I've got an idea for a King's Dominion theme park attraction three or four years down the line. We'll call it The Wizard's Wild Ride, and it will be epic. A rollercoaster (naturally), a chronicle of the Wizards' road back to the NBA Finals beginning back when expectations were highest, in the late summer of 2009.
Thus, unlike most rollercoasters, this ride will begin near its highest point. Just a few hundred feet beyond the starting point lie the iconic images of a deep NBA playoff run that never happened. Caron Butler pump faking. Mike Miller firing a dagger over Dwayne Wade's outstretched fingertips. Brendan Haywood rejecting Dwight Howard. Antawn Jamison bumping chests with Kevin Garnett with referees frantically piling in between them. A boxing style promotion showing Gilbert Arenas and Kobe Bryant's shadowed heads facing each other in black and white with 'NBA Finals 2010' splashed over the bottom.
The rollercoaster kicks off smoothly (just like the win over Dallas) and then, have you ever been on one of those old wooden coasters like the Grizzly? Where it's shaking like crazy and the part of your brain that's more superstitious than logical is screaming the whole mess is about to fall apart and dump you into free fall? That starts happening and then we're shown picture of the Wizards bench. The view pans around and we've got just enough time to read the backs of the jerseys before the camera zooms in on one that reads 'Crittenton' when the rollercoaster tips down 50-60 degrees, and the ride is on.
A variety of flashes and noises are going on as you adjust to the speed of the fall. One flash hangs around longer than the rest. The Wizards are on court surrounding a grinning Gilbert flashing finga gunz and the floor drops out while you're holding on for dear life as the dropoff hits 80 degrees down angle, believe that feels straight down. Audio cuts in: "With the 5th pick in the NBA draft the Minnesota Timberwolves select Ricky Rubio" ... "Antawn Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers" ... "Big Z will never suit up for the Washington" ... "Gilbert Arenas suspended by the commissioner" ... "Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler have been traded to the Dallas Mavericks" ... "Josh Howard, Al Thornton, and Drew Gooden acquired by the Wizards" ... "Gooden doesn't want to play in Washington" ... "Miller and Foye simply not living up to expectations" ... "A wasted season for the Wizards"
The freefall slows a bit. "Josh Howard providing life for this team" ... "The unexpected emergence of Andray Blatche" ... "Al Thornton playing with real emotion" ... "Alonzo Gee scoring 18 last night for the Wizards" And then back down. "Washington small forward Josh Howard has injured his knee and will be out until at least December" ... "Wizards have yet to win in March" ... "Alonzo Gee has signed with San Antonio" ... "Over twenty players have stepped out on the court for the Washington just this year" ... "D-League call up Cedric Jackson hit a three pointer as time expired to send the Wizards to both a victory over the Indiana Pacers and a tie for fourth most amount of ping pong balls in the lottery" ... "Wizards have lost the coin flip" At this point the ride levels off, the lights die, and the sounds cease as you rattle along, bleeding momentum off into the dark.
An excited announcer shouts, "The Wizards will pick first in the NBA Draft" ... "Washington acquires Kirk Hinrich and the 17th pick in the draft from Chicago for the rights to Vladimir Veremeenko" .... "Ernie Grunfeld has traded the #30 and #35 picks in the draft for #23 and #56 from Minnesota" ... "With the first pick in the draft, the Wizards select John Wall" ... "Asked to describe his style of play, Wizards' pick Kevin Seraphin slammed his fist into his palm" ... "At #23 the Wizards select the only player faster without the ball than John Wall, Trevor Booker" There's life back in the ride, picking up velocity. Images of Irene Pollin's shocked face, a grinning Trevor Booker and Hamady N'Diaye comically staring each other down on draft night.
Summer league begins. "Wall declined to attend, opting to remain with the team" ... "John Wall to Javale McGee looking like a preview of the next ten years" ... "Nick Young with the fadeaway turnaround three" ... "I don't think any of us expected Wall to be this vocal"
And we know where things went from there. Once again, expectations were perhaps a smidgeon too high entering the season, and like any addict, deprived of our kool-aid, we went into withdrawal. There's no doubt we've been up and down like a rotten sub sandwich in a Louisiana bayou after eating a bag of pop rocks...it seems like no matter which way we go we end up in the toilet.
Most beat writers who pay at least a little attention are wont to say, 'The Wizards' future is bright, but you wouldn't know it tonight' in conjunction with 2014 as the date we become relevant again. I know we all have a higher opinion, and for most of us, it's playoffs or bust in 2012-13. An interesting thing about flying under the radar is you can pick up a lot of speed without drawing too much attention. I get the feeling we're going to sneak up on people with all eyes turned to the Clippers out West.
John Wall is going to keep getting better. Dray is understanding the absolute necessity of physicality, and is oh so slowly integrating it into his defense. Nick brought back his totally sweet fro. Book is giving us the killer instinct and instant power any playoff team needs. For all the heartache this season where we've lost to pretty much everybody, we've also shown we can play up to anybody. We're going to have a puncher's chance at making a title run, and if the past is any indicator, it should be one wild ride.