When Washington won the NBA draft lottery last spring, there was as much excitement as if the Wizards had won a playoff series. Kentucky phenom John Wall was coming to the nation’s capital and everything was going to be different.
Not exactly. Despite winning five of their final eight games, the Wizards still finished with just 23 victories, three fewer than they had managed in 2009-10.
Washington has won fewer than 27 games three years running. Only the Sacramento Kings have been equally inept during that span.
Of course, the Wizards’ lack of competitiveness has a much longer pedigree than the Obama Administration. Dating to 1989, Washington has made the playoffs just four times and captured a lone series dating. Just as remarkably, the franchise has won six postseason games in 23 years.
From 1980-88, the then-Bullets made the playoffs five times but never advanced. So there are people who are old enough to be President who remember just that lone postseason triumph over the Chicago Bulls in 2005.
You have to be almost 50 to have reveled in the four trips to the finals during the 1970s, including the sweet championship in 1978.
That first finals appearance came in 1971 when the Bullets still called Baltimore home and when flashy guard Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and burly center Wes “The Human Wall” Unseld were the team’s stars.
Monroe had been the second overall pick in 1967. The Bullets jumped from 20 victories to 36 during his Rookie of the Year season but still missed the playoffs. When Unseld arrived as the second pick in 1968, the Bullets soared to 57 victories and a division title.
The lesson seems obvious. In this spring’s lottery, the Wizards need to find the big man who can become the modern-day Unseld to Wall’s Monroe.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.