Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What's Really Wrong with the Wizards?

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not keep close tabs on the NBA. I love basketball, played my entire life, but something about the NBA turns me off. This in turn means that I don’t follow our beloved Washington Wizards all that closely either. However, I’ve watched their last few games to see what all of the criticism is about, and to see if it is warranted. For those unsure, the answer is this: yes.

There are several problems with this team that stand in the way of that ever elusive first road win (or really, any win), the least of which being a lack of talent. Outside of John Wall (and possibly Andray Blatche and Nick Young when they want to be), this is not a talented basketball team. They don’t have the skills to go one-on-one against just about anyone in the league.

This wouldn’t be as big of a problem if they accepted this fact and adjusted their style to fit their lesser skill set. However, they don’t. They play as five individuals. When they go on runs during games, they are playing as one unit. As soon as they are put under pressure, they resort back to individuality. You can still win games like that with a team of superstars, like the Lakers, but the Wizards simply aren’t good enough to win that way.

The other main part of their problem is mentality. This is not a mentally tough team, as evidenced by its inability to bury teams in the second half. They regularly self-implode and lose games they should have a handle on. This is the deeper problem, for it strikes at the heart of confidence.

It is rather simple to change a game plan or implement a new system, but heart is something you can’t teach. It is much harder to change the core of a person’s head, and the Wizards clearly have it in their head that they are going to lose. You can tell when they first sulk onto the court. Their body language says it all. Once a team makes a push to come back on them, their faces read “Here we go again,” and that’s exactly what happens.

They give up. They flat out give up playing basketball. Their legs stop moving, they start passing into nothingness, and throw up any awkward shot because they don’t know what else to do.

When the problem is this widespread and this settled into the team’s mindset, there really is only one thing an organization can do: fire the coach. None of this should be blamed on Flip Saunders, but there really is not other option. Coaches before him had the same problem, but unfortunately in sports, you can’t fire the whole team (though they should). They need a coach to reach them, and Saunders is clearly not doing that. They don’t seem to listen to him. He calls them out night after night, criticizing their play night after night, and nothing changes. He may have to be the unfortunate sacrifice needed to at least bring this team to respectability.

With Ted Leonsis now with the reins, I do think things will turn around. Leonsis has always made it clear with the Capitals that he is willing to spend for talent, and with a couple of strategically placed free-agent signings, things will change. The organization is now in a similar position to the Nationals in that they have to overpay to bring in free agents, but Leonsis has always appeared willing if not eager to do what is necessary to improve his teams. The Wizards can be fixed, but they likely have to be blown up before they can end up back in the middle of the pack of the NBA.

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