How Bad Can it Get for the Washington Wizards?
Ted Leonsis owes Dan Snyder one. Snyder’s rampaging Redskins have Washington fans so excited that there’s little attention being paid to Leonsis’ locked-out Caps and woeful Wizards.
How bad are the Wizards just past the one quarter mark of the season? They’re so bad that their current 2-6 stretch, a .250 winning percentage, is a major upgrade from their 0-12 start.
The Wizards would have to go 38-23 (.623) the rest of the way just to finish .500. Washington hasn’t played .623 basketball since its last appearance in the NBA finals back in 1978-79 when the team was called the Bullets, called Capital Centre home and called on Hall of Fame big men Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld at crunch time.
Current coach coach Randy Wittman was then a sophomore at Indiana, general manager Ernie Grunfeld was in his second season as a shooting guard with Milwaukee and Leonsis was two years out of Georgetown and yet to make his first million.
In short, don’t look for Wittman’s battered bunch, which owns a .143 winning percentage – not far above the all-time worst .106 that Charlotte produced last season – to suddenly reverse course as the Redskins have since their Week 10 bye.
In fairness, the Wizards have been without point guard John Wall, the top overall pick in the 2010 draft, all season because of an injury to the patella tendon in his left leg. Nearly 12 weeks later and four weeks after he was expected back, Wall has yet to be cleared to practice although he was cleared last Friday to ramp up his activity level.
“Before, there was so much pain you couldn’t even run on it,” Wall said yesterday. “I couldn’t stretch my leg out at one point. It’s been getting better. I just got to take my time and see where it goes from there.
That’s what passes for good news this season for the Wizards, who had lost Wall’s replacement, A.J. Price for at least a month to a broken right hand six nights earlier.
Washington is also minus its twin Trevor forwards Booker (strained right knee, Nov. 20) and Ariza (strained left calf) indefinitely. And center Nene, considered the franchise cornerstone other than Wall, has played in just 10 of 21 games because of ongoing plantar fasciitis in his left foot which has limited him to an average of just 21 minutes and has yet to allow him to be a starter.
“Nothing’s been going the right way for us this year,” Wall said of the Wizards, whose 3-18 record is their worst ever through 21 games..
So much for the grand plans of an improved lineup from last year at this time, one that would have included Wall, March pickup Nene, Ariza and No. 3 overall pick Bradley Beal at shooting guard along with a variety of choices at the fifth spot.
“We had a lot of new guys added to the team, and I feel like our team was better and we had a lot of goals set,” Wall said.
So much for those playoff dreams, John. It almost always takes a winning record to reach postseason, even in the NBA.
Although he’s probably unaware that the infamous Exorcist steps by Leonsis’ alma mater are just over three miles from Verizon Center, Wittman appealed to that horror genre when he cracked, “If anybody knows an exorcist that can come into this building …”
Unfortunately for Wittman, Jason Miller, who played the title character in that 1973 flick, died in 2001, so the Wizards are going to have find someone else to help as they begin a span of four games over the next five nights against potent Atlanta, so-so Orlando and lousy (but still better than Washington) Detroit (twice) before they get a much-needed three-day break.
And although he shot jumpers yesterday and might begin limited practice soon, don’t look for Wall to return to action until January. Even when he’s back in uniform, Wall doesn’t expect to go from zero to 60 right away.
“Hopefully the time I’ve taken off and the shots I got and the treatment I’ve been getting is helping me get healthy so I can play basketball this season,” Wall said. “You don’t want to miss a whole season. I don’t think I have to be heroic. I’m still going to have to play at a certain time limit whenever I come back, because I’m not going to be fully in the best of shape.”
Maybe that should be the 2012-13 Wizards’ slogan: Not Going To Be Fully In The Best Of Shape. It would be appropriate in a season that’s making fans wish for a repeat of the lockout which delayed last year’s start until the day after Christmas.
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