We’ve seen these Wizards before

Mike Wise
Columnist December 26, 2011

It was past 10 p.m., almost an hour after the Wizards’ opening night, and Andray Blatche still had his jersey on. Head in hands, sullen, muttering to himself by his locker, he looked as if he had just lost Game 6 of the NBA Finals instead of Game 1 of the regular season — against the Nets.

“I need the ball in the post more,” Blatche said.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Huh?

“I need the ball in the paint to be effective. I don’t want to be that pick-and-pop guy I used to be.”

The captain — yes, Blatche was designated “team leader” this year — later tweeted that thought to the world. Having reamed out Blatche many times for trying to be Dirk Nowitzki instead of Moses Malone, all I have to say is:

You go, ’Dray.

And to think, all those jumpers launched from 18 feet and beyond from a 6-foot-11 forward, Blatche never wanted to take those; his coach made him.

Poor Flip.

One game in, Flip Saunders sees his flawed team jump out to a 21-point lead by letting the ball do the work, five players acting as one. Then they grow lazy offensively and eventually tired, falling apart in the final minutes in a game they easily could have won before losing, 90-84.

Part of you wants to tell Blatche not to be so down — that of the 65 games remaining for the Wizards in this post-lockout season, the chances are Washington is going to be on the losing end of more than half.

Another part actually likes the disappointment this early, instead of some 70 games into last season when Blatche announced that he had found the fire.

’Dray now cares. Every day. Perhaps this is what was meant when the giveaway T-shirts announced this year’s theme: “NEW TRADITIONS.”

On the back of that shirt, it read: “BIG things are coming.” The organization curiously didn’t say when.

If you are going to Verizon Center this season to watch a very green team embark on a surprising playoff run, you will be disappointed.

If you are going there to see eight players with less than two years of NBA experience under their belts either become breakout contributors or wasted draft picks, then you are approaching reality.

Chris Singleton is already showing to be a smart pick. He doesn’t need the ball, goes to the floor for everything and knocks down a shot when he needs to. More important, one game in he’s already a voice of reason: (“We didn’t want it anymore,” he said after the Wizards squandered their lead. “It’s something we got to change around here.”)

John Wall is still flying upcourt at warp speed, trying to see if the fourth-youngest team in the league can catch up with him. They can’t, which is part of the problem.

You almost wish rookie point guard Shelvin Mack played alongside Wall on occasion just to slow the tempo down, so that many of the half-court set Wizards could contribute offensively.

Given that their No. 5 6 overall pick in the draft, Jan Vesely, is nursing a hip and probably at least a year away from anything resembling special, and Nets all-star point guard Deron Williams had as many rebounds (eight) as any of the Wizards’ front-line players, dropping a game by six points was not a crime.

But Washington played the old tease game with a fan base that wasn’t expecting much to begin with. Nick Young was jab-stepping, canning jumper after jumper early. Wall was going to the rim with ferocity, and Blatche and JaVale McGee seemed very content being a few feet from the rim, ready to tip in any miss.

By the end of the night, all of them ran out of gas. Wall missed a couple of big free throws, Damion James took a rebound away from McGee underneath the rim, Blatche let fly an ugly 20-footer and no one executed.

Yes, there are some new traditions you can’t ignore. For example, though Gilbert Arenas seems long gone, this was the first season opener without him on the roster in eight years.

There was the official opening-night nod to old-school Bullets purists, who have yet to get their franchise nickname back but settled for retro uniforms when the club announced the change after last season. Replete with a red, white and blue color scheme and the horizontal lines across the chest, it was just like Big E and Wes all those years ago — but with better fabric.

But there were familiar boos cascading down near the end, and they all weren’t for the Nets’ Kris Humphries, who with 21 points and 16 rebounds treated the Wizards as if they were matrimonial lawyers for the Kardashians.

An often-tepid crowd announced at 17,102 jeered the home team, the team they were told was going to be young, developing and not yet ready for prime time.

These were the Wizards they remember, circa most years of the past three decades. No matter what the jersey looked like or who was wearing it, winning basketball plays in the fourth quarter were not made. Large leads dissolved.

And after the game, the coach was wondering when his team’s fitness and focus were going to be better and the captain was throwing the staff under the bus, saying he wanted to be a post-up guy instead of the jump-shooter they allegedly were making him.

It’s still hard for me to actually say “Andray Blatche” and “captain” in the same sentence. The same goes for “John Wall” and “elite point guard,” especially after a 3-for-13 night from the field. And “JaVale McGee” and “franchise center.” Because there are so many young players on this team finding out if they can play in this league, it sometimes feels as if the older and better ones are prematurely given labels that they have yet to earn.

Either way, new traditions apparently take time to develop. So here’s the conundrum: Do you let them grow or grow disenchanted waiting? Patience. That’s what this Wizards season is really about.

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