Mired in the worst start in franchise history, the Washington Wizards held a players-only meeting on Thursday afternoon in which they addressed myriad issues that have left them the only team in the NBA without a victory.
Veteran guard-forward Maurice Evans organized the meeting that took place between a film session and practice at Verizon Center one day after the Wizards lost to Orlando, 103-85, to drop to 0-6. The meeting lasted 15 to 20 minutes, according to forward Andray Blatche, who invited criticism following a season-opening 90-84 loss to New Jersey in which he called for the ball in the post after the team blew a 21-point lead at home.
“The sense of entitlement that’s here sometimes, I’ve never seen before,” said Evans, who came to Washington last year in a trade with Atlanta. “We have to start earning things. Earn your way into the rotation. Earn your way onto the floor, and then you earn your minutes by being productive, and when you’re not in the rotation, you be supportive and make guys better in practice.”
Evans has yet to play this season because of discomfort in his right knee. Still, he remains among the most respected players in the locker room as a veteran who has been on playoff teams and as a vice president of the players’ union.
Blatche pointed to Evans, Roger Mason Jr. and Rashard Lewis as teammates whose messages resonated the most. Like Evans, Mason and Lewis have played with contenders for parts of their careers, and their leadership has become that much more necessary as Washington tries to extricate itself from a culture of losing that has continued despite preseason optimism.
At the top of the discussion list during the meeting, players said, was delineating roles on a team on which no player, including 2010 No. 1 pick John Wall, has distinguished himself. Wall is averaging 13.8 points per game, second on the Wizards, but is shooting 33 percent — second lowest on the team. He’s also averaging 3.7 turnovers per game.
Among the starters, only center JaVale McGee is shooting above 38 percent. McGee is averaging 12.5 points per game and is the third-leading scorer. Blatche, meanwhile, is averaging 12 points per game and went 2 for 13 in a 101-83 loss to Atlanta one game after he told reporters he should be more involved in the offense in the low post.
“We’re just trying to hold ourselves accountable,” Blatche said. “A lot of guys say, ‘This is the reason, that’s the reason’ [for the losing streak]. Mo brought us together and said, ‘The reason is us.’ We’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves. At the end of the day, we’re the players out there. There’s nobody else playing but us, so we all had a good talk. We all said our piece, and hopefully all the guys took it in and didn’t take it” personally.
Blatche was referring especially to the rookies and his younger teammates. The Wizards have seven players 23 years or younger, including rookies Jan Vesely, the No. 6 overall pick in this year’s draft, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack. Jordan Crawford, 23, was among the most despondent players in the locker room following Wednesday’s loss to the Magic, which put on an exhibition of team basketball the Wizards would be delighted to match.
Crawford said the atmosphere was “dead” and he felt as if the Wizards had been playing for months rather than two weeks. Lewis, who played for Orlando for more than three seasons before being traded to Washington for Gilbert Arenas, said the team took “five steps back.”
Coach Flip Saunders echoed that evaluation in the postgame news conference, and on Thursday he mentioned that he has coached winning teams that have conducted players-only meetings.
“As you become a playoff team and a good team, players also have to hold themselves accountable on the floor because we only have so many timeouts that we can call,” said Saunders, who coached regular playoff participants in Minnesota and Detroit. “So a lot of times things happen out there, and the players have to communicate to themselves.
“What accountability does is it increases the trust level that players have with each other, and usually when you’re struggling, it’s because it’s a lack of trust at times, and so you worry more about what you have to do than about what the team has to do. I think more than anything else, [the meeting] was just an emphasis that we’re going to hold each other accountable, that we’re a team, we’re family.”