Here is a bad tweet:
Now. In my defense, this came early in a game, during the game immediately after the game in which the Wizards gave up 124 points in regulation and lost at home to the godawful Orlando Magic. When I tweeted this tweet, the Wizards were down 14 points in the first quarter and playing utterly listless basketball against the Denver Nuggets, again at home.
Also, I am a shithead. The Wizards won that game, and have now won seven of their last 10, and all of their last five wins have come against teams that had better records when they met. They’re up to 11th in Offensive Rating, their still-crappy defense has improved a couple spots, and they’re looking like a team that, if healthy, can play something like .500 basketball the rest of the way. Huzzah.
More to the point, the Wizards have pretty clearly not quit on Scott Brooks. In fact, Brooks and his players probably deserve a lot of credit for all that hasn’t happened during this chaotic third-of-a-season: in Detroit, Stan Van Gundy is publicly deriding his players for holding a players-only meeting; Tom Thibodeau is itching to pull the trigger on a win-now deal in Minnesota; Fred Hoiberg seems locked into a slow-burn suicide pact with Rajon Rondo; the Kings are completely imploding; the Magic are sniffing around a deal to jettison one of their many underperforming youngsters; and so forth. Meanwhile, in the grim, grey, echoing mausoleum that is Verizon Center, the happy-to-be-here Wizards are huddling around every dim signal of progress like cavemen around a lightning fire. Trey Burke made a shot! Their worst moment of discord was probably when Marcin Gortat acknowledged that their bench has performed poorly, and everyone pretended it was some sort of sick burn.
For better or worse, the Wizards have mostly stayed the course so far this season. At times that course has included some alarming body language and some infuriating regressions to old bad habits, but mostly they’ve kept the ship pointed more or less northward. They may be headed nowhere, but they’re headed nowhere together.
You can choose to look at this a couple ways. You can be heartened by their apparent optimism and see it as a sign of a stable, committed locker room culture, or you can grind your teeth to dust that none of those bastards seem to be as frustrated by their persistent failures and gaping vulnerabilities as you are. Today I am doing the former. Not coincidentally, the Wizards have won seven of 10 games and are within shouting distance of third in their conference. Back on December 8, I did the latter. Not coincidentally, the Wizards had lost four of their last six games, and were playing poorly.
I am a shithead.
Hey, while we’re looking at bad tweets:
Ian Mahinmi’s contract is looking like it could be a big problem. Here’s the thing: when you sign a 30-year-old center to a $64 million multi-year contract, it’s with the realistic expectation that the most value you’re gonna get will be in the first year or two of the deal. No one anywhere has ever believed Mahinmi would be as good in the third and fourth years of this contract as he’d be in the first and second. You sign him for years three and four so that you can have him in years one and two.
The Wizards seem unlikely to have Mahinmi for more than a month or two of year one, and even that seems optimistic.
Look. Can you hold Grunfeld’s feet over the fire for this one, the same way you would for, say, the Arenas contract, or the Blatche contract? I dunno. Maybe it’s unfair, injuries being injuries. On the other hand, was Ian Mahinmi ever healthy? Wasn’t there a physical, at some point? Can he possibly have passed a thorough physical with a left knee in need of surgery and a right knee that is apparently also weakened? And does anyone accept accountability for whatever the hell happened during his recovery that triggered an injury in his other knee?
Wherever the blame lands, here’s a shitty truth: Mahinmi’s expensive contract overlaps with the entire rest of John Wall’s contract, and with a significant part of John Wall’s prime years. It’s money that could be used to shore up other parts of a desperately thin, talent-poor roster. It’s money that pushes them over the salary cap, ruling out the possibility of trades that return players of significant worth. The Wizards need Ian Mahinmi to play, and play pretty well. If you had to bet on this one way or another, you wouldn’t bet on him pulling through.
All of that means Mahinmi’s contract has a chance of being the most destructive of all of Ernie Grunfeld’s many bad contracts, and that’s really saying something.
It’s funny to think about: the Wizards targeted the summer of 2016 as the moment when they would clear out a lot of contracts and dead weight, sweep all the detritus from around their core players, and finally use a big chunk of money to start a new era of basketball in DC. They punted an entire offseason to follow this model. And it took Ernie Grunfeld one trade and three free agent contracts to put the Wizards in nearly as intractably bad a salary cap and roster situation as they have been in in half a decade. The man is a master of building shallow, top-heavy, talent-poor rosters with minimal upside.
As for the rest of that sad tweet, I still sorta believe a Satoransky-McClellan bench backcourt would be better than a Burke-Thornton one, even while I acknowledge that Burke has more resembled a viable NBA guard these last couple weeks. And McClellan provided a little support for this belief, by once again looking like a perfectly credible rotation guard during his minutes in the win over Chicago. He has going for him some of what was refreshing about Garrett Temple: he doesn’t play like a guy who is trying to learn what he can do on an NBA floor—he gets the ball and either shoots or drives or passes. He presses up on the ball and digs down into the paint to help on the defensive glass. And, unlike Temple, McClellan’s got some improvisational skills and perhaps too much confidence in his jumper. It was refreshing seeing him out there Wednesday night, and I hope Scott Brooks will continue giving him chances. A prospect like Bradley Beal has the latitude to noodle around with the ball, run away from a hard hedge, reset the offense over and over again, and so on. I like a fourth guard who has a grab-it-and-go approach to offense. Frankly, I like a starting guard who is the same way, but it turns out there’s no Santa Claus and Elvis is just dead.
Somewhere out there are dozens of tweets wherein I called Bradley Beal a bum. I am a shithead.