Wizards Winning With An Anti-Cleveland Approach
Cue: Eye of the Tiger.
One boxer is busy jumping rope, lifting weights, cranking out crunches. The other is signing autographs and appearing on talk shows. One's wearing a suit while the other's wearing a sweatsuit. They're scheduled to fight each other, and it's going to be a "clash for the ages."
This is the story of the 2014 NBA offseason in the Eastern Conference.
The Washington Wizards were hard at work. The Cleveland Cavaliers (and even the Chicago Bulls) were making headlines and changing their public image.
The players on the Cavaliers and Bulls were working their butts off, but they were also managing the shifting of the Eye of Sauron (the media's eye) from South Beach to the mid-west. Meanwhile, Bradley Beal and John Wall were like Frodo and Sam, sneaking around with surprising success. Though in this analogy, they're seeking the one ring to rule them all, as opposed to destroying it.
Boxing... Lord of the Rings. What's my point?
The Wizards had a quiet offseason where they checked off almost every box on their to-do list. When they didn't, they found a substitute solution.
Wizards 2014-15 To Do:
☑ Re-Sign Marcin Gortat
☑ Retain Andre Miller
Retain Trevor Booker☑ Sign Kris Humphries
Re-Sign Trevor Ariza☑ Sign Paul Pierce
From what I understand, they brought in a consultant named Kunu, who told them to "Do Less."
Now they have one thing left to do:
☐ Win NBA Championship
Lebron's departure from Miami to rebuild in Cleveland has left the door wide open for the rest of the NBA. Paul George's leg served as a fitting metaphor for the state of the Pacers. And the Eastern Conference has become a Dixie Chicks song: Wide Open.
That's why the Wiz likely relished that Chicago and Cleveland were getting so much press (and Indiana was getting negative press). The Eastern Conference commotion came as good news for a team that stayed constant. Because the Wizards have a good thing going, and the Chicago/Miami hype hasn't come into fruition. So while everyone was busy scrambling in free agency, the Wizards did the weirdest thing -- almost nothing. Now, the un-hyped Wizards are is in the discussion as the NBA East's best.
Continuity is paying off in Washington.
Sure, Cleveland has the most talented Top 3 in the East. But it's not yet a Big 3. It will become one -- James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are too talented not to mesh. The Miami Big 3 required time to find a winning rhythm, and they went on to win two Championships in four years. Cleveland will hit their stride and make many runs. But the first season the Heat's Big 3 united (2010-11), they had to jump over the No. 1 Eastern Conference team, the Chicago Bulls, to arrive in the Finals. Thus, the 2014-15 Cavaliers will have to jump over the likely No. 1 Eastern Conference team, the Washington Wizards.
The Toronto Raptors are good, and they deserve a great deal of credit for following a similar offseason plan. But they don't have the explosive potential that Wizards have. The Wizards' young talent can't be matched.
The first Cavs, Wizards' matchup was Friday night. The Wizards defeated the Cavaliers, 91-78. The statement was clear: right now, the Wizards are just plain better than the Cavaliers.
Instead, ESPN's headline read: "John Wall helps Wizards send Cavs below .500 after 3rd straight loss"
What's more important there? Is it that the Cavaliers lost or that the Wizards won? The headline seems to place a higher importance upon the Cavaliers loss. Yet, the Wizards are suddenly the more relevant team.
John Wall is doing what he's always done, which is pass with excellence, score when its appropriate and finish games using whatever means possible. Bradley Beal has maintained his role as well, though he's just returned from his wrist injury. Marcin Gortat is a monster and is paramount to the Wizards' success -- mostly because no one else on the team will rebound. Beal and Gortat can and will play better.
But the Wizards' bench work is most impressive. Martell Webster and Otto Porter were disappointments last season. Webster had stretches where he could knock down threes but as the Playoffs approached he played sparingly and Ariza took many of his minutes. Porter seemed to have the NBA jitters all year long.
It's been different this year. They've put in respectable minutes. And while the departure of Trevor Booker was a huge blow that no one will ever recognize, Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden are finding ways to replace Booker's high-effort defense and rebounding.
And Paul Pierce is doing Paul Pierce things, while impersonating Tuck Everlasting.
The result is a complete NBA team. The looming gun on the wall is the aforementioned 2010-11 Miami Heat team. In other words, the Wizards should fear the coalescing of the Cavs. Still, LeBron said this Cleveland team is providing him with the biggest challenge of his career. But mark my words, the Cavaliers will pull it together under the leadership of LeBron James, and they'll do it this season. They will be in constant competition with the Wizards. And if there's a Playoff series between the two teams, that series could ignite a long, healthy rivalry, which could eventually involve Kevin Durant.
Photo via Getty
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