There was a sense among Wizards fans all season that the home team was underachieving, at least slightly. There were blown leads against bad teams, and a 4-8 record in overtime, and absurd endings, like the one in Houston just before the All-Star break.
John Wall has the same sense, minus the “at least slightly” part.
“We could’ve easily been a 55-win team,” Wall told Sports Illustrated in a long feature that appears in this week’s issue. “We let 15, 20 games go into overtime or everybody was not coming out and playing right away. And it all starts with me: Some nights I didn’t bring it all.”
Wall went on to discuss how he learned in the first round of the playoffs that he can still spark his team with defense, even when he’s not shooting well. Which is true. But the headline from that story, to me, is the 55-win supposition. That number of wins — 11 more than Washington actually finished with — would have been good for the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and the fifth-best record in the NBA.
Here are four other moments to look out for in S.L. Price’s story. Price, if you don’t know, lives locally, and is as familiar with Washington sports as any national writer. The story is lengthy, too.
* The second-best quote probably came from Otto Porter Jr., which was shocking in itself.
“We’re coming to shock everybody,” Porter said. “And it really shouldn’t be shocking; we are a contender. We showed that, hey, if we play together, we can beat anybody.”
* As the Wizards keep winning, there will be increasing discussion on the future of this roster, and especially the future of Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat. Here’s Gortat, addressing that issue.
“I still hate the roads here in Washington,” Gortat told Price. “It’s the capital and, I mean, every street’s got literally holes that you can crack your whole freakin’ car. It’s just ridiculous. Somebody’s got to do something about it. But at the end of the day, I really like this city. I’m not saying I’m loving. I like it.”
* If you thought a national story about the Wizards wasn’t going to refer to the Redskins name, well, think again. Here’s Price:
With every free bed in the DMV bunkhouse filled these days by some also-ran college program or underachieving pro team, with the Redskins, Nationals and Capitals issuing mostly thunderous snores and the stray flatulent blast, it has long been easy to forget that the area’s NBA team is even there….
Still, maybe, just maybe, it’s time to wake. Lord knows, no franchise in town has tried harder to be a good citizen. As the flagship of founding owner Abe Pollin, the closest D.C. ever came to a civic saint, Washington voluntarily changed its tin-eared name — ahem! — from Bullets to Wizards in 1997-98 and, reversing the usual trend, moved from the burbs with Pollin’s Caps to anchor his new MCI (now Verizon) Center and spark a boom downtown.
And with the knucklehead quotient seemingly gone, with Nene grinning and Beal bombing and Gortat screaming 300 quotes (“Give them nothing but take everything!) at his teammates, you actually feel something approaching, yes, joy in their play.
* The story, obviously, ties the Wizards in to larger trends in this town, including the enormous pressure placed on young stars in recent years.
“This town has a problem with that: People anoint stars and leadership before they’ve really accomplished anything,” longtime local preps Coach Stu Vetter told Price. “They expect young players to come in and be leaders and over people who might be 10 years older than they are. That’s very difficult to do.”
There’s obviously much more. On newsstands now!