With their two biggest names missing from the lineup, the Washington Wizards sunk to a new low on Tuesday night, failing to compete with the Charlotte Bobcats, who last season set a record as the worst team of all time.
The fact is, the Wizards are a bad team too. For a moment, forget the statistics, forget the players that currently comprise their less than impressive lineup and think only of the culture that surrounds this team. What you have is a recipe for disciplinary issues and on the court disaster.
A couple years removed from the Gilbert Arenas locker room gun saga, the Wizards created a team made up entirely of young talents last season. The team put out a starting lineup that included Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis as its veterans, with John Wall, JaVale McGee and Nick Young rounding out the starting lineup. Fans were told to be patient while the team gelled and young players matured.
Within a few weeks of the season beginning, Lewis was arguing with the coaching staff and the team was 0-8. After a 2-15 beginning to the first third of the season, Flip Saunders was dismissed as coach and the team decided to spiral in a different direction.
By the trade deadline, the Wizards dealt Young and McGee and brought in Nene Hilario to be their new big man. The veteran experience was supposed to help balance a lineup that was otherwise young and inexperienced and summer time came with conservative optimism about basketball in the capital despite Nene’s injury issues and the problems that surrounded the team’s locker room.
During the offseason, the Wizards were smart to shed Lewis and amnesty Blatche from their ranks. To get rid of Lewis, the team acquired a backup center in Emeka Okafor and small forward Trevor Ariza from New Orleans.
The former has turned into the starting center because of injury problems for Nene (foot), but doesn’t pack nearly as much punch in the front court averaging 8.6 points and six rebounds per game. Ariza has never been an elite player and has shown that his latest move isn’t bringing the best out of him, averaging six points and four rebounds per game.
With John Wall and Nene out for at least a few more weeks, the Wizards are losing their grip on a long and trying season already. Wall has been an impressive athlete in his first two seasons in the league, but even the 2010 No.1 draft pick’s return may mean little if the Wizards can’t right the ship fast.
The team is currently 0-6 after last night’s loss to Charlotte. As bad as the Bobcats have been in recent years, the Wizards showed them just how bad it can be on Tuesday going 5-31 from three point range while shooting just under 30% from the field.
The only Wizards player to score in double digits was Ariza, who finished with 19 on the night. The team’s interior defense without Nene was non-existant as Charlotte’s draft picks over the last two seasons in Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist charged to the hoop and racked up a combined 32 points. The Bobcats would outscore Washington 46-24 in the paint.
But the woes go well beyond defense and presence in the paint on that end of the floor for the Wizards. Washington’s offense was incapable creating anything either as players stood around and watched each other dribble and shoot. It’s the same laziness on offense that got Saunders fired and like the culture of losing that has permeated the franchise for some time now, appears to have become a virus that Washington can’t kick.
This is an important season for the Wizards. Jan Vesely has come into the fold and needs to provide the type of impact you’d want to see from a sixth overall pick in the draft. Bradley Beal has been heralded as a good talent, but will be required to immediately provide a solid backcourt companion for Wall when he returns by being a secondary scoring punch for a team that is currently second to last in the league in offense, scoring 88 points per game.
If the Wizards don’t get better, Wall will eventually grow frustrated with the franchise regardless of what they find in the draft. Great players can only tolerate losing for so long, and Wall is on the cusp being a great player when he’s healthy. But if he is going to save the Wizards from the basement of the Southeast division and a dependency on the roulette wheel of the NBA Draft Lottery, he needs for this team to come together in his absence and create some semblance of a group that can compete.
At the end of next season, Wall becomes an unrestricted free agent. He can leave Washington and wash his hands of the whole dirty mess that he inherited from Gilbert Arenas when he was drafted. The only way a player of his caliber stays in D.C. is if it looks like his team can compete. The Wizards aren’t overflowing with tradable commodities, so they will need this lineup to figure out a way to, at the very least, grab some victories over weak clubs like Charlotte who they’ll face at home later in the month.
With seven of their next eight games against playoff worthy opponents, the Wizards are likely to sink lower than the 0-8 start to last season. They could very well challenge Charlotte for the worst season of all time, welcoming back Wall in a few weeks time to begin an embarrassing season of heartache and struggle, a season that could be the end of the line for Wall, the final straw in a painfully unsuccessful chapter of his basketball life.
If that happens, Washington is guaranteed to go from bad to the worst.