This Wheel’s On Fire

Brad Mills/USA Today Sports

Devoid of context, if I asked you how things were going in Washington, D.C., you, as a reader of this website on whom I’m about to project a few beliefs you should probably objectively hold anyway, would likely rattle off something like the following: “The leader is inept; the major people involved hate working with each other; everybody is working against the greater interests of the people they’re supposed to be working on behalf of, to the degree that they only tolerate each other for the sake of image; any good thing that happens is purely incidental and doesn’t change my view of anyone involved.”

To a degree, I’d agree, without clarification. Specifically, though, the Washington Wizards have been the greatest thing that has ever happened to the late period Jimmy Butler Minnesota Timberwolves. John Wall began proceedings by showing up to Team USA practice in the summer looking like someone who had just spent an inordinate amount of time at Reagan National Airport. Despite a win against the feisty Clippers on Tuesday night, it hasn’t gotten much better.

Here are a couple of alarming facts:

-The Wizards were a dragging-ass 43-win team and carried themselves into the playoffs last season, only to lose to the Raptors in six games. It was a clever bit of deception, an 8-seed standing up to the mighty 1-seed over more than five games, but DeMar DeRozan was especially electric in that series, and Kyle Lowry wasn’t backing down. Jonas Valanciunas had the best playoffs of his career, and it became especially evident that Toronto’s bench mob wasn’t out here trying to reflect American politics.

-This summer, the Washington Wizards decided to bring in Austin Rivers.

-This summer, the Washington Wizards decided to bring in Dwight Howard.

-Bradley Beal, coming off his first All-Star appearance, is averaging a full point and full assist less than he did a year ago and shooting a career-worst percentage from three.

-Otto Porter’s averages are down across the board while on the books for $106 million guaranteed through 2020, including a player option through 2021, not that that matters much, but it’s just another thing, you know?

-Oh, by the way, the Wizards are 6-11 despite having largely been predicted to go to the Eastern Conference playoffs by many pundits, fans and observers, yours truly included[1]. It is, of course, still possible they reach that goal, but most individual games seem like a strike against them.

Despite all of this – I guess – Washington’s professional basketball club showed up against the upstart Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night, amidst reports of a contentious practice the day before and, depending on whom you choose to believe, a lack of leadership among the team’s perceived best players. The Washington Wizards are the closest thing the NBA has to a Soviet Bloc nation in 1992 right now.

Everybody is beefing with everybody else, and none of it, improbably, includes the Dwightmare. For that, I personally must thank all of you. But that does nothing for the other members of the Wiz. John Wall screaming at Scott Brooks is, perhaps, a cry for help. What has happened to Kelly Oubre? Why is Ernie Grunfeld still presiding over all of it?

Sure, trade John Wall, if you can. Similarly, I do not want to pay a 32-year-old $47 million in 2021 when his value already appears to be diminishing. Trade Porter while you’re at it. Meanwhile, Beal, the most accommodating trade asset, will probably end up getting dealt for below market value. Everybody loves the Washington Wizards.

Something needs to change in Washington. I am far from the first person to have said it, and maybe Brooks has figured something out with the lineups he deployed effectively against the Clippers. But a) the Clippers are not a standard NBA team, and b) for most of the first half, and parts of the second, the Wizards looked as disinterested in their own work as a watchmaker swapping out batteries.

If Washington is about to make something out of not a whole lot, they’d better do it quick. In their defense, there is no better time to air out grievances and figure some things out while watching The Last Waltz together than now[2]. They are the perfect Thanksgiving NBA team, replete with individuals of varying singular success forced to figure out how to spend time together without maiming one another.

Dwight Howard is, unfortunately, walking through those doors, and he’s been quietly effective as usual in a 25-minutes-per-game role. Only 2.5 games out of the playoffs, it somehow still stands to reason that, somewhere deep within itself, Washington wants to play competitive basketball and be something resembling enjoyable. Now, right now, is the time to let them, and they know that if it isn’t, it will become even more apparent.

*     *     *

[1] I defend this preseason pick, even now. Talent makes itself evident during playoff runs; the Wizards are insane as hell, but they’ve at least had some playoff appearances and corresponding performances that have instilled something that once resembled “confidence” in me over the years. I go to confession at least annually.

[2] “John Wall-as-Robbie Robertson” is your political avoidance conversation starter at the dinner table this holiday; you’re welcome


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