I still say Wages of Wins can suck the big one, but there's no denying we started this season with a roster that would have made the screenwriters of 'Major League' nod in approval. Two of the three guys with multiyear, non-rookie contracts are under heavy scrutiny and their names have come up in trade rumors. We have a mess of expiring deals that are easily classifiable as reclamation projects.
In essence, Grunfeld prowled the sewers of the free agency run-up like a panhandler with a duster full of hot consumer knockoffs. 'Hey, you, yeah you. C'mere. I got cap space. Very new. Best you can buy. Just give me that guy you aren't using, maybe some draft picks.' Sometimes you end up revitalizing a player and it feels just like the end of Mulan; 'the flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.' Mostly, when you dredge the sewer, you end up with a pile of s***.
It's understandable after of series of closely contested games against the playoff elite in ORL and LA, then blowout losses to cellar dwellers TOR and SAC, it's easy to run up the white flag. Don't forget, a rebuilding team is playing mostly against itself, because the learning curve is what's paramount, but their own expectations are exactly where it seems like a lot of our players are starting to cut themselves slack.
I could talk about the players' specific strengths and weaknesses, but those are already fairly well diagrammed by other contributors. I do want to address one comment made by Tbonebullets that I feel accurately captures the tenor of tonight's gamethread and the mood of the community:
After watching this game, I’m wondering whether something is really going wrong, behind the scenes. The reason being, Flip’s demeanor looked like he was attending a funeral. The players were junking it up last there on many of the possessions, like they didn’t care enough.
He went on to say he didn't believe firing Flip would solve any problems, I agree, but want to focus on his "behind the scenes" reference. We all look at different factors; his player rotations, morale strategems, playbook, etc. while winding up at the same question: where is his mind?
To be fair, it's not just Flip, and I want to take a look at the psychology that may be affecting players afterwards, but Flip first. I think I commented to this effect already, but Flip is treating pre-All-Star break like the pre-season after being inexplicably rigid through most of November, the rotations are opening up, and hustle is earning minutes. Maybe we can argue too much movement too fast, but it's a welcome change. Conversely, one could say many players who are seeing a decrease in playing time haven't been given a proper chance to absorb a new playbook and defense, but breakdowns in effort make that a poor data point. Flip is starting to reward physicality, energy, and defensive IQ with playing time, and I think it's revealing players who can be the foundation of a championship culture. I could see Wall, of course, with Nick Young either starting at SG/SF or playing 6th man, with Book and Razorblades coming off the bench. I believe in Harvey Dent. And Flip, for now. Free pass until the All-Star break from me. I am in full agreement with Tbonebullets in appreciating that a coaching change wouldn't fix anything, and will go a step further in suggesting it would only deepen the current funk.
It is those breakdowns in effort which are most maddening, and which Flip has finally started to do something about. I believe what we saw tonight is the beginning of the end for the Yi Jianlian era in DC. A cause for celebration for some of you, disappointment for others, but soft bigs, 'perimeter-oriented' or no, have not played a major role on a championship squad in recent memory. (I may be wrong there...but if we're going to have to go through Boston or LA, an Odom-type player is as soft as we can afford a rotation big to be.
I wanted to stay away from naming names, but Yi is the case study for the mindset I'm concerned with. We have a few players on multiyears aforementioned, but by and large, we're a club of expiring deals playing for contracts. The grind of the regular season is setting in along with the grim reality that despite the new owner and breaking team huddles with 'Family!', smart money is on half the faces across from them will be gone by next summer.
Book and Razorblades starting tonight (especially Seraphin), two guys who weren't in any discussion but 'maybe...in garbage time', sitting out the special bigs early-season practices with Coach Banks, are suddenly faced with the proposition of owning the lion's share of the minutes. Guys who figured they had all year to prove themselves to a new coach are exposed to the immediate prospect of becoming trade bait by the deadline. Watching Flip start a project rookie twenty-odd games into the season is like watching your ex date a guy just out of high school after she dumped you, and explaining it as, 'well, he's got what you don't.' Depressing by any standard.
So, where's the beef on effort? I think some guys are overmatched in the roles they're attempting to fill and can't fit on this team. On Wall's team. Which is the point of this season, to come out with some young guys that can grow with him. So, next bit is on Ernie, we were bound to run into ballast that needs to jettisoned. If he can execute the way the more optimistic of us hope, he can execute some trades to get us enough cap room to execute a BOYD maneuver.
It's late again, and I've started to ramble, but my conclusion is this: what seems to be a systemic breakdown in effort and execution is a result of players demonstratively not being able to hack it, resulting in lack of a perceived future which is damaging the oncourt product. And like Prada has said before, there is no surplus of talent on this team, and while Flip is trying to squeeze every ounce of ability out of our guys, some of them are flaming out. Grunfeld's got his work cut out for him, because post-deadline this team's roster needs to shed poundage. I couldn't help but ask myself why I felt such vehement relief when Rook opened the draft discussion, when I realized that it the prospect of releasing bad blood was nearly exciting as discussing the new. Welcome, Wizards Nation, to the pain of full-scale rebuilding.