I hate it when doom-and-gloomers are correct, naysayers have the last word and told-you-so’s do their thing.
They just couldn’t help themselves last spring when – true to their nature – they pooh-poohed the Wizards’ playoff run. Washington swept Toronto in the opening round and won two of three against Atlanta before John Wall’s injury proved insurmountable.
The Wizards clearly were on the rise, ready to pace and space their way to upper crust in the Eastern Conference. Newfound success with small ball, the emergence of Otto Porter Jr. and the backcourt’s continued development held great promise, making Washington a popular sleeper to reach the East finals.
But a depressing thing happened en route to a third consecutive playoff appearance: The Wizards regressed. After winning 44 and 46 games in 2013-14 and 2014-15, respectively, Randy Wittman’s squad must push to finish at .500 this season. They need to win four of their last five games, starting Wednesday when Brooklyn visits Verizon Center.
Playoffs? That remains a possibility, mathematically, a whopping 2.5 percent chance according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index.
Let’s turn our attention to the Nationals while the Wizards talk about not giving up.
“Not until the fat lady sings,” guard Bradley Beal told reporters Sunday after Washington concluded a 2-3 west coast trip with a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. “Some crazy things have happened in past before. We’ve went from seventh to fifth before, so anything can happen. It’s just a matter of time.”
Wake me when it’s over.
I’m not talking about the season, which can’t end soon enough. It’s time to bury this entire era, call it John Wall, Part I. The franchise has six postseason victories in the franchise player’s six NBA seasons. It will never escape the second round at that rate.
Despite relative success the last two seasons, a large amount skepticism continues to surround the team because the chief architect has been in place for nearly 13 years. Players have come and gone but results remain unchanged – unsatisfactory. Ernie Grunfeld continues to make draft picks and engineer trades but the Wizards stay stuck, never great, sometimes terrible, too often mediocre.
The plan this year was to have a good season and lure Kevin Durant back home in the offseason. It doesn’t matter what Grunfeld had in mind for Plan B. It won’t raise expectations and likely won’t include a 2016 draft pick. This year’s second-rounder went to Atlanta as part of the Kelly Oubre acquisition and the first-rounder almost certainly will go to Phoenix as part of the Markieff Morris deal.
Trading for Morris seemed a like a good move at the time because Washington would keep its first-round pick by making the playoffs or drafting in the top nine. But the worst-case scenario is upon us, no postseason and no lottery pick.
At least Grunfeld won’t be blamed for messing up another draft.
Last season’s promise has morphed into another familiar also-ran campaign, filled with gaps in focus, accusations of quiting and gripes about coaching. And injuries, always injuries. Beal is looking for a max contract and this seems like a lock: He’ll continue to miss chunks of each season if he stays, but he’ll be the picture of good health elsewhere if he leaves.
How’s that for pesky pessimism?
Now that this season is destined to end short of the playoffs – like six of the last eight – count me among the cynics. I bought into Grunfeld’s latest project because it seemed like a patch-and-repair effort finally would hold. But his work continues to spring leaks and reveal cracks. He has done a shoddy job overall for more than a decade and gives no indication that he’s capable of building excellence.
Like many of us, owner Ted Leonis also was snookered after last year, predicting that the Wizards would fine-tune the roster and be even better this year. “The best is yet to come,” he predicted.
Or never to come. At least not under the current administration.
Continuity works both ways. It’s good in the cases of San Antonio and Miami, not-so-good in D.C. and New York. Knicks’owner James Dolan tried to change his fortune by hiring Phil Jackson to run basketball operations. The move might not work but it beats sticking with the tried-and-failed approach.
Grunfeld can’t complain that he hasn’t received time. He’s had more than a fair amount squared. He also can’t argue that he deserves to stay. His track record is pocked with too much failure; executives with way better results have been let go.
It’s time for Wizards fans to base hope on a change in the front office.
The team needs someone new calling the shots and naysayers need a new target.
Enough with the same-old same-old.