The Wizards Casting Their Latest Spell:
A Level 14 F*** YOU I'M RICH!!
When you drive by a wreck on the highway, the real reason traffic slows is the sick often subconscious hunger man carries to steal a glimpse of death. Watching the Washington Wizards earlier this season was not dissimilar to this phenomenon. Three high profile, high priced, high risk all-stars all coming back from injury was a hot button topic. Despite a mounting list of concerns, the Wizards and a controlling share of the national media seemed optimistic, even going so far as to hang lofty expectations on the 2009-10 Wizards.
In the offseason the acquisitions of potent but undersized combo gaurd Randy Foye and scrappy Dakotan sharpshooter Mike Miller from the Timberwolves, in what ultimately became the Wolves right to call dibs on resistant Spanish mail order bride Ricky Rubio, seemed to be enough for some to draft a compelling argument that the Washington Wizards finally had the proper ensemble cast to be legitimate contenders. A starting 5 of Arenas, Butler, Miller, Jamison, and Haywood is as statistically solid as you'd have found at seasons start. Add a bench brimming with raw talented youth in Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Javaris Crittenton, and Javale Mcgee. Passionate journeyman looking to land permanent D.C. residence in Mike James, Earl Boykins, and Fabricio Oberto. And a dynamic veteran head coach with playoff experience in the newly appointed Flip Saunders and D.C. looked seriously legit. Especially in the context of the perennially weak Eastern Conference. On paper they were ready to jump off the goddamn page... Then the season started.
Caron Butler: Disgruntled and off target with his stroke. Feeling like a third wheel on a team he once co-captained.
Antawn Jamison: Sidelined the first 2 months with a partially dislocated shoulder, watching helplessly as spirits eroded and expectations turned from lofty to laughable.
DeShawn Stevenson: Benches himself announcing that he is a detriment to the team.
But the ugliness that unfolded as the season progressed ranks amongst the worst in professional sports history. For a league already playing tug of war with a distant and fickle Post-Jordan fan base, one sick of pay-to-play pros, and desperately vying to counter the common white hollerpoints characterizing NBA Players as gang-bangers, thugs, and spoiled millionaires, the 09-10 Wizards have given haters the latest opportunity to reload* their talking points. On Christmas Eve 2009 Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton drew pistols over unpaid gambling debts in the Wizards locker room. Question: WHO BRINGS GUNS TO WORK?! Sidenote: SERIOUSLY?!
With season suspensions for both players NBA Commissioner David Stern continues to fight the war on league image. But how do you kill a Hydra?
WOW! I haven't watched this in a while!!
In 2005, one year after the now infamous Palace Brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, the NBA launched it's aggressive re-branding campaign: NBA CARES.
I'm sure if you've seen an NBA game in the last five years you've caught one of these 30 second spots. Dwight Howard single-handedly building Haitian villages. Chris Paul running drills with the Special Olympics. But you can't win over the jaded with face time Stern. No matter how many times you document Udonis Haslem volunteering at the soup kitchen you will not change public opinion until a complete turnover in the NBA's premiere player's takes place. Player's who gain entry into the NBA inherit accountabilities to their teams and fan base, albeit often at a young age. And it is important to take these players actions in context. But we are not just talking about rookie mistakes, growing pains, and an egoist minority. We are talking about All-Star's making public displays of malevolence and money talks no-rulez decisions upon a national stage. We see these players continue their masquerade of the untouchable, through often calculated self aware behavior, hungry for headlines and pining for pull-quotes.
Outside the realm of the role model, team altruism, and league image lets talk about the local impact of problem players.
Symptoms include poisoning the locker room, tanking energy levels, and disrupting chemistry.
So Where Does This Leave The Wizards?
With Arenas and Crittenton suspended. Butler and Haywood Traded to Dallas. Jamison riding shotgun with King James in Cleveland. And a net return of Josh Howard, Al Thornton, James Singleton, and Quinton Ross. The Wizards used a mixture of cap-clearing triple lutzes and Lott's-wife-style full on demolition, in their A-Bomb obligated trade deadline moves. A series of forced transactions meticulously basted in a sense of impending urgency.
Let's start with the positives. Now free to develop with few limitations and even fewer expectations, Andray Blatche finally turned that frown upside down and has flourished in the now post-apocalyptic feeling Verizon Center. Abandoned Clippers little big man project Al Thornton has also come alive since the trade to D.C. proving that he's willing to at least attempt a rebound every now and again. And who's that in the starting 5? Is it a Bird**? Is it a James? No it's JAVALE MCGEE!! Who? Exactly... but hey, if you can take over double double duty for a sorely missed Brendan Haywood, now the glue in Dallas' screaming race to the finish line, you're A-OK in my book.
Now the bad news isn't a f****** surprise. The Wizards are a joke. And much like the comic stylings of Demetri Martin... not that funny. Ironically, intelligence even dressed in jokes clothing, (see: once again Demetri Martin... not into that guy), is just what the Wizards needed.
Financial maneuvering I understand. Dump big contracts, pick up some prospects, prepare for next years draft. But I don't understand the point of jettisoning problem players and contracts in return for Josh Howard, a bad blood small forward with a time honored tradition of seasonal injury. See: played for a week in D.C. before losing the remainder of the season to a torn ACL. This while retaining contracts with fading poster boy Agent Zero. INSERT GUN HUMOR HERE. And undeveloped, bad-blood foster child Crittenton.
I suppose this brings me to my point. In order to effectively create institutional change within your ball club you must start at the roots of both the finances and the personnel. I don't question most trades involving disgruntled poisonous players no matter the compensation: Iverson, Tyrus, Butler, Artest, McGrady etc... But I do think it's time these transactions were advocated for by management with the same care and calculated foresight that you would see with trades centered around contract dumping.
Setting a precedent in which player currency values both talent and disposition allows us to positively affect standards for the on and off court privileges associated with playing in the NBA. Not only does this work towards David Stern sleeping through a full night without uncontrollable sobbing, but ultimately sets the groundwork for bringing old disillusioned heads back to the game along with a new generation of fans that don't have to settle for a grab bag of petty selfish heroes.
Maybe I just miss 90's Garnett, but when I was growing up dude used to shoot hoops with neighborhood kids in his Brooklyn Park driveway outside of Minneapolis, never disrespected the city he loved, and left me with a hero whose convictions I emulated and will always remember.
Don't so much care for his crotchety tough-guy Celtics persona, but s*** Kirby Puckett's dead so all I have left is Ric Flair, Prince, and Da Kidd. I'll give him some wiggle room.
* pun INTENDED.
** comma Larry. boom.