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?