For this week's SB Nation NBA themed day, we've been tasked with writing some sort of reflection on a rival. Player, team, historical, whatever it is, just any opponent that we've despised or at least grudgingly accepted. Our site editors struggled with this post for a while, because outside of LeBron James, who few people anywhere like, the Wizards haven't really had one single traditional rival in recent times. For a while, there were the Cleveland Cavaliers, and even further back, perhaps there were teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and more.
But all of those have depended on the Wizards actually being a team good enough for someone else to see as a rival. We all know that hasn't exactly been the reality for the Wizards for a very long time. Even the Cavaliers, while definitely a rival, were more successful over that time span as a franchise.
One day, though, the Wizards will hopefully be good enough to be someone's rival. So, as part of rivalry week, I asked several site editors to look into their crystal ball and think about a world where the Wizards are a good team in five years. When that happens, which team would be their "rival?" Here are their responses.
Amin Vafa: Cleveland Cavaliers
I think the Cavs are the perfect rival in the coming years for the Wizards. Not only is there a crazy-hilarious-enervating-
And now both teams have a starting point guard, a touted shooting guard from this most recent draft class, a desperate need for shooters and a mix of veteran and young bigs, featuring two of Brazil's best PF/Cs of all time. At the end of this season, I won't be surprised if the Wizards and Cavs are the two teams left jostling for the eighth seed.
Thomas Pruitt: Miami Heat
What do Indiana, Atlanta, and Chicago have in common? They're emerging (to an extent in Atlanta's case, depending on how valuable you consider Joe Johnson) teams that made their playoff debuts by playing a surprisingly tight opening round against a No. 1 seed. With Miami a heavy favorite to hold on to that spot for at least another year or two, and with Washington potentially a No. 8 seed at some point in the near future, the two franchises seem like they're on a post-season collision course.
The Heat will be especially infuriating to long-time fans of the franchise due to lingering memories of the Wizards' 2005 playoff elimination at the hands of Wade, in addition addition to the three consecutive first round defeats by LeBron James' Cavaliers. Washington seems to match up fairly well with them this year -- the Heat's worst defender is typically their point guard, who will check the Wall all night, while their best defender, James, will be matched up with a non-scorer like Trevor Ariza or Chris Singleton -- and a greater attention to detail on defense might lead to more competent closeouts on Miami's shooters. With the Wizards' quick front court players and athletic wings, they should be set up perfectly to give slashers like Wade and James problems.
The best part of this potential rivalry? While the acquisition of Nene, Emeka Okafor, and Ariza have significantly aged the team, Wall and Bradley Beal will still be hitting their peak years as the Heat and their Big Three exit theirs. With a little bit of luck, Washington might get the honor of finally giving the NBA's nWo their comeuppance.
Bullet Nation In Exile: Philadelphia 76ers
I’m arrogant enough to think of myself as a pure competitor. I despise simple mistakes, obsessively practice whatever captures my interest, highly value a careful balance of sports and showmanship, fair play, a rich sense of history and a hard-nosed attitude. Mostly, I think that just makes me a sports fan. Therefore, I like (hate) rivals who can play the villain based on those tenets.
Looking forward, it isn’t too difficult to cast a number of teams in this role, but I like the 76ers for a rival. While there isn’t real animosity between the two squads, plenty of games have been unexpectedly hard-fought as the franchises have looked to move on from the previous decade. A new chapter of competitive history is being written, so to speak, and the ingredients for a healthy grudge are there.
- The games are always hard-fought. Remember when it seemed like the two teams couldn’t meet without Cartier Martin driving a dagger through their heart late in the fourth quarter? A good indicator for a rivalry match is that it’s always a hard-fought game, regardless of roster. The Wizards always made those games tougher than the 76ers (or their fans) expected, and came away with some ugly (beautiful) wins.
- Draft grudges are great. With a decent supporting cast around John Wall and with Lou Williams no longer hanging over Evan Turner’s head, the chances for this dynamic to finally come to fruition are on the rise.
- Nothing turns a fan’s stomach more than an important player demanding a contract far in excess of his value. Meet Jrue Holiday. It’s okay to ask, right? He turned it up a bit during the 2011-12 postseason …but while I despise basic statistics, does a PG averaging (and rounding up) 14 and 5 deserve a max deal? Every rivalry needs ‘that’ guy, the one with an inflated idea of his own self-worth.
- Former players switching sides with no love lost? How does Nick Young taste? I loved him when he was here, but it was obvious that he was all too happy to leave D.C. for greener pastures and larger contract offers … except those offers never appeared. If his streaky shooting buries the Wizards a few times, more than a few fans will conclude Swaggy P has something to prove against his old team.
- Dominant star prone to bouts of immaturity and even outright headhunting? Enter trade bounty Andrew Bynum. Congratulations, we’ve graduated from Elton Brand bouncing JaVale McGee’s head off the hardwood from eight feet off the ground to the 7-foot-1 behemoth who ‘refused to go down quietly’ in a playoff loss by delivering a forearm shiver to 6-foot-nothing J.J. Barea. If Zydrunas Ilgauskas being too friendly with his elbows set off John Wall, it only seems like a matter of time before Wall-Bynum gets picked up by HBO. And if a fight breaks out with Mr. #realtalk Kevin Seraphin, John Wall, and Andrew Bynum, with Nick Young in the middle? I get chills thinking about the bad blood to follow.
- Then there’s that whole brotherly friendship between Redskins and Eagles fans. If Bynum builds real excitement in Philly, the city will take notice, so there’s that.
All in all, this a rivalry that, as a fan, I’m ready for. It feels all too natural and I’m ready to talk some crap to my buddy from Philly. But whoever it is? Bring it on, NBA. The Wizards are finally ready.
Mike Prada: Charlotte Bobcats
Now, hear me out. Yes, the Bobcats are terrible right now. Yes, they have a long way to go to not be terrible in the future. But this is five years down the road, and by then, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will have more help in the form of future lottery picks. They will be good in five years, or they will have blown it up and begun another rebuilding effort. I'm leaning towards the former, because eventually, you become so bad for so long that you can't help being good.
(That was the vaguest paragraph I've ever typed. Oh well).
Assuming the Bobcats are good, here are the reasons they will be the Wizards' rival:
- They are in the same division, and while being in the same division isn't that important in the grand scheme of things, it gives the Bobcats a leg up over some other potential rivals.
- Their best player is a fellow Kentucky product, which adds an obvious talking point to all future matchups.
- There's some geographical proximity ... well, at least more than Atlanta.
- Most importantly, their owner has every reason to want to ruthlessly crush the Wizards every time his team plays them. (Note: may be a slight exaggeration).