Sometimes I can’t help but wonder what it’s like to root for a basketball team that has a fucking clue.
Seeing well-run franchises like the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs able to effectively run their teams on both an immediate and long-term basis is almost disheartening to a Washington Bullets/Wizards fan.
The Spurs land a number-one pick and draft a cornerstone like center Tim Duncan. Washington gets Kwame Brown. The Celtics acquire a grizzled veteran like Kevin Garnett and sail to yet another NBA championship. The Wiz somehow convince the greatest player of my lifetime, Michael “Freaking” Jordan, to play in D.C. and they can’t even sniff .500. Seriously, it’s embarrassing.
But at some point you get used to the ineptitude. You embrace the mediocrity. I mean, the franchise surely did when they dropped confetti and threw a party just for qualifying for the playoffs a few years ago. And who cares if the current version of the Wizards is, at best, good enough to qualify for the postseason but flawed enough to ensure the second round is a pipedream? When they’re this bad for this long, a first-round exit is a welcomed distraction.
That’s why I was able to live with the stories coming out of D.C. this week about our beloved basketball team. Comcast Sportsnet did a sit-down interview with general manager Ernie Grunfeld in which he said (with a straight face) that he wouldn’t change a thing if he knew then what he knows now about signing a one-legged Gilbert Arenas to a six-year, $111 million deal this past offseason and I didn’t even hit up the liquor cabinet. During the same interview Grunfeld said he isn’t second guessing any other moves that led to his Wizards’ 12-42 record and I somehow managed to avoid throwing the remote at my television.
Unfortunately, a day later, I lost it. You see, I can put up with a lot, but the Washington Post pushed me over the edge when they ran a story on Grunfeld that started with the following paragraph:
Ernie Grunfeld’s plan was to sprinkle talented youngsters and veteran role players around a core of three star players. Then he would watch the team progress deep into the playoffs, perhaps to a long-awaited second NBA championship.
Now I’ve never met the gentleman who wrote this particular story, but he clearly, unlike me, was unable to avoid drinking when the topic of the Wizards came into play.
Anyone who thought this team of streaky jump shooters who continually refuse to play defense was capable of doing anything more than selling popcorn at the NBA Finals should be forced to wear a helmet while riding the school bus. For this writer to even mention the word “championship” in a Washington Wizards article is a more egregious foul than anything Jayson Blair ever did.
Later in this same article, the writer suggests that there’s a silver lining to this pitiful season because the team “has a good chance at landing a high pick in the draft lottery.” That statement is then followed up with this turd in the punch bowl:
However, because the Wizards already have such huge financial commitments, there is a decent chance Grunfeld will consider trading the pick.
Um … what?
The only reason people are willing to live with this lost season is because there’s hope that Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin or someone of his caliber will ride into town and save this sinking ship. Now the Wizards are floating the idea of trading away the draft pick in order to rid the franchise of Etan Thomas’ bad contract? Really? Someone thinks that’ll go over well?
Just last week the San Francisco 49ers floated the idea of possibly bringing in Michael Vick if/when he’s reinstated to the NFL. Head Coach Mike Singletary was given multiple chances to say “there’s no way in hell that bastard will ever play on my team” and declined. The team might never admit it, but by refusing to shoot down the possibility they were gauging public reaction to the possibility of Vick one day joining the Bay area. If the fans don’t go ape shit and the team thinks he can help their once-proud franchise return to glory, then they’ll take a shot. If they’re greeted with public backlash – like when the Redskins nearly hired Jim Fassel this past offseason – they’ll quickly move in another direction.
That is why, for the first time in recent memory, Wizards fans cannot show apathy. Indifference right now will only give Grunfeld and friends the false impression that we’re okay with giving away any hopes of brighter days. You, Ernie Grunfeld, were the one who decided to match the Milwaukee Bucks contract offer to Etan Thomas. You, Ernie Grunfeld, were the guy who ultimately decided to sign, draft, re-sign or trade for every player on the current roster.
While teams like Oklahoma City and New Orleans smartly build around young and inexpensive talent you opt to turn your team over to 32-year-old Antawn Jamison (given a four-year, $50-million deal this past offseason) and Arenas (who should officially be referred to as Chris Webber 2.0). Folks around town are used to seeing the Redskins blow off the draft in favor of overpaying over-the-hill players, but wouldn’t it be wiser to follow the blueprint of the Capitals in this case?
The Caps got rid of overpriced underachievers and rebuilt their team with an emphasis on the draft. A few years later, the Verizon Center is routinely sold out as fans flock to see the town’s only legitimate championship contender. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of those same fans also came back on nights when your team was in the building? It can happen. But in order to do so, you must admit your mistakes, Ernie.
Blow this team up.
The Bullets/Wizards franchise hasn’t won a damned thing in 30 years, so folks won’t mind three or four more years of lottery picks if they know you’re building the team the right way. Convincing yourself that getting Arenas and Brendan Haywood back into the lineup automatically has this team “competing for championships” is ridiculous. You can’t put a band-aid on a ruptured spleen and you can’t build a winner around a one-legged, me-first point guard. Stop wasting our time and your money building perennial losers and get with the program.
Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter who also goes by the name Homer McFanboy. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.