn’t just the sight of Hamady N’diaye finally getting a chance to prove his worth that got me excited. It was simply seeing him jog to check in. Let me repeat: He showed excitement to play the sport he loves and actually joggedto the scorer’s table. N’diaye and his enthusiasm didn’t look like the typical substitute hopelessly aiming to show his rares amidst an unknown opportunity. But maybe the change turned out to be exactly that – hopeless at first, yet impactful in a 5:28 stint.
Randy Wittman seems to be a guy who likes to color within the lines. And sure there is an occasional twitch, a little jerk that sends his coaching marker beyond expectations – take for example his colorful exchange with JaVale McGee, which left both men red in the face.
But slip-ups like that, at the very least, let you know that the guy is human.
“Trust me, I don’t want to be standing here talking with you guys,” he said with a smirk before Wednesday night’s game versus the Golden State Warriors, filling in for Flip Saunders, who was with his ailing mother who recently passed away. Even with his disarming smile, you could tell that there was a fire in Wittman’s words, a communication of purpose. Such passion is expected from a man who has lived and breathed basketball since the ’70s, I imagine.
“The effort has to be better, obviously,” said Wittman during his pregame presser. “It can’t fluctuate. […] To win in this league and be a winner in this league you can’t have fluctuations in your effort, energy, and desire playing. Chicago kind of took that out of us … they kind of took the will to win away from us and that can’t happen.”
Usually this feature is called “Perfect Play” and breaks down an exceptional Wizard set from the game. Well, after last night’s blowout loss to the 76ers, business as usual just feels unnatural. It was a depressing performance from a team depressed by the impending trade of Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong to Atlanta.
The following play is one I would argue is exemplary of the reason the Wizards looked so terrible. It would be facile to just show Wall tossing a three off the backboard or an ugly Blatche isolation. The truth is, there is often real motion in the Wizards offense, it just doesn’t yield anything faintly reminiscent of teams like the Boston Celtics.
The Wizards were going through their offensive actions, but with no production, with no meaning behind the motion. It took eight frames to document this play from the beginning of the fourth quarter, I hope you stick around for the end, I’m sure you’ll be disappointed with the result (but hopefully not with the analysis).
On the floor for the Wizards: John Wall (2), Nick Young (1), Josh Howard (5), Trevor Booker (35), and Kevin Serphin (13)
[It's bad enough that the Sixers mopped the floor with the Wizards on Wednesday night... Making matters worse, this fan represented Washington in the city of Philadelphia.]
Tuesday night in Washington against the Indiana Pacers, Andray Blatche helped the Wizards dart out to a quick start and a 30-25 lead after one quarter by contributing 12 points himself. Then Jeff Foster did his best Dennis Rodman impression by grabbing seven rebounds against JaVale McGee in the second quarter, as the Pacers held the Wizards to just 19 points while scoring 33 of their own. Just like that, Washington was down 58-49 at the half and never recovered en route to 113-96 loss.
Last night against the resurgent 76ers in Philadelphia, the Wizards started off with a strong effort once again. In the first quarter, John Wall had nine points and six assists, and Blatche and Young had eight and seven points respectively. The score was 31-24 after one quarter, and it appeared as if the Wizards had quickly learned their lesson after a sluggish performance the night before — a performance that made Flip Saunders question who and was not entitled to playing time.
Then that evil monster called the second quarter showed up and decided to spook the Wizards once again. This time, Josh Howard was the main target. Kirk Hinrich was in street clothes and probably getting text messages about the trade of he and Hilton Armstrong to the Atlanta Hawks, which meant that when Wall came out of the game with 8:52 left in the second quarter with the Wizards up 33-29, Howard had to play backup point guard for the second consecutive night.
It’s only the first game after the All-Star break, but one in which the Washington Wizards looked to be heading in the opposite direction of will than that of their opponent, the Indiana Pacers. Frank Vogel’s team beat down the Wizards 113-96 on Washington’s home court Tuesday night, making Indiana’s record 8-3 since a coaching change tabbed Vogel as the new head man. The Wizards, on the other hand, plod forth.
“[Jeff] Foster,” began a post-game sentence from Washington coach Flip Saunders. (Yes, Jeff Foster, of the Pacers … that Jeff Foster … being mentioned in a post-game sentence from an opposing head coach. Go figure.) “We started that second quarter,” Saunders continued, “you know, JaVale [McGee] was matched up on him [Foster], they had 10 to one rebounds, he had six rebounds in the first three and a half minutes. That right there kind of set the tone for the rest of the game. We were up 35-30, and they just came out and mauled us.”
Indiana would outscore Washington 33-19 in the second quarter and never look back; besting the Wizards 32-19 in the third quarter was simply the nail in the coffin. And to get technical, Foster grabbed seven rebounds, five of the offensive variety, in six minutes and 47 seconds of action in the second period.
By the time the referee threw the ball up to signify the start of the game against the Orlando Magic, the Washington Wizards knew they would be without Rashard Lewis and Nick Young. Lewis continues to battle knee tendinitis and Young was a late scratch with swelling his knee. Their absences meant the Wizards had to somehow account for the 30 points they usually bring to the starting lineup.
From scoring the first points of the game on a layup 42 seconds in, John Wall demonstrated that he was in an offensive state of mind and capable of picking up the slack by scoring 13 points in the opening period. Seemingly all of his baskets on the evening would follow this sequence: Wall would take the outlet or inbound pass, he would run by the Orlando big men, and then he would outmaneuver the Orlando guards en route to a layup. He peppered in a couple short jumpers, some free throws, and one three-pointer later in the game, but the majority of his damage was done in the paint. He finished with 27 points, five rebounds, two steals and just one assist.
It can be argued that Wall, who averages nearly 10 assists a game, wasn’t doing his job as a point guard if he only dished out one dime. False. Dwight Howard kept pressure on Washington’s big men by often catching the ball deep in the paint (thanks to repeated poor post position from JaVale McGee, lack of strength from Hilton Armstrong or lack of experience from Kevin Seraphin), and forcing them to foul. Howard went 8-11 from the free-throw line and 12-15 from the field to tally 32 points.
Wall kept pressure on the Orlando defense by repeatedly getting into the lane and ending up with a layup or a trip to the foul line. So what happened when the Magic actually stopped him and other teammates were forced to step up?
Before San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich led his team against the Washington Wizards on Saturday night, and as his players were coming off an uncharacteristic loss to the Philadelphia 76ers the night before, I asked him if it was a situation where he’d rather play the very next night.
“Exactly. That’s always one of the great things we all talk about in the NBA, because another game’s coming pretty quickly. Even if it’s back-to-back, you’d rather get to the next game and play and forget the one you just were so horrible in,” the coach said.
After getting poked and prodded like worn leather by the Spurs, the Wizards found them in the same situation, on a flight to Cleveland not only with the motivation of ending a 0-25 road record on the season, but also with the bad taste of poor effort spread on their breakfast toast. The Australians call it vegemite.
Well, they did it. February 13 was long ago marked as a facetious scenario for the Wizards to get their first road win — against Antawn Jamison, in front of a Cleveland crowd previously ingrained to boo the Wiz a little more than other teams, and with a nice number like 25 straight road losses, 26 dating back to last season. With life’s little symmetry in tow, of course Washington won 115-100 on Sunday evening. Ted Leonsis should be dancing, but we’ll get him doing the “Dougie” for another reason.
[Brentwood Park - NW Washington, D.C. - photo: K. Weidie]
My column last week in the DCist incited some reaction from ’round the web. It wasn’t my intention to incite, rather to simply convey thought-out passion through words, so I cannot find any fault in any passionate responses. Furthermore, I’d like to provide some bullet point thoughts below (and then some links).
“Bold moves” was in reference to the on-court product and those who have a direct influence (players, coaches, basketball operations personnel, team doctors).
“Bold moves” was not in reference to the surrounding bells and whistles and other shots of energy regarding the franchise, which are more than welcome — Midnight Madness, an alumni association, more attentiveness to stadium needs — but overall, those are mere distractions from the win-loss column.
Trading Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas is not classified under “bold moves” … they were necessary moves.
Other moves have been noted and appreciated for their forward-thinking manner — getting Yi Jianlian for essentially nothing, the 17th pick and Hinrich from the Bulls for minimal returns. But also, what would the rebuilding product look without the luck of the draft and John Wall? I shudder to imagine.
However, this team, even in rebuilding mode, had some glaring inefficiencies that were easily observed long ago. And now, they clearly have had a detrimental effect upon the on-court product — most notably, a lacking inside presence (demonstrated by both offensive and defensive numbers) and lack of adequate outside shooting (the Wizards are in the bottom third of the NBA in both 3p%, .338, and 3pM/G, 5.4). Solutions to these areas are not found overnight, but more creativity could have been used in seeking stop-gaps for this season.
Many people, such as myself, are not GMs … but it’s evident that these player personnel issues could have been better addressed while continuing to assume minimal financial risk for the future (if not less – see: OKC trade for Daequan Cook/18th pick from Miami in return for the 32nd pick).
Flip Saunders is a good coach. He hasn’t been provided with the best roster — or even a balanced roster (as Saunders has made subtle complaints to this point, before and after the Gilbert Arenas trade) — so much of the blame for current and past woes lies on the basketball operations side. But the jobs of both Saunders and Ernie Grunfeld are connected, as in Grunfeld hired Saunders. On June 19, 2003, the Wizards hired Eddie Jordan before bringing Grunfeld on board on June 30 (Grunfeld was released from his contract with the Milwaukee Bucks on June 29; on June 27, he traded Sam Cassell and Ervin Johnson to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Joe Smith and Anthony Peeler) … So there are some sensitivities in which position begets the other. I’m not saying that a GM/team president ‘must’ make coaching calls, but it would help if he was in on the process, in the least.
These are not easy decisions to make, they are “bold” decisions … but also ones which require due diligence and should not be a salve to a frustrated fan base.
Then again, the fans have seen enough … Perhaps Grunfeld’s past record, before the Leonsis regime, is simply not as much of a factor when it should be.
To put it another way, Flip Saunders is doing a decent job of developing some of his young players who are coach-able. Those who are not coach-able should be shown the door. But by whom? Should the responsibility of purging the team of unintelligent and unwilling players be tasked to the person who put them there in the first place? Maybe an individual is the best person to correct his own mistakes … I don’t know … but in this instance, that doesn’t seem to be the idea frame for a true rebuilding project.
It’s not an outlandish opinion or reaction to say that certain aspects of the Wizards’ basketball operations team have gotten stale over the past seven years … but can you get rid of a GM/team president while keeping the coach? What will that do to the coach? Or the GM’s replacement?
Again, these are not easy decisions to make, but at this point, speaking of Saunders specifically, there’s not a compelling reason to fire him in the middle of this season. As much conviction that Saunders might lack with a young team, it could be more detrimental to their development to have a shocking change of scenery as their effort in games, albeit losses, seems to be mounting … for most players at least.
I have no problem with Groupon or with the fact that the team is using Groupon to get butts in seats — I actually think it’s a great idea — but sometimes “new age” sales tactics can be poked fun at. Oh well. Roll with the jabs.
And yes, you do occasionally see ads for Groupon on this very site. Most of them are actually driven by Google AdSense (at least those you might see on the top-level banner or the long side banners). There are small Groupon “banners” to the right under the site’s top image and one at the very bottom of the right-hand side bar. These are simply generic Groupon place-holders which don’t necessarily display product-specific ads. Essentially, I would like to further “monetize” this site with Groupon offerings, but have personally fallen short on taking that next step. Content, not ads, is the goal. We are a small operation with day jobs. It happens.
Ted Leonsis doing a great job and I applaud his efforts … but just as hard as rebuilding is on fans and those who cover the team, it will be just as hard on a very present owner who is trying in earnest to counteract negativity — “Pixels of Despair” — with uber-positivity.
The bumps and bruises and tough times don’t just happen on the court … painful work now will hopefully pay off with an even better feeling about accomplishment in the future.
But until then, we can beg to differ on certain aspects of the “process.”