Ted Leonsis took over the Wizards in the summer of 2010, having purchased the club from the Pollin family following patriarch Abe's death. The Wizards have a .313 winning percentage since the takeover. Washington hasn't made the playoffs since 2008, hasn't won a playoff series since 2005 and hasn't won 50 or more games since 1979. It's a pretty hapless franchise, all told.
But no more. By dictate of Ted, this team is done with the lottery. From Michael Lee of the Washington Post:
"I'm tired of losing," Leonsis said at a news conference. "It's not a lot of fun coming to games knowing, ‘This is going to be a tough night.' We're just at that point now, it's the fourth year, we've retained our players, we've added players, we've spent a lot of money. And I expect us to be a playoff-caliber team. I think our fan base expects that too and that's the pressure I've placed on our organization, that we have to meet the expectations of our fans - and it's time."
The team was 29-53 last year and added Otto Porter, a 33-year-old Al Harrington and Eric Maynor, basically. What Leonsis and the Wizards faithful are banking on, of course, is that the real 2012-13 Wizards were the ones who appeared when John Wall returned from injury. Wall started 42 games for the 'Zards, in which the team went 20-22. Washington went 24-25 overall with Wall. That's better than the 5-28 the team went without Wall, but it's not world-beater status. And in the stronger East, it might not even be playoff status.
There are a bunch of teams in Washington's position with eyes on the playoffs. As I've mentioned a few times now, I see two spots available in the East bracket, with the Bucks, Raptors, Wizards, Pistons, Cavaliers, maybe Bobcats and maybe Celtics challenging for them. I think the No. 8 team in the East will be at .500 this season. Some of the mentioned competitors will have bad seasons, fewer than 30 wins, but a couple of them will be good enough to get to 40 or 41. The Wizards with Wall went 24-25 overall and 20-22 with him as a starter last season.
Is Leonsis being reasonable in expecting improvement from Bradley Beal and the already quite good Wall, impact from Maynor and a contribution from Porter to get the Wizards a few games better despite the loss (potentially the extended loss) of Emeka Okafor?
I think it's a big ask for this club. An ask would be reasonable; an expectation, a line in the sand is, in my opinion, is a step too far. But it's Leonsis's millions financing the team, so he can have whatever standards he chooses, no matter how reasonable, of it.
Just don't be surprised when teams like the Pistons and Cavaliers, who actually added major free agents like Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack, grab those final playoff spots over the team that added Al Harrington and Eric Maynor. Investing in Wall long-term isn't the sort of investment that turns a bad team into a good one now, no matter how much it boosts the expense sheet.
(Disclosure: Leonsis is a former investor in Vox Media, the parent company of SB Nation, and SB Nation has a partnership with the Leonsis-led Monumental Network.)
False Equivalence In Blazerland
Speaking of injury curses, the poor little Blazers face the loss of rookie C.J. McCollum after the Lehigh product re-broke a bone in his foot. He broken the same bone (fifth metatarsal, outside of left foot) in January 2013. That's not good. He's roughly the 200th Blazers lottery pick to suffer a bad injury as a rookie.
In the recent past, former Blazers trainer Jay Jensen had come under fire for ... well, lots of reasons. Fans and some writers had questioned Jensen's work as Greg Oden and Brandon Roy had repeat knee and foot injuries under his watch. A medical consultant who worked with Oden separately called out Jensen, too. The Blazers quietly fired Jensen late last season. And now McCollum is injured, leading to ...
So much for theory that former trainer Jay Jensen was cause of #Blazers injury woes. Amazing that the franchise's bad luck continues.— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) October 5, 2013
It's a pretty cute construct: trainer is criticized as allegations of poor work surface, trainer is eventually jettisoned, another player gets injured, fired trainer is avenged. The only way in which the construct falls apart is if no Blazer ever gets injured again. Totally foolproof.
Of course, it was likely just a jogged-off comment from Joe Freeman and to a point it's wholly accurate: injuries happen no matter who is at the trainer's table. But there's no getting around the fact that some teams have repeated instances of injuries that wear on and on and on and happen with alarming frequencies, and there are some teams where treatment actually seems to work most of the time. Under Jensen, the Blazers appeared to be in the former group, not the latter. That's all.
Alexey Shved makes muscles and needs to smile
Ricky has back-up now. From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Jerry Zgoda:
Now Turiaf unknowingly has joined the chorus, encouraging the second-year Russian guard to play with more joy and less concern for his errors while coach Rick Adelman just wants Shved to become more "engaged" when he's playing off the ball.
"If Alexey smiles, everything else takes care of itself," Turiaf said. "If he doesn't smile, he's a different player."
The thing is that there are a lot of players this advice could help. And they aren't all Euro guards who control the ball all their lives until they arrive in the NBA. Marcus Thornton, for example, is much different when he's engaged than when he's just going through the motions. (He's never really smiling, though.) I almost wonder if joie de vivre is an underrated NBA trait. Happiness as market inefficiency. Amazing.
What's most delightful is that there probably isn't a team outside of the Kings in more need of happiness than the Wolves. Ricky and Ronny are perfect for Minnesota.
More Shved from Zgoda:
Now he is a year wiser and stronger - "I make muscles," he says ...
You know what changes my face and makes me happy? Russians in the NBA.
Tim Duncan should have taken a business class at Wake Forest
Rivers still flow
The eight Basketball God Commandment is "Thou shalt not believe anything that happens in Summer League or the preseason," but we are now officially monitoring Austin Rivers. The highlights and numbers indicate he was awesome in the Pelicans' opener against Houston and Pelicans coach Monty Williams is saying things.
"I just think he is right where he should be," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "We've heard about Austin since he was in the seventh or eight grade and everybody wants him to be LeBron (James), but he is right where he should be."
Most NBA rookies are bad. That's pretty much inescapable truth; even the very best rookies only rarely make an All-Star team that first year. (The only two to do it since the turn of the millennium are Yao Ming and Blake Griffin.) Austin Rivers was not just a rookie last season, but he was a young (19) rookie on a bad team. Of course he looked horrid. Because he came in with pretty high expectations as a No. 10 pick, son of a very good coach and Duke product, the disaster he was on the court was even more of a disappointment.
NBA lore is filled with guys who were very rough as rookies, but came into their own soon after. The guy in front of Rivers in the Pelicans' rotation, Jrue Holiday, is a pretty good example: he didn't make either All-Rookie team in 2010, finishing behind Omri Casspi, Darren Collison, DeJuan Blair, Jonny Flynn (!), Jonas Jerebko and others on that ballot. Yet he made the All-Star Game in his fourth season, something only one of the 10 players (James Harden) on those All-Rookie teams can claim.
Rivers has time.
Cap that coach
Five Zillerbucks to the best caption for this Mike D'Antoni photo.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
The low bar to clear is my offering. "Say, you look like you could play power forward ..."