Forgotten, but not gone, are the Washington Wizards, who have the fifth overall pick in the draft. Knowing the history of the Wizards and the draft, whoever they take will be immediately projected as a 10-year starter and labeled as a savior, and will then either break both his legs or eat himself out of the league by December. This is the way it works for the Wizards: It doesn't.
Here are the Wizards' last three top draft picks: Kwame Brown, Jared Jeffries and Jarvis Hayes. All are nice players, capable of starting here, but where else? Kwame Brown, in his third season, finally became a double-figures scorer, averaging 10.9 points a game, to go with 7.4 rebounds. Those are pretty good numbers, but they fall well short of what you'd expect by this time from a No. 1 overall pick. Jared Jeffries, in his second season, averaged 5.7 points and 5.2 rebounds. Jarvis Hayes, as a rookie, averaged 9.6 points and 3.8 rebounds. It's too early to know about Hayes, but at this point with Brown and Jeffries, it appears that if they're going to become big-time NBA players, it will probably be somewhere else.
Meantime, other teams have done noticeably better with lower picks than the Wizards. After the Wizards took Brown, Memphis took Pau Gasol, Portland took Zach Randolph and San Antonio took Tony Parker. Detroit took Tayshaun Prince long after the Wizards took Jeffries.
The conventional wisdom says the first few picks of Thursday's draft will include Emeka Okafor, the high school kid Dwight Howard, Luol Deng of Duke and Josh Childress of Stanford, who the Wizards are said to covet. Great. Childress is a 6-7 shooter. So he would fit in nicely with Jerry Stackhouse, a 6-6 shooter, Jarvis Hayes, a 6-6 shooter, and Larry Hughes, a 6-5 shooter, to be fed by Gilbert Arenas, a 6-3 ball-hog and shooter.
Just the other day I saw a mock draft where the Wizards were projected to take Andris Biedrins, a 6-11, 18-year-old out of Latvia with their first pick. (I'm not sure if this is Latvia State or Latvia A&M.) If the Wizards are finally going to get into the European market, are they sure they want an 18-year-old big man? Did you notice how many minutes 18-year-old big man Darko Milicic played for the Pistons this season? And shouldn't the Wizards be gun-shy after taking 18-year-old, 6-11 Kwame Brown? The Wizards can't keep asking their remaining fans to be patient until their callow draft choices come around three, four or five years down the road, if at all. Season ticket holders have to be assured the team is trying to win now -- or why would they buy tickets now?
(Oh, and let me say this to the e-mailer who wondered how Shaquille O'Neal would look in a Washington uniform: He would look like he was going to a costume party. The Wizards are not going to get Shaq. Who do they have the Lakers want in return? The Wizards specialize in getting rid of players, not acquiring them.)
Watching castoffs from the Wizards at the very core of last week's Pistons' evisceration of the Lakers had to be one of the lowest points in the history of the Washington franchise. Without Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton the Pistons would not have been in the playoffs. (How do we know this? Because without them the Wizards weren't in the playoffs. Again. If those three were still here, the Wizards would have been title contenders in the Eastern Conference.) And what do the Wizards have to show for this series of blunders? Mr. Jerry Stackhouse, whom the Wizards are trying at this moment to throw under a bus.
Who was the last Wizards draft pick who became an all-star? (I mean here, for this team.) Juwan Howard, in 1996. And as we remember, he couldn't wait to get out of here. That summer he signed an offer sheet with Miami, and it took David Stern declaring a mulligan to get Howard back with the Wizards. It pretty much went to hell for the Bullets/Wizards from that day forward.
Doesn't it seem like eons ago when Howard and Chris Webber were brought here by John Nash? Well, it was eons ago. It was 10 years ago. Howard and Webber are old men now by NBA standards. And the promises that accompanied them here were never kept. Ernie Grunfeld is the fourth general manager the Wizards have had since 1994. Eddie Jordan is the eighth head coach in that time. No NBA franchise has had this kind of turnover. No NBA franchise has gone nowhere spinning its wheels as fast.
It's not that all the moves were perceived as awful. At the time many of them seemed to be the right moves. But in short order, they all turned out awful. Take Michael Jordan. (Or as Abe said, "Take Michael Jordan. Please.") Everybody in town was juiced up by the arrival of Michael Jordan -- and even more juiced up by Jordan's decision to un-retire and play for the Wizards.
But what did it get the Wizards, besides two years of sellouts? Nothing. The Wizards were on TV a lot -- because of Jordan. He was the only excitement on those teams. TV might as well have trained a camera on him, and only on him. Even when he sat on the bench, Jordan was more compelling than the other Wizards players, most of whom have come and gone. The day Jordan left, the Wizards disappeared from the TV schedule. He left behind a bad team, a dull team and a forgotten team.
Once upon a time, the draft was the most optimistic night of the year for Wizards' fans. On one gloriously comic night, they took both Manute Bol and Muggsy Bogues. On another, they passed up Karl Malone for Kenny Green. On still others, they took John "Hot Plate" Williams and Mel "Dinner Bell" Turpin. And each time they could say, "We just didn't get lucky." But when they finally got the overall No. 1 pick, they couldn't say that anymore. They took Kwame Brown, a high school kid. And bad luck had nothing to do with it. Because by then we all knew it wasn't luck, it was the Curse O' Les Boulez.
It's sad, really.