For Stephen A. Smith, the Wizards’ 119-100 loss to the Mavericks on Tuesday was the final straw. The ESPN personality has now seen enough of this year’s team, which closely resembles the outfit he said was “looking like straight garbage” last January, to know that it’s time to empty the trash can.
On Wednesday’s episode of “First Take,” Smith offered animated criticism of Wizards Coach Scott Brooks and point guard John Wall while joining the chorus of pundits calling for Washington to start over and rebuild. There was a lot of yelling involved.
“It’s time for a blowup,” Smith said. “It didn’t work, Ernie Grunfeld. It didn’t work . . . This conversation hurts me, because Ernie Grunfeld and I go back to his days with the Knicks. I’ve known this man for over 25 years, I love that man. But this is a disgrace taking place in the nation’s capital. People have their opinion of a negative around here about what else goes on in the nation’s capital. Thank God they didn’t contaminate themselves further by going over to the damn Verizon Center. What a disgrace that is taking place in the nation’s capital! Scott Brooks? Gotta go! Gotta go! And listen, let me be very clear: I’ve known Scott Brooks, like him. I’m not trying to say he can’t coach. He is not the right man for this job. This job requires a heavy hammer. Scott Brooks is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. The problem with that is, unfortunately, you don’t like confrontation. And with the Wizards, you need confrontation.”
Coincidentally, during his weekly appearance with the Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, the mild-mannered Brooks was asked about his ability to “play the bad cop” with his players when necessary.
“It’s a players’s league, but it’s an effort league,” Brooks said. “If you want to have a good team, you gotta play with great effort. You can’t coach the players like you would be coaching college. You can’t coach the players like I was coached in the ’80s or ’90s. It’s a different way of doing things. You have to be able to get through to guys, but you gotta have the right guys being able to do it, too. You have to have guys that are committed to doing it, too. If you have that, then your job becomes to really coach the technical side of things. We have to give better defensive effort. I have to do a better job of making sure we are into the game plan.”
Brooks added that while he’s “not one to embarrass anybody publicly,” he will point things out privately, and it occasionally “gets a little ugly” behind closed doors. Ugly hardly begins to describe the 2-8 Wizards, three weeks into the season. Smith rattled off some of the team’s worst numbers on “First Take,” including their negative-10.3 average point differential and last-place ranking in rebounding.
“But it gets worse,” Smith continued. “I’ve got John Wall’s contract right here, and let me give a shout out to Rich Paul, because he deserves props for this. There’s nothing better than an agent that gets you your money when it looks like you don’t deserve it. Now let’s be clear: John Wall signed a four-year ‘supermax’ deal for $169.3 million. It hasn’t even kicked in yet. He’s getting paid $37.8 next year, $40.8 the year after, $43.8 million the year after and then has a player option — A PLAYER OPTION! — of $46.9 million. Now listen, I like John Wall. John Wall is an all-star. John Wall can play. Then this year arrives. For some reason, a man that struggles with his perimeter shooting [is now] shooting worse. He can’t get to the hole with the ease that he used to. He’s actually bigger! He looks out of shape, and that’s a problem! So now you got that as a problem, then you got him and [Bradley] Beal and not meshing as a problem. It’s contaminated Markieff Morris, who can play! Otto Porter, he looks comatose half the damn time! And oh by the way, he’s in the midst of a $ million contract!”
By this point, an exasperated Smith looked like he had just been forced to sit through a compilation of the Wizards' Top 100 worst defensive lapses of the season.
“I’m not questioning John Wall’s abilities,” Smith said moments later. “I’m questioning his level of production. It ain’t just your job to score; it’s your job to lead. To lead. They have no leadership, they have no chemistry, they don’t even look like they want to play together. Don’t get me started with hanging out together, because damn sure if I’ve seen it, and I’m in the nation’s capital enough. Trust me. If they were doing it, I’d know. Otto Porter looks comatose. Markieff Morris isn’t playing up to snuff, and that has a lot to do with your point guard and your lack of leadership. And it’s bad enough that you got the ‘supermax’ deal, but it hasn’t even kicked in yet. The nation’s capital, when it comes to the sport of basketball, fresh off a Stanley Cup championship in hockey, [has] absolutely, positively nothing to look forward to. This situation is an abomination, it has to change, and unfortunately you can’t trade Wall because of the contract that I just gave you, which means that Bradley Beal is your one commodity that’s movable.”
Despite the Wizards' poor start, Brooks is unlikely to be fired for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the guaranteed $21 million still remaining on his contract. During Wednesday’s interview with the Junkies, Brooks was asked if he’s happy with the leadership the Wizards' big-money players are showing on the court.
“It all starts with me,” Brooks said. “I’m not happy with myself right now, and I’m not happy with how we’re playing. John is definitely not, and Brad is definitely not, and Otto is definitely not happy with where we are right now. We’re 2-8, we’ve been here before a couple years ago, we’re exactly in the exact same spot — 2-8. Can we turn it around? Absolutely. But we’re not gonna turn it around by hoping. We’ve got to turn it around with great effort on the defensive end. Sometimes last night, we were hoping that [Dallas] would miss shots. When you hope, you never have the success you need. You need to make them miss.”
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