Dec 19, 2010

Hellllooooooo Rashard!

So, you think everything's fine and dandy now that Gilbert's gone? You think there couldn't possibly be another contract out there as bad as the 4 years and 80 million left on Gilbert's? WRONG!

Fun facts about Rashard Lewis, the player the Wiz received from Orlando in a trade for Gilbert Arenas:
  • Rashard Lewis is averaging 12 points a game.
  • Rashard Lewis has some funky, King Tut style facial hair that escapes comment most of the time (not here Rashard!)
  • Rashard Lewis is averaging 4 rebounds a game. He is 6 foot 10.
  • Rashard Lewis is averaging .4 blocks a game. See above.
  • Rashard Lewis has three years and 63 million dollars left on his contract.
That last one is a real kick in the pants. Turns out, Rashard and Gilbert have basically the same contract, although Rashard's ends a year before Gil's. Which means at least two years of watching that stupid Erector set style three pointer.

Here at ZA, we get why the Wiz made the deal. Gilbert was a big, distracting reminder of the past who, despite saying the right things, did not play well with the future (Mr. Wall). But Rashard?

The Wiz have two huge problems. They don't rebound, and they don't play defense. Rashard is THE WORST REBOUNDING POWER FORWARD IN THE LEAGUE (sorry, when you're the worst, you get all caps) and a bad defender. At 31, his production has declined steadily for the last three seasons.

So you know what, let's not talk about this trade in terms of Rashard. He'll get some time at the 3 and the 4 and eventually he'll go away and we'll have a whole bunch of cap space. Really, this trade just frees up playing time for Nick Young in the backcourt. That's great and all, but man, imagine if someone told you in 2007 that we'd eventually trade Gilbert Arenas to get Nick Young more PT. Crazy.

Sweet Sorrow

Well, Gilbert's gone.

Most of the Zards fanbase is probably happy to see him go, and that makes sense. Gil has three seasons left on a massive contract, one that was supposed to go to an incandescent offensive talent, a fiery franchise player who would fill the Verizon Center in the depths of winter and carry the Wiz into May, season after season after season. Sadly, that's not how it worked out.

Two knee surgeries transformed Gilbert. The lethal long range threat was replaced by a wildly inconsistent shooter who mixes makes with an astonishing number of airballs and hard bricks. The unstoppable force that streaked to the basket is now a step slower, struggling to shake his man and clueless about how to finish at the rim.

Most of all, the swag is gone. Gil used to play basketball like he was speaking a language only he knew. His game was never graceful, but it was coherent and electric and fluent. He knew what he was doing, even if you didn't. Now he looks awkward and lost.

Throw in last year's felony charges and the arrival of John Wall, and the Wizards were desperate to ship Gilbert away, if only they could find a taker. Now they have, and an era is finally over. Everything over the last seven seasons, one good, three great, and three terrible, was shaped by Gilbert. He and Caron and Antawn are pretty much the reason Zards ALards! even exists. So before moving on, excuse us if we take a moment to say goodbye.

Dec 2, 2010

Chalk Up?

The Miami Heat play the Cleveland Cavaliers at 8 tonight on TNT. You should watch.

Forget the NBA and forget basketball. You can even change the channel before the opening tip. But watch the pre-game introductions, because they will be as emotional as television gets.

Tonight is Cleveland's last appearance on the national stage for quite a while. The Cavs stink, their owner is a psycho, and when Lebron left he turned the lights out on an entire city. Not only that, he did it on national television. Down in Florida the Heat may be struggling, but they'll figure it out. Whether or not they win championships, Miami can bank on great, entertaining basketball played in the spotlight for years to come.

By the next time the Heat play the Cavs, the rest of the country will have moved on. Cleveland gets it. This is their "Decision" moment. More than the t-shirts, more than the YouTube videos, more than the jersey bonfires, this is their best shot at letting James know how they feel with everyone watching.

So if you're into catharsis and raw emotion, find a television at 8 tonight. Because it's gonna be a 20,562-person group therapy session.

Oh and if he does this?

Look out

Dec 1, 2010

Too Early to Quit

November has come and gone, which means the season is now roughly 20% over (the NBA: blink and you miss it). Although by no means definitive, each team has produced a body of work on which to reflect and prognosticate. As they head to Toronto, the Zards are 5-11, good enough for last place in the Southeast division and second-to-last in all the Eastern Conference (hat tip: Philadelphia). Among those losses were four discouraging blowouts, while two of the wins were squeakers in OT. Digging into the statistics, we find the Wizards are 26th on both offense and defense in a 30 team league. If you're discouraged, that's ok.

But we know you don't visit Zards ALards! for a daily dose of disappointment. Your high fiber cereal and the realization that law school is 3 years long takes care of that all by itself! Here at ZA we're in the sunshine business, and business is good. With that in mind, your ZA Official Forecast with 64 games left to play:


The guards are the biggest reason to hold out hope that the Wiz can turn this thing around. John Wall was sensational out of the gate (18 points, 9 assists, 2.8 steals per game) before missing 6 of the last 8 games with minor injuries. Gilbert hasn't played consistently in four years and it shows, but in the last 8 games he's flourished (20 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds per game). The engaged reader will note that the return of Arenas has taken place mostly without Wall on the court. Happily, there's no reason the two shouldn't play well together. Arenas still doesn't look comfortable handling the ball and gets most of his points off assisted jumpers (1/2 his buckets are assisted, before the injuries it was 1/3). Wall thrives with the ball in his hands but can't really shoot. Provided Kirk Hinrich doesn't muck things up, this could be one of the top five starting backcourts in the league.


Ok, even the sunshine factory has trouble here. Al Thornton stinks and ZA wants no part of his breakout year. Flip has discussed a three guard offense, but what about a three guard defense? That doesn't sound as good. In theory, Josh Howard (if you forgot he was on the Wizards, that's ok) could be the answer. Before arriving in Washington, Howard posted three consecutive seasons of at least 18 points and 5 rebounds as the no. 2 option on a consistently excellent Mavs team. But he's also 30, still recovering from knee surgery, and has never played with the Wizards. It's just tough to see him meshing with the team.

Best case scenario, the NBA decides to play 4 on 4 after Christmas.

The Bigs

Andray Blatche and Javale McGee are going to dominate the discussion here, because Kevin Seraphin pronounces his own name wrong and Hilton Armstrong has the smallest head in the league.

Andray Blatche has braces. Also, Andray Blatche is fat right now. Also, Andray Blatche is 6 feet 11 inches tall and shooting 42% from the field. Also, one time Gilbert Arenas pooped in Andray Blatche's shoe.

So there's a lot of reasons to dislike Andray. But the thing is, he's also 24 years old, averaging 17 points and 8 rebounds a game, and getting better.

As for JaVale, well, basketball is a game based largely on jumping. And JaVale McGee can jump higher than anyone else.

JaVale's been having a great season (10 points, 9 boards, 2.7 blocks per game), but on Monday against the Heat he was frustrated all night long, fouling out in just 26 minutes. McGee stormed to the bench after his sixth foul, absolutely furious. But when Flip called him over for a talk, he immediately dropped the scowl and began listening intently. It was a beautiful moment for a player who sometimes looks like he's never met the coaching staff.

The truth is, both Andray and JaVale make a staggering number of stupid mistakes. Andray's are usually lazy (defense, passes), while Javale's are usually exuberant (goaltending, attempted goaltending), but they can be equally frustrating. Accept that those mistakes are like the price of admission for watching the funniest frontcourt in the league. These two are very young, very talented, and very fun to watch. Enjoy it.


Looking forward, it's clear the Wizards are flawed. Luckily, so is everyone else. In the East, ZA admits that Orlando, Atlanta, Miami, Boston, Chicago, and Indiana are better than the Zards (at the moment). After that, we concede no ground.

With a high scoring backcourt of Wall and Arenas, productive wackiness from Blatche and JaVale, and Nick Young lighting things up off the bench, Zards ALards! still believes that the Wizards will contend for the seventh and eighth seed come playoff time.

And with that vague and easily defended proclamation, thanks for reading.

Nov 19, 2010

Reader Participation Day!

It's Friday, Thanksgiving is coming up, and if you're lucky enough to have a job, you're probably spending the afternoon on Facebook. With that in mind, ZardsALards! has two opportunities, for you, the reader, to get involved in the NBA's online community:

1. This morning, while happily perusing various Wiz related items over a delicious bowl of Count Chocula and dreaming up scenarios in which the Wizards win the championship (basically, reverse Space Jam), we stumbled across this piece of vicious Celtic fan bullying. What a bunch of gloating gloaters.

Do you think Internet bullying is a problem? Do you wish you could deliver the Celtics their comeuppance but don't currently play in the NBA? Do you delight in introducing dissonant sound to an echo chamber? Well then get over to the comment section at CelticsHub and say something! Feel free to read my defense of the Zards for inspiration (comment #36, in case by the time you get there the wall is flooded with pro Wiz posts, a likely likelihood). If ZA nation can muster three pro-Wizards comments, we'll declare a national holiday. Posts in the form of haiku count for two.

2. Apparently Antonio Daniels, former Wizards great, is playing for the DLeague's Texas Legends as he attempts to bounce back from a 2009 knee surgery. Last night he scored 19 points in a heartbreaking loss to last year's DLeague champs, the Rio Grande Vipers.

In honor of AD's courageous spirit, ZardsALards! is commissioning our first ever contribution. If you can make it to Frisco, Texas and obtain a one on one interview with Antonio Daniels, ZA will pay up to $10 for the resulting profile. In the meantime, emotional discussions of Mr. Daniels' too brief time with the Wizards are welcome below.

Nov 17, 2010

A Tree Falls in the Forest

The Wiz took it to the Raptors last night, establishing that there is at least one team in the NBA that is definitively worse than ours. So we've got that going for us, which is nice. Zards ALards! was once again in attendance (record with ZA in the building: 2-0, record without: 1-6) taking it all in. This time around we even got to do a little coaching, since the place was quiet enough for well-timed shouts to carry easily onto the floor. Announced attendance was 11,513, but if that's true, those were the quietest eleven thousand people in the District. Sure it was a Tuesday night, with no John Wall (or Yi), against Toronto, but there were tickets on StubHub for $2. Two dollars! Buy the tickets!

The 6,000 or so who did turn out were treated to a tidy Wizards victory fueled by everyone's two favorite Zards, Nick Young and Gilbert Arenas. Nick scored 20 on a number of pretty moves, but the highlight was when he shrugged his defender with a wicked crossover, hopped back for a 20 footer, and could only muster about 18 feet of shot. A glorious airball. Nick Young is a lot like Icarus, always flying too close to the sun. If ZA is the first major media outlet to make that comparison, all the better.

Gilbert also scored 20 and looked wonderful doing it. When he got hot in the third quarter a ripple of excitement ran through the crowd, as if they were witnessing a rumor turning out to be true. It's interesting that everyone involved with the Wizards, including Arenas himself, has embraced the narrative of Gilbert's new role as a complementary piece. But what if we're all wrong, and he's still Gilbert the star? Something to chew on as the season progresses.

As for Toronto, well, Andrea Bargnani is seven feet tall and got two rebounds in 28 minutes. I kept waiting for him and the Javalevator to realize they were staring at precisely the other half of their game and walk off arm in arm. Reggie Evans starts at power forward and averages two (2) points a game. Linas Kleiza comes off the bench whenever Coach Triano thinks there's a little too much passing going on. Sonny Weems and DeMar DeRozan team up to make running and jumping look really boring. The Raptors, they stink.

But who cares? We beat em! And with that, our record climbs to 3-6. Thanks for reading.

Nov 3, 2010

Cartier! For Three!

We won!

Before we talk about the game and join in singing the praises of John Wall, a moment for Cartier Martin, whose triple as time expired snatched overtime from the jaws of defeat. Cartier Martin went to Kansas State and graduated in 2007. In 2008, after spending a year in Turkey, he was drafted 15th overall. By the Iowa Energy of the NBA Developmental League (didn't know they had a draft? Me either!) Martin played eight games for the Wizards last season, earning an invitation to this year's training camp. But the organization remained uncertain about Martin right up to opening night. How uncertain? He's one of two Wizards who doesn't have a profile on the team page. Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, Hamady Ndiaye - they all have profiles. Apparently, for Cartier Martin, they never found the time.

But it was Martin who ended up with the ball in his hands and his team down three in the dying moments of the game. It was Martin who had Andre Iguodala, 6 feet 6 inches of frightening athleticism, closing in to contest his shot. And it was Martin - the D-Leaguer, the 10-dayer, the nobody - who rose nonetheless, and found nothing but the bottom of the net. If Martin doesn't make it, if he's cut this season, if he never does anything else of note on a basketball court, that's still a hell of a memory.

The game itself was sloppy and fast and fun. ZA was there, twenty rows up, taking it all in (note to Wiz braintrust, record with ZA in attendance: 1-0, record without: 0-2. Get those season tickets in the mail!) The Wiz started slow, but it was clear from the outset they could hang with the Sixers. Initially Jrue Holliday thought he was John Wall, and scored 10 easy points in the first quarter, but that was straightened out as the game went along. Nick Young came in off the bench and went to that special place he goes a few times every season, burying jumper after jumper and trotting back downcourt with a grin a mile wide. Nick can be so good, on both sides of the ball. He must be an extraordinary pain in the ass for so many coaches to have kept him on the bench. I hope he gets more playing time. Watching him and John Wall run back down the court yapping and smiling after a bucket is good for the heart.

On the Sixers side, Evan Turner provided a pleasant reminder that Wall was the right pick. Turner hit some jumpers, grabbed some boards, and played solid D (although he got shook the first time he matched up with Wall, to the delight of the Verizon Center). He could be a nice player in a few seasons. But Wall was electric. As long as the Wiz aren't getting blown out, Wall will make them fun to watch. Any time the Wizards can jam things up on defense and get Wall the ball, he's off. One hard dribble and poof! Wall can't really shoot, and he's not great at running the set offense. He gambles on defense and sometimes gets lost. But in the open, at top speed, he's almost as good as anyone. That's the place where Wall can take on the rest of the league and win, and he knows it.

Other than Wall and Young, it's not clear how we scored 116 points. Andray Blatche is officially fat. That butt looked real big in those white shorts. The District fell in love with Yi over the summer ("Yiiiiiiiii" caterwauls everytime he touches the ball. Confusing) but he's not good at basketball. Hinrich is pretty annoying. Javale continues to prepare for the high jump in London in 2012. Al Thornton is TERRIBLE. So, we'll chalk this one up to Wall, Young, and a whole lot of smoke and mirrors. Oh, and the Philadelphia 76ers, they're not good either.

Hello merciless Wizmurd(erer)s of future championships!

Oct 28, 2010

Game 1: Train Wreck

The Wizards played the Magic tonight. None of our players died, or were seriously injured. Also, TNT replaced Reggie Miller with Steve Kerr, so the English language came out a clear winner.

So tempting to end the recap there. But we press on.

In what has to be one of the worst season openers in franchise history (turns out, it was the second worst), the Magic gave it to the Wizards for 48 straight minutes. Every hope the Wiz were harboring was dashed, every fear confirmed.

Under the bright lights, evidence of Andray Blatche's growth as a player last season was nowhere to be found. Refusing to attack off the dribble, tentative with his jumper, Blatche was maybe the worst of the bunch.

The Magic treated the wunderkind, John Wall, with a shocking lack of respect, exposing a dirty little secret in the process. All that speed is useless if your defender can sag five feet without fear.

Javale Mcgee, after spending his summer earning rave reviews from Team USA, looked exactly the same. Accident prone and extremely bouncy. He's like Tigger, if Tigger pouted every time Flip Saunders yelled at him about a blown rotation.

In general, the Wizards were completely outmatched. The only exception was in transition, where John Wall lived up to his billing and filled multiple defenders with the sinking feeling that they were about to be part of an unflattering replay. Other than that, the Wizards made basketball look very, very hard. TNT's analysts repeatedly ripped the Wiz Kids for playing selfish basketball and taking undisciplined shots. But that might be an optimistic diagnosis.

It didn't seem like the Wizards were taking selfish shots. It seemed like they were taking turns trying to create shots against superior players. Maybe that's the players' fault, if there are better shots to be found within the flow of the offense. Maybe it's Flip's fault, if his system doesn't contain better looks. Or maybe it's just what happens when you're not that talented.

In any event, the Wiz have to do this 81 more times this year. At the moment, that seems overwhelmingly depressing. But we won't play Orlando every night. John Wall has to improve (right?). And Gilbert should come back soon, which, if nothing else, will do something about the talent gap.

In case you're wondering, that's the sound of straws being grasped. Tonight was rough.

Oct 7, 2010

Who's That in the Mirror?

Well it's early October, the preseason has begun, and the NBA is beginning its annual stroll back into the the collective sporting consciousness. Casual fan interest is at a high, thanks to the bold offseason moves of an organization in the Southeast Division that some think may now be the greatest basketball team ever assembled. Unfortunately, that team is not the Wizards (wait do they know we signed Kirk Hinrich? They do? Ok).

Nevertheless, the Wizards have received a good deal of publicity for a team that went 26-56 last year. Much of the buzz can be attributed to rookie John Wall, the lightning quick point guard who, at 20, has been given the keys to the franchise. The rest, predictably, is due to Gilbert Arenas.

The plot lines involving Arenas are numerous and tiresome, but to recap: there is his umpteenth comeback attempt, this time following felony gun charges that wiped out most of last season; the question of whether Arenas will ever regain his once astounding abilities following two major surgeries; the painful tension between a former favorite son and a franchise that turned its back on him; and the intrigue of how the new (Wall) will coexist with the old (Gil).

Gilbert addressed this last issue after the Wizard's first preseason game with candor and humility, saying, "Right now I'm out here to hit open shots, teach John the ins and outs of the game, and then eventually go on and move on... right now the city is John's. I'm not here to fight anybody. I'm here to play alongside him. He's Batman, I'm Robin."

A day later Arenas was forced to clarify that he was not demanding a trade or signaling his discontent. Local heavyweight Michael Wilbon ripped Arenas, asking, "How can Gilbert Arenas drama possibly start this early?" The hostile reaction to such gracious, professional comments highlights a complicated relationship between Arenas and the media.

Ages ago, when his star was still ascendant, Arenas was branded a clown who liked nothing more than to put on a show. And what a show it was. The media fell in love with Gilbert, the jokester who boasted of filling out 50,000 All Star ballots for himself (and receiving 52,000 votes total), the Hibachi who cooked Kobe for 61, the supernova who turned his back on his own game winning shot. But after consecutive knee surgeries (the second brought on by an overeager attempt to return from the first), after watching from the sidelines while his team forged a new identity without him, after losing three years from the absolute prime of a potentially transcendent basketball career, Arenas is irrevocably altered. At some point, Arenas lost the joyful certainty that made him so engaging on the court and off. It's doubtful he'll ever get it back.

The media doesn't like the new Arenas, so they've interpreted his comments as part of his latest act. All Arenas needs is a new team so he can go back to his old, zany ways and they can resume writing the stories they want to write. But that's not what Gilbert is trying to say. What he's saying is that he's accepted his mortality. He's not going to have the career that he dreamed of, the one we all hoped for. Sometimes, most of the time, that's the way life works. Zards Alards, the people of the District, the NBA - we all miss the old Gilbert. But if he's ready to move on, shouldn't you be too?