But with a remade roster and a new coach leading the way, the Wizards find themselves in the same position that they were in at the beginning of last season, when Andray Blatche was out of shape, JaVale McGee was throwing dunks off the backboard, Nick Young was shooting without conscience and then-coach Flip Saunders was dumbfounded trying to find a solution.
For the second year in a row, the Wizards (0-7) are the NBA’s last remaining team without a victory, and they are a home loss to Utah on Saturday away from matching the worst start in franchise history. They are the second team in NBA history to start consecutive seasons with seven straight losses.
Of course, when Grunfeld made the comment about being better, the team was unaware that John Wall would miss time because of a stress injury in his left knee. And it didn’t know that the plantar fasciitis in Nene’s left foot would keep him out — and with no timetable for a return — two weeks into the season.
Wall and Nene are the Wizards’ primary building blocks, and players who were meant to complement them have appeared disjointed and rudderless. In spite of his team’s injuries, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog that he expected more from the outset. “We are certainly playing shorthanded, but we still should be a better team with better results than where we sit today,” wrote Leonsis, who backtracked last month from draft night, when he said missing the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season would be “unacceptable.”
The Wizards aren’t necessarily underachieving; they have played hard for Coach Randy Wittman, with four games decided by six points or less. But they have often looked overmatched, especially since they have faced only one opponent that entered the game with a winning record. They have only held a fourth-quarter lead in two games.
Wall has watched every defeat on the bench and said this week that the team can’t sit back and collect losses in the absence of him and Nene.
“It’s tough for us, but nobody is making excuses. We think we’ve got a talented enough team to just go out and play with what we have,” Wall said.
“You want to get wins now. That’s the main goal, is try to get wins now so you won’t build yourself a deeper hole. Guys are being competitive. They are staying strong and they got a lot of confidence. They just got to find a way to get one win and then build off from there.”
The journey without Wall and Nene was expected to be difficult. Point guard A.J. Price was signed to be the Wall’s primary backup, but he only started three games in three seasons in Indiana. Emeka Okafor, acquired from New Orleans in June as de facto Nene insurance, missed the last 39 games last season with a knee injury.