But there are rough nights along the way, such as Wednesday, when the team’s best athlete, usually in sync with the new program, backslides into self-centeredness and scares everybody to death. “All aboard” means you too, John Wall, even on nights when you play yourself onto the bench.
“We did about all we could,” Coach Randy Wittman said after his Wizards cut a 16-point deficit to just one and had the last shot to win before losing, 96-95, to the crummy Pistons. “But it didn’t come down to that.
“We got what we deserved. We didn’t deserve to win that game. We were more caught up in ourselves than we were in playing as a team. Thinking about playing time, [getting] shots. It makes me worry about me. It’s my job to coach.”
Thus, Wittman put the loss on his failure to motivate and, without naming him, on Wall, who had seven turnovers, just six points and slouched on the bench with 10-cent body language as the coach decided the face of the franchise had earned as much time on the pine (24 minutes) as in the game.
For years, the Wizard majority voted the straight knucklehead ticket. Now, there’s been radical redistricting. When the Wizards traded their third-leading scorer, sulking Jordan Crawford, just to get rid of him last week, it marked the end of an era. Will things get better? Not necessarily.
But now when Wittman speaks, respected vets such as Nene, Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor and others, amplify his remarks. Anybody who doesn’t want to try to play the game the way most of the NBA’s best players do will be in a tiny minority. This project started when Wittman took over 13 months ago. It’s been slow going.
“Finally! See this gray hair?” said Nene, grabbing his long braided locks. “We are showing people what we can do when we play together.”
“We’re learning not to let emotions affect us as a unit,” said Webster, a coach on the floor. “If the night’s not going for you, [remember] the night is not all about you. It’s a team game.”
Surely, Wall, who makes all his teammates better as soon as he steps on the floor, wants to lead in this process, not be the laggard. Yet he was the only man who didn’t take direct responsibility for the loss to the Pistons, saying his turnovers were “good passes. Some got dropped. Some got missed.”
The Wizards have been in many battles for their basketball soul over the last 33 barren years. This is another one. When you haven’t had a really good team — one that has not even reached .550 — in a third of a century, it’s hard to believe that chanting “teamwork” will dispel the curse.