Wizards getting a fresh start - but not a playoff spot

John Wall's Wizards career begins with Thursday's season opener in Orlando.
John Wall's Wizards career begins with Thursday's season opener in Orlando. (Stephen Chernin/ap)
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By Mike Wise
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 11:10 PM

There's no way to put this gently to the hard-core believers, so we'll just say it up front: The Wizards are not going to the playoffs.

There. It's not exactly a CNN crawl line, but it's out.

They may be more aesthetically pleasing, more committed to defense. They might even win 10 more games than the 26 from a lost season of overhaul and chaos.

But to imagine the Wiz Kids (four rookies, seven players with less than three years of experience; yes, they are kids) as part of the NBA postseason is to imagine very big - like Big Baby Davis big.

Flip Saunders would have to be coach of the year, Gilbert Arenas the unofficial comeback player of the year and John Wall the rookie of the year. Every one of those developments is plausible.

But it also means someone has to gather tough rebounds at the end of tight games and that the league's third-youngest team will make veteran decisions in the final minutes against good teams on the road the majority of the time. That's not very plausible.

Not yet.

Ted Leonsis's first season of stewardship has a real chance to be successful out of the gate if two things happen:

1. His fan base views his franchise as almost an expansion team, rather than the 46-year institution formerly owned by Abe Pollin. Look at these Wizards as completely new and original, from the unfamiliar faces in the lineup to the rejuvenated, game-night production at Verizon Center. Don't even mention the word "playoffs," because any such expectation would ruin it.

And 2. This roster of redemption projects and the kids (among them a ridiculously talented No. 1 draft pick) win over the District's hoopheads - engage the old sages, make people talk about them. So that after this season people in Washington can see the future in their pro basketball team like Oklahoma City did when Kevin Durant came to town in 2008.

"What we're expecting is for the team to play hard every night, get better as the season goes along, play the game right way, unselfishly," President Ernie Grunfeld said by telephone from Orlando on Wednesday afternoon. "We want to be a team that other teams respect. We know we're going to have to earn that."

Wall will bring the masses in early on because of the hyperbole machine. When Arenas gets that walking boot off his ankle, his first return to the court since last season's suspension becomes the story.

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