USA TODAY Sports
This season hasn't been a rollercoaster so much as an elevator with its cable cut. Has Randy Wittman managed to stop the plunge before the Wizards hit bottom?
I was aware of the ledge I went out on to state that these were not the same old Wizards, though of course I didn't expect the building to collapse underneath me. That article weighed heavily on me when I penned 'Going off the rails at the edge of the abyss', which I completely re-wrote (twice) before I was satisfied.
When I wrote the first article, I offered my confidence in Randy Wittman as head coach and Ted Leonsis' plan to rebuild. Even if I didn't mention Ernie Grunfeld by name, I at least tipped my cap on completely turning over the roster. I withheld my criticisms on roster construction, mostly because it was an issue thoroughly discussed; the pitfalls were, I believed at the time, clearly delineated and it was time to focus on what could go right.
One thing I obviously underestimated was the impact of John Wall's injury. It is truly amazing to me that I never really thought to ask 'Why aren't the Wizards running?' as it became obvious the transition game was absent. If that thought attempted to germinate inside my head, I suppose it got no farther than, 'John Wall is injured. Welp.' I don't know how I could have been shocked that a team built for transition playing almost exclusively in the halfcourt could have been so offensively inept. (Double entendre!)
I touched a bit on this in the most recent Hangout: what good can come out of shoving a halfcourt game down this team's throat the way Randy did? As the team got back into the transition game with a vengeance against the Heat earlier this week, I noticed the half-court offense looked much better than I remembered from last season. Watching Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton and Jordan Crawford all play 30+ effective minutes did a lot to salve the pain of this year's campaign. CSing is looking like a stretch 4 in-the-making, Seraphin is a developing post option drawing doubleteams before March has rolled around and JC just turned in a stat line any legit scoring point guard in this league would be proud of. If the Wizards are capable of playing in transition while being able to grind it out in the halfcourt, I can swallow the memory of this past November.
When I went off in the second article, I did everything but straight demand Ernie Grunfeld be fired. I'm not sure if it was Randy Wittman who decided to start pushing the pace. I like that thought, because I still believe he is the right coach for this squad. Immediately after this quote from Ted's Take on 12/2...:
We have now had to slow down play without John Wall in the lineup, and we are asking players to play half court sets. This is a miss -match for their specific skill sets...[the team] is playing without a starting point guard who can push the pace of play.
We saw the Wizards push the pace of play against the defending NBA champs and win. Maybe Ted, or even Ernie begged Randy to run. Hell, maybe Ted's comments fired up the point guard unit. Whoever originated it, Randy gets the credit; 14 assists and 2 turnovers from A.J. Price, Crawford and Shaun Livingston while scoring 42 points is something fans will gladly accept. Trevor Ariza looked like a new man, before he went down with an injury, naturally. Emeka Okafor played 12 minutes while Jan Vesely earned a DNP-CD. No matter what the case, the roster construction concerns are glaring as ever. This still looks like a team that won despite its roster rather than because of it.
I wrote I was looking for the largest caliber of change and never imagined simply getting out in transition could be enough to earn some of my patience back. Failing to ask the question of why the Wizards weren't getting out and running is something a Wizards blogger should have explored and is my failure indeed. I'm pleased to have my faith in Randy Wittman borne out.
For now, this was the team I expected to see when the season kicked off. But if I'm honest, I have to admit we could be right back in the bad place in short order if the team is unable to follow up on its success. Roster construction remains a deep and vital concern, yet I'm willing to amplify my sentiments from the first article: this is the year the Wizards figure it out and Randy Wittman is the coach to help them do it. Likewise, if change does become necessary, I'm not looking for half-measures. If that seems somewhat contradictory, remember: I'm a fan, short for fanatic and my favorite team on the planet is the Washington Wizards. Logic may not be my strong suit.