Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season in which SportsGrid’s acid-tongued writers identify the reason why your team should probably start looking forward to 2013-2014. Today: the Washington Wizards.
The Washington Wizards finished the 2011-12 season 20-46 at the cellar of the Eastern Conference. For those of you who consider the statistical cellar dweller Charlotte Bobcats a “team” in the “NBA”, the Wizards actually had the luxury of finishing second from the bottom, but I’m not sold yet.
It seems that for years the Wizards have just been kind of dicking around at the bottom of the standings, waiting for their young talent to steer the ship towards some semblance of success. Four straight years at the bottom of the Southeast Division later (remember, Bobcats = not a basketball team) and they are none the better since the drafting of vaunted talent like JaVale McGee and 2010 first overall pick John Wall.
Well, the JaVale McGee experiment is over, the professional tweeter shipped out for Nene in the first of two notable deals the the Wiz have pulled off since the start of the calendar year. The other: a June trade that shipped out Rashard Lewis and a draft pick for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
Add to the mix 2012 third overall pick Bradley Beal and you have one meh of a basketball team. John Wall finally has some established talent in the frontcourt and an exciting new batterymate to take up the rock with him, but more likely than not, this team is going to be very, very bad this year. Why? Because it all starts at the top. And the top is not very good.
After Flip Saunders got the team off to a 2-15 start in the lockout-shortened season, he was fired and replaced in the interim by Randy Wittman. Wittman went an impressive-because-we’re-basically-the-worst 18-31 and was signed on for two years. Here’s to hoping he can wring the most out of this developing team?
It’s hard to overstate how bad Randy Wittman is at coaching basketball players. His lifetime record? 118-238. His best finish? Fourth place with the Timberwolves in the Northwest in 2006-07 and again in the Southeast last year with the Wizards. He took over as the interim coach in both seasons and has never not finished in last place when coaching a team a full 82 games.
To his credit, Wittman had a lot to do with the development of a young Kevin Garnett as a Timberwolves assistant in the 90s, but to his discredit, just look at his resume. This isn’t exactly a guy who jumps off the page as someone who can mold a young, developing team into a contender.
Forget basketball tangibles, it’s just a matter of common sense. A team with a core this young and this raw needs a fearless leader who can not only see to it that his players’ skills develop, but that they play with chemistry and won’t draw weapons on each other in the locker room. Need I remind you, this is a real problem the Wizards once had.
From the latter, non-basketball sense, Wittman weeded out a lot of the disciplinary issues at the end of last season and the team finished 8-2 in their last 10 games. It was a refreshing spurt, but as a Wizards fan, you can’t be excited about what he can do in the former, basketball sense.
It’s all the more a shame because the Wizards are nearly there. John Wall is on the precipice of All-Stardom (16.3 PPG, 8.0 APG in 2011-12). The frontcourt is loaded with veteran presence. Bradley Beal is a fresh, energetic guard who could make sweet music with Wall dishing him the rock. An awful coach can, and will, throw that all away.
The Washington Post noted at the time of Wittman’s extension that in this era, big coaches call for big money, and the Sloans, Van Gundys and McMillans on the market carried too high a price tag for a team still carrying debt to departed players. They quoted a source who called this a “money decision”, which is about as uninspiring as it gets.
This team is going to keep percolating in relative obscurity under a coach who has a lifetime .331 winning percentage. I’m not sure how a young team, suffocated by discipline without the benefit of actual good coaching goes about their business, so just don’t be surprised if the Washington Wizards become the NBA’s version of the Boston Red Sox.
Actual Season Prediction: The Wizards finally have a head on their shoulders and John Wall is actually surrounded with decent enough talent, but don’t expect anything more than a modest five-to-10-win improvement and for this team to miss the playoffs.