Remember at the beginning of the season, when everyone was drinking the Washington Wizards kool-aid? Some people, experts even, actually thought the Wizards might be a contender; In its preseason power rankings, The Sporting News rated Washington seventh in the entire NBA, and I saw it mentioned in some respected online publication (I forget which one it was) that the Wizards actually had the best bench in the entire NBA. Uhh, guys, just slow down. Take a few deep breaths, and you would have remembered that Washington has never been a contending team, even when they were healthy. How were they going to all of a sudden become a contender just because Gilbert Arenas was back and — maybe, somewhat, almost — healthy? Did people really think acquiring Mike Miller was going to put them over the top?
If you think I’m just reacting to recent developments, basing my judgments on the Wizards 7-12 start rather than how I felt before the season, read what I wrote before the season about that seventh spot in the power rankings:
Yes, seventh. As in, higher than they rate the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets. When are people going to stop overrating Washington? Even when their quasi-Big Three has been healthy, they have never been a true contender. Add to that the fickleness of their health and you get a team that will be closer to missing the playoffs than to the cream of the crop. A healthy Gilbert Arenas won’t suddenly make a 19-63 team into the 7th best team in the league, or even a top-four team in the East. It’s just not happening.
How can anyone be surprised that bad chemistry and early-season issues have been a problem for this team? Those have always been problems of this Wizards crew, so why in the world would it stop now?
Somehow, people overlooked the fact that Washington has always had injury issues, and judged them as if they would be healthy and at full strength all season. At some point, though, you have to just realize that certain players aren’t meant to withstand the physical pressures of an 82-game season. Certain bodies are far more prone to breaking down than others, and the Wizards are a team filled with players who are incapable of staying healthy for an extended period of time. It’s just the fact of the matter.
Still, some Wizards are surprised by the bad start (via the Washington Post):
Brendan Haywood said the Wizards’ performance this season has been perplexing, regardless of the circumstances. “Are we surprised we’re 7-12? Yes. Even with Antawn out, I thought we’d be 12-7, maybe a little better. It comes down to us, man. It’s nothing that Flip’s doing. It’s executing and taking what we do in practice and applying it to game plans correctly.”
Saunders said he thought that the Wizards “are beaten up a little bit” from winning just 19 games last season, with Arenas and Haywood sidelined with injuries most of the year. He is trying to help the team break some bad habits. “I looked at the games last year, and in a lot of games, they were inventing ways to lose at times, too. So I’m not totally surprised, no,” he said. “But it’s one of those things we have to overcome in order to get better and better.”
In my eyes, nobody — not even the players on the team — should be surprised by the injuries or the slow start. In the Arenas era, the Wizards have always had a lot of talent, but have never won more than 45 games in a single season. They have never been a contender, not by any sense of the imagination.
Why did anyone ever think this year might be different?