No more “we had an unfocused shootaround.” No more “we’re a young team.” No more “we’ve had some injuries.” These excuses can only explain so much. No more. The complete lack of competitiveness away from Verizon Center is not absolved by these excuses. There is a deepening and troubling pattern developing here, and without immediate action to avert it continuing, this franchise may not be able to recover.
The Washington Post’s Michael Lee writes today that the team had a “lackadaisical” shootaround Wednesday morning before the game in Toronto. According to Andray Blatche, this isn’t the first time this has happened. We were witnesses to Saunders throwing his team out of a practice earlier this season in the midst of another losing streak. Let’s make no mistake – this has been an issue with this franchise throughout Ernie Grunfeld’s tenure. He has a tendency to gravitate towards players who struggle to balance having their fun off the court and focusing on it – Gil Arenas, Blatche, Nick Young, Oleksiy Pecherov. It makes for an exciting team to cover in the locker room, and for that reason it’s not made an issue. Previously, however, there was enough talent and veteran presence to overcome it. This time this is no Antawn Jamison or Antonio Daniels to keep the balance. There’s not the accountability from the veterans to make a locker switch as happened when Nick Young and Dom McGuire were rookies. The elite teams in this league know that balance inherently. From all indications, John Wall understands that balance as well. Dancing in warm ups is acceptable if the production is there. But asking a 20 year old rookie to police the mood of his team is not the same as asking him to run the offense. ESPN’s David Thorpe singled this out as the biggest hindrance to John Wall’s success in his rookie rankings BEFORE yesterday’s debacle:
“It's clear he hates to lose even more than he wants to win. Like Blake Griffin, though, he will lose a lot more than he ever thought possible this season. And he has some veteran teammates who have never showed the kind of competitive spirit it takes to thrive in the NBA consistently … Dealing with the potential fracture of his team, however, will take all of his focus. He cannot let the causal nature of some of the Wizards cause a break in the locker room. Instead, he must continue to lead by example and be vocal.”
At some point, this trend is more than a coincidence and becomes a pattern. It has reached that point. Blowing off shootarounds before getting your ass whipped by a terrible Raptors team isn’t just a one time loss that befalls every team in this league. There’s a lack of accountability that needs to be addressed. Whether that is corrected by the coaching staff by using playing time as the only hammer they have left, or by the front office in removing those players that cannot grasp the concentration required by their professional trade, or by ownership in demanding their staff improve, something must be done.
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese
Lack of defensive intensity, lethargic rebounding, poor practice habits, lazy screen setting – these things matter. These diseased roots that are growing in this new adaptation of Washington basketball risk the entire foundation. If John Wall, bred and built to win at all costs, continues to be surrounded by lackadaisical habits, why would he want to stay here? Out of some sense of loyalty by a team that hasn’t shown the discipline to surround him with proper talent? Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Deron Williams – how many more young stars will we see demand that their teams win now? Why do we expect John Wall won’t echo these demands? And if this “young team” isn’t able to keep within twenty points consistently in road games, where is the pattern of positive development that is required of a young team. If anything, these Wizards have regressed over 17 games.
The Wizards reference Oklahoma City as their rebuilding model. Oklahoma City surrounded their star player with defensive minded, athletic, productive players who complemented his skills. There is no Russell Westbrook here, no Jeff Green. The Wizards draft picks under Ernie Grunfeld have taken an average of three to four years to become even rotational players so far (see Nick Young, Andray Blatche). Well, in four years John Wall’s contract will be ending. Wall has the ability to lead a team to a championship run if surrounded by the right pieces. But from day one, the sense of discipline and swagger that is required of a champion must be established. The front office must acquire the right players, and the coaching staff must instill the proper mechanics. That does not appear to be happening.
This must be the goal - and the start towards it is not acceptable
The possibility of losing the best building block this franchise has seen since Wes Unseld is too grave to underestimate. If the course of the franchise is not altered dramatically by the time Wall steps on the court for his second pro season, there will be repercussions felt within this organization for a long time. This is the time to begin holding this franchise accountable. If Washington fans expect and demand a title team, as they should, these excuses cannot be permitted any longer. As far as I’m concerned, today represents a new chapter for this organization. Whether they have the urgency to realize it is the question.
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