Out of respect for the transparency Ted Leonsis provides to all paying customers, I have decided to make public my own exit interviews with the Washington Wizards.
With the caveat that the 2010-11 season was the first stated year of the rebuild – whereby management has decreed stockpiling draft picks and freeing up salary-cap room more seminal than winning basketball games — I will be mindful that a 23-59 team cannot be merely judged on its record alone.
After all, there were slam-dunk contests for which to prepare, suspensions for getting in fights with one another, the second-worst road mark to start a season in NBA history (0-25) and, okay, a new, brave hope for the future who wears No. 2 — and is also the first Wizard to take a seat in the office:
JOHN WALL: I’ve seen the numbers and the video highlights. You, young fella, should be the rookie of the year — not Blake Griffin. (He was hurt a year ago. Fine, I get it. But what league redshirts players for award purposes?) I am also paying no mind to the statistic in which you are listed as only a handful of No. 1 picks not to help your team record-wise your first year. Immaterial. You ’balled, Jimmy Wall. You worked. Every day, which can’t be said of your supporting cast.
I know. There are probably times you wished you stayed at Kentucky, where they pay better and you only lost three games in a season as opposed to Washington, where you have lost three in five days. But things will get better. Work on your jump shot and, most of all, slow down, physically and mentally. Be patient. Just . . . wait — until the summer of 2012.
See, deep down, no matter what people say about New York or L.A., Dwight Howard envisions catching alley-oops from you.
JOSH HOWARD: Though you were always injured, you made the All-GQ team with those resplendent suits on the bench. You are not the young knucklehead you were at times in Dallas. You have matured — enough to know you need to get out of here as a free agent. Thanks for your leadership during the post-Gilbert, transitional phase.
OTHYUS JEFFERS: Wait. Hold up. Who are you?
NICK YOUNG: I’ve been waiting to congratulate you in person for making the All-Defensive Third Team. Oh, wait. That didn’t happen. There is not a chance that will ever happen. (In Hubie Brown voice:) “You are Nick Young, okay. You don’t guard anybody, okay.”
Look, I was wrong. You are better than the AND1 bus. I now think you have Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson potential. You are a good soul and as playful and mischievous as anyone. But I know someone else who did the 25-going-on-12 thing in this town, and it only played for so long. You can laugh, smile and grow up at the same time. Promise. You frustrate me so much because I like you the most.
YI JIANLIAN: I know Yao. You, Yi, are no Yao. But after he retires, you are all more than 8 billion of your countrymen have left. For the sake of Chinese media everywhere, please, stay in the league — just not here.
RASHARD LEWIS: From Orlando to this? Come on, be honest, you must have stolen snacks from Stan Van Gundy’s office. Having swapped long-range jumpers with Kobe in the NBA Finals less than two years ago, I’m sorry you had to see this. When your career has come down to, “At least he cost less over the long haul than Gilbert Arenas,” that’s depressing. But make the best of it. And don’t worry. Ernie will get you out of here next summer with a nice little $13 million buyout of your last year. Keep teaching the young bucks how to be a pro and get healthy.
ANDRAY BLATCHE: Sit down, damn it. I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt because of your glacial return to health this season from foot surgery. I want to look at the raw numbers and some of the offensive outbursts and say, “See, Dray, I told you you’d get it.” But you can’t capture your “inner fire” in Game No. 75. You can’t camouflage a body of work with one solid month. Speaking of bodies, yours needs work. I don’t expect you to dedicate your offseason to the memory of Jack LaLanne, but try a Shake Weight. Despite all that, we’re going to keep you around because we still believe in you and we really haven’t heard anything spectacular we would want back in a trade thus far. But it’s early.
Also, we know you have a key to Chipotle and we’re going to need that back.
TREVOR BOOKER: I don’t care if you’re a ’tweener who can’t find a natural position, you hustle. You want it. You work. You . . . must have gotten lost on the way to Boston.
JORDAN CRAWFORD: You are not a member of a Big Three yet. And your most famous quote, “If I can see the rim, it’s a good shot” does not make you the greatest find of all time. But you are more than a gunner who got an opportunity. You can play and you have that ornery streak that is a real commodity here in Washington. Here’s hoping you stay awhile.
JAVALE MCGEE: Awesome performance at All-Star Weekend, especially the two-ball dunk. A lot of people didn’t know who you were before that. And that behind-the-back pass you threw the last week of the season was sweet. I was just thinking, what if, just this summer, you focus on a drop-step move or a face-up jumper or ANY MOVE THAT YOU CAN USE IN AN ACTUAL NBA GAME! Repeat after me. STOP DRIBBLING!
Stop, for the love of God, falling for pump fakes that kids John Calipari is recruiting from sonograms don’t fall for. All those blocks you had to make that took you out of position — those are all defensive rebounds.
You picked up the game late, but now you have to catch up. Fast.
MO EVANS: We want you back.
KEVIN SERAPHIN: Okay, you too.
MUSTAFA SHAKUR: May the seamstress of your next team treat you better.
LARRY OWENS: Do you have some ID to prove you were on the team?
FLIP SAUNDERS: Heck of a job you did in Cedar Rapids this year. You were my All Southwest Airlines Coach of the Year (“Wanna get away?”) No, seriously, I think you’re a great coach who will one day oversee a bona fide contender again. I know you have two years left and you’re a company man. But a rebuild isn’t what you signed on for. You’ve had a tough personal year with the loss of your mother, and it couldn’t have helped that you had to essentially babysit some of your roster. Unless you really believe this franchise can compete for the services of Dwight Howard in 2012, I might ask Ted for a buyout, do the embedded-coach-in-the-studio-gig thing for a year and then go after the job you truly want. No one would blame you. If not, I will support you wholeheartedly if you remain.
ERNIE GRUNFELD: You “exceeded expectations” according to Ted, and that’s all that matters. You moved Gilbert and the contract you gave him, which most GMs thought was impossible. You saved Ted money. Good job, basically, pulling egg shells out of the trash, bronzing them and then making someone else think they’re decorations. Now your contract is a year from being up. Here’s hoping you get to stick around to see more than the Capitals in the playoffs at Verizon Center. In my mind, it happens only one way — Howard or bust in 2012. Don’t tamper, but recruit subtly.
TED LEONSIS: I need more reasons than No. 2 right now to believe and it’s hard to find many of them.
Frankly, I look at Portland and they made the playoffs with their No. 1 overall pick, Greg Oden, out and another star player, Brandon Roy, hurt. Indiana got in, Philly and Memphis too. I look at Ivan Drago in New Jersey trying to land ’Melo and Dwight and finally getting Deron Williams, and I want to ask: How much longer?
Don’t worry, I’ll warm up to this team. But now I have to ask you to be patient.