Elfin: No Large Leap Expected for Wizards This Season
The Redskins are below .500 again. The Nats have been done for 18 days. The Caps are locked out with no foreseeable date of a return to the ice. However, another Wizards season is upon us. Basketball will save you, Washington fans.
Well, not so much. Washington opens the season tonight in Cleveland minus its top two top players, center Nene (foot) and point guard John Wall (knee), along with forward Kevin Seraphin (calf). With that trio on the bench in street clothes, coach Randy Wittman will have just three – forwards Cartier Martin, Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely — of the 11 players who suited up in the April 25 victory at Cleveland that was part of a six-game tear that closed last season. Shooting guard Jordan Crawford and power forward Trevor Booker rested nagging injuries that night, but are available tonight against the Cavaliers.
Washington’s new faces include: shooting guard Bradley Beal, the No. 3 overall pick in June’s draft; center Emeka Okafor and small forward Trevor Ariza, both acquired from New Orleans for Rashard Lewis; point guards A.J. Price and Jannero Pargo; swingman Martell Webster and big man Earl Barron. The latter foursome were signed as free agents during the offseason.
A center tandem of March acquisition Nene and Okafor is a definite upgrade. Beal and Ariza could be major assets as well, but it’s still hard to see the additions turning around a franchise that hasn’t been close to contending for four years.
At 20-46, the Wizards finished 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, 15 games behind Philadelphia, which claimed the final playoff spot.
While Washington went 18-31 under Wittman after starting 2-15 under predecessor Flip Saunders, the coach has a career .331 winning percentage and has never finished even as high as .400 during six seasons with Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington.
Not only has Wittman not been a winner anywhere, other than Ariza’s 2009 NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers, Washington’s newcomers have combined for a dismal 5-21 playoff series record during their combined 49 seasons. Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld was 5-5 in playoff series during his nine-year career, but at 57, I don’t think he’s going to be on the practice court showing the guys how to win.
Of course, the failure to be a factor in the NBA when it matters has become ingrained in the Wizards, who made the playoffs just 10 times and won just two series during the past 33 years. None of the current Wizards was even born the last time the franchise, then known as the Bullets, advanced past the second round back in 1979, Wittman’s sophomore year at Indiana and Grunfeld’s second NBA season.
The Wizards are just 88-224 since their last playoff appearance back in 2007-08. That’s a horrendous .282 winning percentage. Only Minnesota (82) won fewer games over the past four years while Sacramento equaled Washington’s 88 victories. Both of those franchises compete in the Western Conference, making Washington the least of the East during the Obama Administration.
Playing eight of their 13 games before Thanksgiving against 2012 playoff teams likely won’t help the Wizards get off to a good start. However, if they can carry over some of that chemistry they established in April before welcoming back Wall, Nene and Seraphin next month, perhaps they can use this season as the Redskins are doing with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III: as a building block for future success.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin