There are a lot of things that can be said about the Wizards this season. Much of what will be remembered are the accomplishments such as getting over .500 for the first time in the John Wall era, John Wall becoming an all-star, Beal participating in the Rising Stars Challenge, Beal finishing as the runner up in the 3 Point Shoot Out, Opening up a 34-point lead against the defending Champions Miami Heat, etc. etc. etc. There is much to be proud of and I am sure we will be reminded of these things by owner Ted Leonsis after this season is over, along with the imminent playoff berth and any subsequent success thereafter. Even with that said, I do not believe these are the things that will define this season, but I believe ultimately it's how this team react to crucial, urgent moments that will speak volumes.
Last week, Thomas Pruitt alluded to this mentality and the results of expectations. It seems when this team has had the opportunity to push forward, they have folded. This season has been a season of setting new precedents under this regime but many attempts have failed. Could it be as Pruitt has suggested, that this team is content with mediocrity?
The organization as a whole deserves some blame for this. Save for the beginning of Ted Leonsis' ownership, the Wizards have been so desperate for short term success that they've not only been content with mediocrity, they've purposely sought it out.
At the beginning of the season, possibly without exception, everyone associated with the organization listed their main goal for the year as making the playoffs. Not winning a championship or contending or winning 50 games. Just making the playoffs. After a few early-season hiccups, the team found its groove and by December it was clear that, yes, barring catastrophic injury or bad luck, the playoffs were going to happen.
And perhaps that is the problem, as we saw evident last night. Is this team not showing up to make crucial steps, simply because they are content with where they are? Look at the way the season has played out. The Wizards despite being under .500 were for much of the season already in playoff seeding, but failed on numerous attempts to get over the .500 mark. They were finally able to do so, but then their next goal was stated to be able to get a 3rd seed was followed by a season-high 6 game winning streak, but didn't amount to much because the Raptors were equally hot and continued to maintain their lead over the Wizards for the 3rd seed. Did that motivate them to play harder? Apparently not, because their next stretch, they only won 5 of the next 12 and dropped all the back to 6th place. Certainly it is not easy to win in the NBA, but when that stretch includes losing to non-playoff teams such as Sacramento and Denver, there is very little margin of error and it has been overran with those defeats.
So as the team has come on the brink of clinching it's first playoff spot since 2008, they failed last night after holding a 16 point lead at halftime and lost to the Bobcats, which is the same team chasing them for a non-Miami, non-Indiana matchup playoff spot. When you continue to see this team set goals and continue to fall short, we have to wonder, is this team progressing as it should or are they underachieving? How realistic have those goals been and what has this team shown in trying to achieve these goals? Have we seen increased intensity? Better execution? Has this team played with a sense of urgency that you want in these moments?
These moments are crucial to building a successful team. You want to know if your team can not only handle success, but also respond to adversity and it seems as though we haven't really gotten a clear answer that this team has truly taken a full step forward in it's development as a possible perennial contender.