We take no great pleasure in kicking a team while it's down, but the flailing Washington Wizards just can't be ignored. The team still has yet to win a game in nine tries, following Monday night's failed comeback against the Indiana Pacers; but whatever you think of the team's collection of talent it's hard to deny just how much this group truly appears to hate continually coming out on the wrong side of things.
And that the team really, really hates nearly making it to Thanksgiving without picking up a single victory. And with only Wednesday's contest against the very good and improving Atlanta Hawks in the space between now and the holiday, the Wizards might be asking the wishbone for guidance later this week.
(I apologize for the Thanksgiving wordplay. I'm a sportswriter and it's a long season.)
Sorta feels like a long season already for Wizards coach Randy Wittman, who watched as his starters dropped a bomb against Indiana early on, only to see his collection of unheralded bench players manage to dig in and turn this into a two possession game by the time the fourth quarter started. From Randy's postgame comments in front of the media scrum, via the Washington Post:
"I believe these guys can win. I don't have doubts. I come in here every day, thinking: 'This is night. I feel good,' " Wittman said, before pausing. "I might be dumb."
As we discussed on Monday, some vocal Wizards fans might agree with Wittman's last sign off. And though you may argue with Wittman's rotations and play-calling, he's not out of his gourd (again, sorry) for thinking that an NBA team filled with players that receive weekly paychecks and free uniforms should be able to pull out a win every few weeks or so. Especially at home against a Pacers team that has struggled significantly this year.
Then again, for all his appreciation of a roster he still thinks has a win or 20 in it, Wittman sure backtracked when asked if he likes what he sees from his co-workers:
"I'm playing 12 and 13 every night. You can't do that in an NBA game," Wittman said. "You want to develop a [starting] group and then a group that comes in. I'm having a hard time doing that with the play we're having."
"If I had a cellphone, I'd be calling the waiver wire trying to find another body," he said.
Losses are frustrating, but that's not exactly what a player wants to hear as he stacks up against endless teams full of rosters (even an injury-plagued Pacers group) that will have them licked in the talent column every night out.
As you'd expect, because Wizards fans are an Internet-savvy bunch that is used to years of futility, the memes have sprouted up. There's the Twitter feed "Wiz Win Last Night?" There's some semi-viral sad Wiz pictures floating around, and there are players that your typical cable analyst probably hasn't heard of chiding themselves on social media for missing what could have been a game-changing four free throws.
Ohfer nine, 30th in offense, 25th in attendance, worst NBA offensive start in a decade, and weeks away from two semi-star players (John Wall, and Nene) that Wizards fans haven't exactly fully embraced returning from injuries that tend to linger. In a few days, the Wizards have gone from just another bad NBA team — full of cast-offs, retread coaches and front office types, struggling youngsters and big salaries — to the type that gets its own segment on those very cable sports programs.
Pretty good, er, bad for a team that isn't even last in the NBA in point differential.
From here, the typical NBA coach rides his veterans in order to secure that first or even second win in order to take a little pressure off before going back to the unstated business of collecting lottery balls for May. The problem for Wittman is that his veterans have failed him, miserably.
Center Emeka Okafor had three of his shots blocked and just one rebound in nine minutes on Monday. Trevor Ariza is exactly where you think he is, missing 8 of 12 shots in the loss. Jordan Crawford has been given the go-ahead to gun — by either Jordan himself or Wittman's game plan — and he missed 10 of his 12 looks. All second-year forward Jan Vesely has to do is jump and go after loose balls and rebounds in a game where both teams combined to miss 92 shots, and he only managed two rebounds in nearly 22 minutes. Jannero Pargo — still active! (Sorry, was looking at Washington's first box score against Indiana).
GM Ernie Grunfeld's trading for Nene, Okafor and Ariza was a cynical move made against this franchise's best interest in order to secure one competitive season and the extension of Grunfeld's job. Something for the next GM to pay for, when Wall and Bradley Beal and Vesely can't get over the hump because the Wizards were playing veterans instead of acquiring and developing young players. And, if the moves failed, Grunfeld could always point to Wittman and shrug his shoulders at all these vets that played well elsewhere but not so great in Washington.
Wittman's no dummy, and he knew this entering the year. His saving grace is the fact that Wall and Nene are still out, but all that might do is save him half a season instead of a post-Thanksgiving pink slip.
The franchise, as a whole, has no saving grace. Even with Wall's presence and Beal's promise, they've wasted too many years with various rebuilding projects to not need another two or three years to pull out of this current quagmire. As has always been the case, it's going to take the eventual addition of good lottery picks just to return to competitiveness.
At least Wizards fans, as it is with pulling up a losing box score the day after another defeat, are used to that sort of news.
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