For years now, Washington Wizards fans have been told to be patient. They have been told the team has to retool, rebuild and re-evaluate their expectations. They have been patient and as faithful as they can be, but the last two seasons have seen the team’s attendance decline and this year is no different.
As the Wizards have begun the season 0-11, they are 22nd in the league in attendance with an average of 15, 710 people in the seats. Rewind the clock five years to 2007, the Wizards were 12th in the league averaging over 18,300 per game and in the space between never dipped lower than 16,204 in 2010.
The summer after, the team drafted John Wall with the No. 1 overall pick and saw increases in interest in the team, until now. As the Wizards struggle and the basketball inches toward being unbearable, fans are finding it less and less worth while to head down to Chinatown in the nation’s capital for a game at the Verizon Center.
It’s become so bad, that ESPN’s Washington Wizards blog posted a video yesterday of a lifelong Wizards fan now living in New York burning his Wizards gear and walking into the light of the new Brooklyn Nets franchise. The video is comical in one sense, damning in another for a franchise that hasn’t experienced much joy in recent years.
It doesn’t appear things will get much better for Washington in the next few weeks either. Five of the Wizards next six opponents have winning records, with an up and coming Portland team being the one sub .500 opponent.
Fans will resort to finding someone to blame as the season spirals downward, far beyond the worst start in franchise history. Where to start is another matter. Is it the players, the coaches, the scouts, the owner, the general manager, all of the above? In any case, it’s pretty shameful when you’re the worst team to suit up for a franchise that has made the postseason just five times in the last 23 years.
Usually the name of the general manager will pop up as a big source of the team’s problems and in this case, that assessment fits. You might think that this is a bit difficult to do since Ernie Grunfeld is never on the court to lead the team to the league’s fifth worst turnover ratio, shoot under 30% from three point range or have the worst point differential per game of any team in the league, but the product you see on the Verizon Center floor every night is his creation. He is responsible for the team’s lack of reliable leadership and depth.
It becomes a lot easier for fans to blame him because the team is tanking once again, the sixth time in Grunfeld’s ten year reign that they’ll finish with a losing record. Under him, the Wizards have made the postseason four times, but have advanced past the first round just once, only to lose in the second round. His winning percentage is roughly 39%, the team is over the salary cap and committed to being so next year as well.
Coaches certainly can’t be allowed to walk free of blame. Flip Saunders did everything in his power to bury the franchise in just over two seasons in charge of the Wizards after the departure of Eddie Jordan. Saunders finished his reign over the team with a record of 51-130 in his time there. Randy Wittman has done his best, but has managed to compound Saunders failures by leading the team to an 18-42 record since his predecessor was fired seventeen games into last year’s lockout shortened season.
The players and the scouts who dug them up are to blame of course. Washington has seen its share of failures no doubt. Trading Gilbert Arenas, post gun fiasco, to Orlando for Rashard Lewis’ ridiculous contract was like trading a broken down car for another with no motor.
When you collect a paycheck to play a game, people expect you to do it with some pride and passion, but Washington hasn’t seen many players who can claim to carry much of either. This team’s play has been more lackluster than a senior center Christmas play and since trading JaVale McGee and Nick Young, has actually found a way to become less interesting. Nene’s presence hasn’t amounted to much when you consider he has spent most of his time in Washington attached to the bench with injuries.
The squad’s lack of a true scorer, with the exception of the injured John Wall, leaves them with a dearth of reliable options in a tight game. That hasn’t been much of a problem though, as the Wizards average margin of loss is a league high 6.5 points.
No shoulders are more fit for the blame to settle upon, however, than owner Ted Leonsis. In the case of any team, the owner is the catalyst for success one way or another. The team’s suspect play has led to handfuls of players coming in and out of Washington, three coaching changes (soon to be four) in ten years and one bad draft pick after another with the exception of John Wall, an obvious choice in 2010.
What Washington needs now is a complete flush from top to bottom. As many players as possible need to be traded for expiring contracts to clear cap space, Grunfeld fired, the scouting network revamped. Leonsis can’t allow the team to slip any further into the doldrums of the Southeast division and expect the fans to continue to show up. They’ve heard the calls for patience, the excuses about the time it takes. They’ve stuck around no matter how bad it has sucked and tonight’s game against San Antonio promises to bring more pain. Now it’s time to do something.
Next spring, this organization has a good chance at acquiring yet another No. 1 pick in the NBA draft lottery. By the time that day comes, Leonsis has to have the Wizards already heading in a new direction, because he won’t keep getting chances to get it right before the faithful completely turn their backs. Without major changes, Washington’s rich basketball history could be forgotten, a memory to difficult to envision through the haze of mediocrity.