It’s over. The rookie seasons of John Wall, Trevor Booker, Jordan Crawford, Kevin Seraphin, Hamady Ndiaye, Mustafa Shakur and Larry Owens. The breakout campaigns of Nick Young and JaVale McGee. Andray Blatche’s roller coaster ride. The injury-plagued years of Josh Howard, Rashard Lewis and Yi Jianlian. Othyus Jeffers’ third shot in the NBA.
They all came to an end in Cleveland on Wednesday, when the Wizards lost, 100-93, to the worst team in the Eastern Conference. But when Coach Flip Saunders brought his team together one last time in the locker room, the message wasn’t centered on the 59th loss of the season or even that the Wizards are headed to the lottery for the third consecutive season. Saunders focused on the positive, on the need to improve and take advantage of the strides that were made in the final month, when the Wizards went 5-3.
“I told the guys, we’re in a situation where we had a lot of guys from where we’re at now to where were at the beginning of the year, a lot of guys made a lot of progress,” Saunders said. “A lot of guys have had career years and a lot of the young guys made great improvements. Now, we have to use that as a springboard and know that the pains we went through through the developmental process with individual players, we want that to transform to wins next year.”
The Wizards (23-59) had some difficult times this season, with two altering trades involving Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich, and an inability to field a reliable group because of injuries and inconsistency. But Wall came away encouraged with what the team showed when it could’ve easily started preparing for vacations.
“I think we have to take how we played the last month. We won a lot of games. It isn’t just about winning, but we all developed and trust each other on the defensive end and playing together. That’s something that we have to learn, that we have to play hard every night,” said Wall, who rarely hid his frustrations if the team failed to compete. “We showed that we can play with these teams. I think we all can develop what the mistakes. If you think of it, If all of us go back, work hard and mature, I think we can beat some of those teams we lost to.”
The Wizards have had little stability in the past three lottery seasons, which has made developing chemistry and trust challenging over that time. But McGee hoped that the team was moving in the right direction. “It’s tough, but I’ve been here for three years and had three coaches. It’s been a lot of change since I’ve been here. That’s all I’ve been used to is change,” he said. “I just feel like when we get a team we can stick with and the chemistry is there, we’ll be fine.”
Young will be a free agent when the season ends, but he would like to return and see the Wizards continue to build upon a season that was focused on development. “We’re just young,” he said. “All of us are growing together. Hopefully, we’ll make some strides, like Oklahoma City did. They went through their turmoil. We got to go through ours.”
FROM THE POST
The Wizards ended their season with a loss but maintained a positive outlook.
In the locker room after the game, there was a sense of accomplishment, based on how the team competed in the final weeks.
Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for a homophobic slur he made toward a referee (The Early Lead).
AROUND THE WEB
The playoffs begin on Saturday. Here are the matchups and schedule (NBA.com).
Sacramento waves farewell to the Kings (Marc Spears, Yahoo!Sports).
Royce Young asks: What happened to the MVP favorite, Kevin Durant? (Eye on Basketball, CBSSports.com).
ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh offers lottery wish lists for Eastern Conference teams.