Manna From Heaven And Moneyball: Where Wizards Bring Down The Thunder

Manna from heaven is one of those expressions that has ingrained itself so deep into the cultural psyche that the original meaning has been largely forgotten, if it was ever learned at all. Serendipitous is the word that jumps to mind, a lucky chance of fate. That's what it felt like to be a fan Wednesday night, didn't it? A night where everything went right in the eleventh hour and the clock didn't reek of garbage time. Wednesday night when the dust settled, it was all roses.

'Stay medium' for fans of a rebuilding team is a tenet on par with 'Stay in the light' from the movie Pitch Black. There were enough emotion-fueled solitary wins last season that no single victory can convince even the hastiest of fans to declare the beginning of a new age.

However, I try to approach each game with as little bias as possible, and I can't help but say the ball movement on offense and the harassing defense were refreshing. I know, sometimes it looks like excessive passing...but I can't help but remember Hoosiers and Gene Hackman screaming for the players to make three passes before they shoot.

Does that cast us in the light of the bellyachers, as we scream for someone to make a smarter play than simply pass? Maybe Flip is just drilling the necessity of making the extra pass deep into the brains of our guys, the way he let John Wall run the offense solo in the beginning of the season. If the fundamentals were really that lacking, or the guys just really not listening...the truth is that it doesn't matter. It looked a little more natural...baby steps. We're just finding out how far this team really had to go.

But all that said:

I hate losing, Chavy. I hate it. I hate losing more than I even wanna win.

Billy Beane via IMDB

We see losses and we look to identify causes while attempting to stay medium, remain objective as possible concerning the state of the rebuild. It gets hard, because we hate the losing and need something to focus on. There's another quote from Moneyball that relates to this problem:

If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.

Billy Beane via IMDB

The thrust of this quote isn't readily apparent. First, it has to deal with overestimating the strength of the previous core. As others have pointed out, 3/5 of our 'contending' core were bit players or injured (read: relatively superfluous) during the Mavericks postseason run. Our guys were spare parts for a real championship team. It was an expensive core a few games better than .500 and so the rebuild started fresh off trading a high lottery pick for Randy Foye and the player formerly known as Mike Miller, or in the toilet, whatever you prefer.

When an expensive, underwhelming core got broken up, what did we really expect? With no reliable depth behind that core (due to its cost), there wasn't enough sweetener on the board to do much of anything other than clear cap space and employ cap space to attain assets. In other words, going Miami Heat was not possible with the way the NBA works, DC is simply not a destination city. The only way then to 'play like the Yankees' in DC was to chuck too much money at players whose production no longer coincided with DC's contending window.

Ernie let players walk, traded others for pennies on the dollar and opened the floor:

I know you are taking it in the teeth, but the first guy through the wall... he always gets bloody... always. This is threatening not just a way of doing business... but in their minds, it's threatening the game. Really what it's threatening is their livelihood, their jobs. It's threatening the way they do things... and every time that happens, whether it's the government, a way of doing business, whatever, the people who are holding the reins - they have their hands on the switch - they go batshit crazy.

via IMDB

A team this young was always going to lose, but let me be super clear; I am not suggesting Ernie Grunfeld is the NBA equivalent of Billy Beane. But roster construction is an issue central to both figures, both used unorthodox ideology to put their teams together. The A's dumped Carlos Pena to make room for Scott Hatteberg because that was the guy the GM believed in. Ernie not signing higher impact players and surrounding John Wall with an avalanche of expiring contracts and first round draft picks because those players fit Ted Leonsis' contract philosophy rather than setting Wall up to succeed from the get go.

I expect that second-to-last statement to raise some blood pressure. Ernie's vision for the team has been often described as five guys who can jump out of the gym but can't play professional basketball. It's been debated, some of us contend that Ernie swung for the fences drafting Andray Blatche, Oleksiy Pecherov, Nick Young, and Javale McGee, and with three of those players being important cogs for the current Wizards isn't that a fairly impressive batting average? And currently? Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton, and Jan Vesely have all shown ability and basketball IQ, not project players drafted more for upside than skill.

But I'll be frank with the quote above...we are invested, to an extent, in the notion that trusting Ernie's vision is madness, Flip's coaching is laughably inflexible and Ted isn't interested in making smart moves to help us contend sooner rather than later.

The problem we're trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there's fifty of crap, and then there's us. It's an unfair game. And now we've been gutted.

Billy Beane via IMDB

The Wizards started after Gungate saddled with declining or contend-now players on large contracts and a bunch of young guys who couldn't stay on the floor. The team looks better one game only to regress the next two but there are signs things can go not only right, but very right. And the team whose rebuilding model we are pathetically emulating, to paraphrase current 'net sentiment, is the team we just put down.

Manna from heaven...it's actually just bread. It was just one victory and good teams dine often, if you will. But when you're 1-12 anything is a feast, and beating the Oklahoma City Thunder is as close to manna from heaven as anything we're going to see on the court this season. Eat hearty.

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