It is 1:23 a.m. in the wee hours of Wednesday morning when I get a text from Brendan Haywood, the last starting center in the Washington Wizards’ last playoff game. “Wassup? Just landed in Minnesota.”
I was awake because first, the Lakers and Spurs had just finished playing, and that’s how late I have to stay up now to watch genuine NBA basketball; and second, the Wizards had the smell and flow of garbage juice on Tuesday night in Charlotte, where Haywood’s Bobcats throttled them, 92-76.
After Wednesday’s 107-101 loss in Dallas, the Wizards have now lost their first seven games after starting last season losing their first eight.
“I don’t think things are as bad as people think there,” Haywood said, trying to soften the blow, after the Bobcats charter touched down in Minneapolis. “Not having John Wall and Nene really hurt them. John Wall is able to give everybody else better shots, and Nene is a presence inside. Watch: When he comes back, John Wall is going to make Bradley Beal look better, [Kevin] Seraphin look better.”
I told him I get it, that these Wizards aren’t who they might be in a month or two. Yet, just speaking with Haywood, there was this painful deja vu, the feeling that things are still depressingly the same.
After all, it was November 2008 when the team’s point guard (Gilbert Arenas) and center (Haywood) were out because of injuries and the Wizards started 1-10, never recovered, and Eddie Jordan was fired as coach.
Crazy, no? Five years later, the Wizards are missing their injured point guard (Wall) and center (Nene) and 1-10 seems in the offing.
They take you through a miserable rebuild, playing young players just to weed out the bums from the keepers. They sell hope in the promise that a No. 1 pick will mature. They talk playoffs before backing off, realizing how bad they really are without Wall.
But there is still no progress in the standings. The keepers aren’t yet ready to win and the hope they put around Wall is many nights just plain hopeless. Playoffs? Bite your tongue till 2014 — if you’re lucky.
And to think, we all thought it was Andray Blatche’s fault. Remember when Flip Saunders allegedly didn’t command enough respect? Surely after the Wizards jettisoned that softy of a coach and ’Dray’s lazy bones, the losses would be fewer, less hideous — right?
Ha. You really thought someone hamstrung with a Quad Cities roster and one halfhearted player was the problem?
These are the Wizards, people; they take their losing very seriously. They are the only winless team in the NBA.
At 0-7, the Wizards are within hailing distance of matching last season’s 0-8 break from the gate, which is the worst start in franchise history.
Missing Wall and Nene until at least next month, we all knew they were going to be bad out of the chute. We just didn’t know how bad, how irrelevant to the NBA conversation they’ve become a mere two weeks into the season.
The Wizards were hard-luck losers with enough heart to stay tuned in their first four losses, scrapping in the fourth quarter before their late-game execution executed themselves.
But when the untalented triers don’t even look like they’re doing that, when they put on a clinic in chaos against the Bobcats — chucking up 31 three-point attempts and making five, being run off the floor, 29-12, in the second quarter — it’s just plain rotten basketball, a criminal act against the tenets of the game.
Reminder: Charlotte won seven — count ’em, seven — games in 66 tries last season, finishing with the worst winning percentage in NBA history.
Insult to injury: Beal, the third pick in the draft, shot 1 for 11 and combined with point guard A.J. Price to miss all but two of 13 three-pointers. The second pick, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, looked like a solid veteran with 15 points and eight rebounds for Charlotte.
It’s too early this season to raise the Wall question, whether he really is special enough to turn this ship in the right direction and make the Wizards a contender one day.
It’s too soon to point out that Emeka Okafor, Seraphin and Nene all play the same position best — the five, the center position — and that putting any of them against the NBA’s nouveau power forwards who can bang down 15-footers as well as bang bodies is a recipe for disaster. The Wizards’ front line is built for the ’90s, not the new millennium.
When Wall gets healthy, he will have an undue of amount of pressure on him to fix what one player simply can’t right now.
What can be said is they are bad now, really bad. When you get beaten that badly by a historically bad team of a year ago it’s not a stretch to think you have historically bad possibilities, too.
Again, it’s early, and the injuries are clearly the biggest factor thus far. But if this is any harbinger of a season to come, Ted Leonsis, the team’s principal owner, and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld are going to have some ’splainin’ to do.
“Hey, we had some good years there: When Gil was healthy, Caron [Butler] and Antawn [Jamison] were clicking and we had some nice pieces, man. That place was loud,” Haywood said, reminiscing around 2 a.m. in his hotel room. “I don’t know what to tell you. We were getting there. But it wasn’t meant to be.”
The problem with the NBA in Washington for good parts of three decades now is it never seems like it’s meant to be. That feeling is getting so old. Like, Wes Unseld-old.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.