Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm's 2008-2009 Season Preview: The Washington Wizards

Injuries are bad.

Your opening preview is from Graydon Gordian.


No team in the NBA provides greater evidence that God has a somewhat twisted sense of humor than the Washington Wizards. All my little hoops loving heart desires is 82 games in which Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, and Gilbert Arenas suit up together. But alas, the pride and joy of our nation's capitol appears to be inescapably star-crossed. Injury trails this merry band of mid-Atlantic goof offs closer than their own shadows. The only thing more inevitable than an injured superstar is a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Despite being a perennial tease, this unit remains a joy to follow throughout the season because they have a fully-developed sense that basketball, at the end of the day, is just a game. Don't get me wrong: The Wizards are a collection of fierce competitors. But what makes this team so likable is not only the dynamism of their on-court style but the charm of their off-court antics. Beard growing contests, 80's themed birthday parties and unashamedly opinionated blogging consistently remind me that professional sports, at the end of the day, should be about having fun. Winning is fun, but so is doing impersonations of players from around the league or developing a rating system for an opponent's swagger.

Coupled alongside the team's flair for funny business is a hard-nosed commitment to getting down to business (any team with a guy whose nickname is "tough juice" can't be all fun and games). Although Arenas may be the most talented player in Washington, Butler is the workhorse. If the ball leaves Arenas' hands (which isn't really a sure thing given Agent Zero's tendency to slip into chucker mode), it most likely passes through Butler's. And if Arenas never gets his hands on the ball because he's sitting in a suit on the sidelines, which is how he spends most of his time, than the offense assuredly runs through Butler (unless Caron is seated next to Gil looking equally as spiffy).

To make a long story short, there are two prevailing theories about the Wizards this year: Same team, same result vs. same team, more competitive conference, worse result. I wish I could say otherwise, but I am firmly in the latter camp. This team is getting older, their bench is shallower and they are experiencing not only the annual injuries (Arenas) but new ones as well (Brendan Haywood). I still envision them making it to the playoffs, but could they beat the Celtics, Pistons, Magic, Cavaliers, Raptors, or 76ers in a first round matchup, even if completely healthy? No.

I want to take this opportunity to harp on one particular point. There is one phenomenon I've witnessed that isn't in any way unique to the Wizards except for the fact that it occurs uniquely often. This team is always in close games. Maybe they don't know how to put a team away; maybe they know how to climb out of a hole; maybe I have just caught a disproportionate amount of nail-biters. But either way, I swear this team is constantly faced with single possession deficits late in the fourth. I'm bringing this up for a reason: I always find myself disagreeing with the play they run when the game is on the line.

In late game scenarios, the ball is always inbounded to Arenas and stays there until he is ready to take the final shot. There is no movement on the part of the ball, and often little movement on the part of Arenas, who often unconvincingly bluffs like he will drive, only to pull back and take a decently contested jumper. As I said before, Arenas is the most talented guy on this team. Even when he takes a contested jumper, it's got a reasonable chance of going in. But given the fact that so many guys on this team can score from so many places on the floor (a lot of these guys can drain a 3-pointer), I just wonder why Eddie Jordan does not throw something a little more unexpected at opposing defenses during crunch time.

VISIONS By Rob Mahoney:



Let's take some of the top teams in the East. The Celtics are unfathomably loaded with superstars, so while that's great for them, not a fair comparison. What happens if Sheed misses 80% of the season for the Pistons? They'd probably do well, but it would be pretty rough. But what if the Cavs lost LeBron? How many games do they win? 15? 20? maybe? How about the Raptors if they lost Bosh? They almost fell apart last season when he was out. The Wizards repeatedly lose players to injury, often more than one key player at a time, and yet, there they are, every year. I've been big on Caron Butler since his days in Miami in the fabled Wade-Odom-Butler combo that could have been a miniature dynasty with cap flexibility for longterm success if Riley hadn't spazmed all over to get Shaq. He's been a leader, a paragon, and a warrior on that Wizards team, and every night his play is inspired. Antawn Jamison is the David West of the East Before David West Was David West. DeShawn is clownin', but when he actually just goes out and balls against anyone but LeBron? The man's a beast. Haywood was my favorite from last year. I always sided with Etan Thomas in the Thomas v. Haywood debate. But Haywood so raised his play last year... sigh. Such is life. But you should root for this team because they have more against them year after year, and they don't get down and they don't give in. They just go back to work. Love them if you love professionals with heart.


Oh, I am so freaking sorry. Maybe next time you won't spend eleventy billion dollars on a guy who spends less time in his work clothes than the chick in the Sarah Paylin mock-porn. What exactly are you guys using for doctors? Did you get Doctor Nick? Is it the Medicine Man? Or did you just find some hobo outside of Navy Medical, gave him a couple of syringes and a forty and let him go to work? Look, it's a hard knock life, you deal with what you're given. But the only reason you dropped that series to the Cavs was because you lost your head like you're looking for a shave at Sweeny's. If DeShawn hadn't been running smack at the best player in the league, maybe things would have worked out a little bit better for you. You want to know why to hate the Wizards? Because no matter how much they seem to have turned the tables on all the bad luck and expectations, they still somehow manage to completely fall apart. Then they get your hopes up with all that cute little heart they have before eventually failing because they don't have the thing that matters more than heart. Talent.




Look, I'd rather not talk about the injuries. It's boring! It's overdone! Yet this entire preview essentially rolls around the fact that this team can't get over them, because there are so many. The problem is that when it rains in DC, it doesn't pour. It tsunamis, floods, wipes away your home and all of your pets and leaves you with nothing but your blog posts. I keep trying to figure out something to focus on besides the injuries. "Well, you know, even without Haywood that backcourt can score enough points... gah." Or "Well, hey, Caron can produce enough as long as they have the guns down low... frick." The Haywood one was just cruel. It's hard enough to survive without Arenas. The team can rally, like it did last year. But one of the primary reasons it did survive was because players took big steps. Haywood in particular. Oops.

I just can't figure out who's going to step up. Is DeShawn ready to go even higher than before? Is Andray Blatche going to work over centers in the East like he does groupies? I'm just out of answers for this team. But then, I was last year. And they surprised.

You know what I'm going to do? I'm not going to write about the injuries. That's my resolution. In an effort to provide the Wizards a non-Wizards outlet that doesn't talk about the injuries, from here on out, I will not write about their maladies anymore. Done.

Oh, and I like Nick Young.

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