Maybe someday, the Washington Wizards will get serious about rebuilding. To this point, they’ve only dabbled in it unsuccessfully. Until owner Ted Leonsis moves on without Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young, he’s not truly committed to winning.
Leonsis sets the agenda. He instructed Washington’s basketball staff to start over and build through the draft. Ultimately, it will be his call to finally give up on Blatche, McGee and Young — most likely for little or nothing in return — after years of investing heavily in them. The correct choice is clear.
Granted, dumping three core players, none of whom has turned 27, would be difficult for any owner. Typically, that’s not how things are done in professional sports. The Wizards’ bleak situation, however, requires bold action. Beginning anew next season without three current high-profile starters who don’t get it, and probably never will, would be just that.
Blatche, McGee and Young no longer fit with what the Wizards claim they hope to become. They’re holdovers from an era the franchise should forget. Washington’s “New Traditions” slogan is just empty words unless management finally ends the long-running tomfoolery.
McGee provided the latest head-shaking example this past week.
The Wizards were ridiculed again nationally after McGee’s stunningly clueless decision to go for a look-at-me dunk in another eventual loss. That’s not what Washington needs during its franchise-worst start.
“The situation we’re in,” Coach Flip Saunders said recently, “you don’t want to draw attention to yourself.”
Obviously, the message hasn’t gotten through to McGee. Or he just doesn’t learn from his major mistakes. Either way, they keep happening.
How does someone lobby for votes on Twitter after his team drops to 0-7, as McGee did, and also go the showboat dunk route late during another defeat all in the same season, let alone the same month? Exactly what inspires such bad judgment?
Then again, it’s not surprising. McGee’s excitement after completing his wrongheaded quest for his first triple-double in a 19-point loss last season indicated exactly what’s most important to him.
McGee doesn’t do anything in “a malicious way,” Saunders said. And Saunders uses the missteps as “a learning experience.” So when will McGee’s learning begin?
Obviously, Wizards officials prefer to focus on the 7-footer’s age (he turned 24 on Thursday), his off-the-charts athleticism and improving statistics.
Just based on the numbers, McGee is more than a keeper. He’s someone the Wizards should build around.
But this isn’t fantasy basketball.
In the NBA, you actually have to know how to play to help your team win, and it seems that part doesn’t interest McGee as much as the highlight-tape stuff. After playing in almost 230 games, there’s no way McGee should still be so ineffective at pick-and-roll defense. His head isn’t in the game nearly enough.
From what I hear, McGee is a good egg off the court. He doesn’t cause trouble in the locker room. Unfortunately for McGee, he’s growing up in an organization in which those in charge have looked the other way too often.
Longtime Wizards observers will tell you that McGee, Blatche and Young followed Gilbert Arenas. They saw what he got away with. They learned from Arenas.
Obviously, there are better role models.
At some point, though, adults are responsible for their own actions. Which brings me back to Blatche.
I mean, really, what’s left to say about him? The fact that he’s even on the roster is a black eye for management.
Listing all of Blatche’s dunderheaded acts through the years gets tiring. Yet, here he is, going strong in his seventh season with the Wizards.
In fitting fashion, Blatche got Washington pointed in the wrong direction on opening night, announcing his captaincy, playing poorly as Washington squandered a 21-point first-half lead while losing and then criticizing Saunders for using him incorrectly.
I like Ernie Grunfeld, the team president. I respect what he’s accomplished during his long, successful career. But his loyalty to people colors his opinions too much.
Grunfeld makes too many excuses for Blatche. “He’s a young player,” Grunfeld usually says each time Blatche drags him into another mess. It’s like a remake of Laurel and Hardy with these two.
The Wizards continue to wait on Blatche because he has skills and a cap-friendly contract. They list Blatche among their “assets,” believing he also could be attractive to other teams if he plays to his potential.
And the first general manager this offseason who inquires about trading for Blatche should be the first fired. It doesn’t matter how much Blatche produces relative to his salary. He’s just not a winning player.
Unlike Blatche and McGee, Young hasn’t been a lightning rod for controversy. He’s also a good scorer.
Problem is, Young doesn’t do much else. He has exhibited an aversion to playing defense and, at 6 feet 7, has a career rebounding average of fewer than two per game. Also, Young hasn’t displayed the type of basketball smarts that would lead anyone to believe he’s capable of becoming a top performer on a good team.
After leading Washington in scoring last season, Young, a restricted free agent, reluctantly returned to the Wizards for a one-year qualifying offer because no one offered anything better. That says something about how the rest of the league views the Wizards.
With management seeking positive reinforcement for its decisions, the Wizards could be in trouble if the team has a decent stretch at some point this season, because that could prompt Leonsis and Grunfeld to believe they’re on a good track.
Even if the Wizards decline to re-sign Young, that wouldn’t be enough. They need to make it a clean sweep.
Wizards officials stress they have a plan. Separating from Blatche, McGee and Young would be the start of a good one.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid