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Sunshine, Rebuilding From The Ashes, And Balancing Fandom Against Expectation

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Our sun is dying. Mankind faces extinction. Seven years ago the Icarus project sent a mission to restart the sun but that mission was lost before it reached the star. Sixteen months ago, I, Robert Capa, and a crew of seven left earth frozen in a solar winter. Our payload a stellar bomb with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island. Our purpose to create a star within a star.

[long pause]

Eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb. My bomb. Welcome to the Icarus Two.

Sunshine via IMDB

There is no book when it comes to rebuilding an NBA franchise. There are recommended courses of action, but fickle circumstance being what it is, each rebuild is practically a case study.

The Wizards are on their second head coach this season and GM Ernie Grunfeld has bet the farm on a team flush with rookie contracts. Fandom alternates between shades of incredulity, disgust and tortured hope while attempting to cling to their basketball sanity. With the coaching staff being assigned the ether of mid-first round draft picks and John Wall with the responsibility of fielding a new team out of the ashes of the old, Sunshine came immediately to mind. And of course, the thought of Randy Wittman, or perhaps Ted, soberly intoning the opening passage of the film with Wizards mad libs inserted amuses me.

But the simple fact remains that a few years into the rebuild we're still sailing in the fog without a compass, map and occasionally minus a rudder. That causes a problem that may not be readily apparent. If we can't calibrate our expectations as fans, how can we measure progress? If we can't measure progress, how can we justify all the losing to ourselves? So how do we balance our fandom and our expectations?

We judge...we can't help it. When you can't fully trust your eyes or the data you look hard at both and go with your gut. At some level we are aware we have established artifical standards for performance. When we as fans begin to operate on subjective perceptions as objective facts, when we measure and "know" the progress of the team, we put ourselves in a bad place emotionally when the 'progess' goes 'bad', which tends to further cloud our perception and the whole thing snowballs until we're ready to spit nails.

Rebuilding patterned after the Thunder model has its share of detractors, something many fans believe is impossible as John Wall is not Kevin Durant, paucity of home run draft picks etc. But every rebuild is a case study, and when it comes to following any model to the T, Ernie would probably wink, pull out his best Pirates of the Caribbean impersonation and say the model is more like guidelines than actual rules.

Now, everything about the delivery and effectiveness of that payload in entirely theoretical. Simply put, we don't know if it's gonna work.

via IMDB

There are no guarantees in a rebuild, or hell, at any point. When our star rose and fell on the strength of Gilbert Arenas we were reminded there's no such thing as second chances. You build your window and get through it or not. So as the long and difficult process has unfolded, we've been looking for progress, any kind of benchmark to help us lay our fears to rest, and those have been few and far between.

John's growth, Nick's shooting, and Javale McGee's consistency have all come under fire on the way to a 4-18 record. There have been a host of little highs, little lows with the rest of the rookies, the familiar lows for those with more established skill sets and we can't help but despair a bit from time to time.

With Flip Saunders' ouster, it seems there are more of the little highs we have been so desperate for. The increased frequency is a big deal, to my eyes at least. The more often those little sparks go off, the more likely it is they go off closer together, feed off each other and catalyze in a direction DC fans deserve.

When a Stellar Bomb is triggered, very little will happen at first -and then a spark, will pop into existance, and it will hang for an instant, hovering in space and then, it will split into two, and those will split again, and again, and again... detonation beyond all imaging - the big bang on a small scale. - a new star born out of a dying one... I think it will be beautiful.

via IMDB

Watching the reserves go off against the Magic Wednesday night was beautiful, wasn't it? Shelvin Mack and Jordan Crawford distributing and connecting, Kevin Seraphin hitting a mid-range jumper right as my blood pressure spiked when I realized who had the ball with the shot clock about to expire, Trevor Booker finessing Dwight Howard for a quick two, even Nick Young keeping Dwight firmly on the ground when the Magic fed him in prime position in the low post. There was a lot to like. One spark becoming two and going from there.

I refrain from trying to measure the team's progress in the rebuild for the sake of my fandom and my sanity. I don't want to establish the unrealistic expectations that don't do much of anything besides put me off m-e (my enjoyment). The despair is the result of artifice. I can't know what to expect of this team because even the players don't know what to expect from themselves at times.

False expectations or not, I'm looking forward to tonight's game against the Raptors and Saturday night's game against the Clippers. New coach Randy Wittman seems to be establishing an environment where sparks not only happen but are given opportunity to stack, seeking the holy grail of any team: cohesion.

The bench sparked in a big (and pretty unsustainable) way, and the starters (Rashard Lewis the bright spot?) have the opportunity to find some rhythym against a Raptors team missing Andrea Bargnani. Scrape out a win there and look forward to the matchup at power forward, enticing with equal parts anticipation and dread, when the Clippers come to will the American Jan Vesely welcome the European Blake Griffin to the NBA? All I'm sure of is that Trevor Booker won't back down and John Wall will get a clinic from Chris Paul.

If the Wizards can steal one from the Raptors on the road and make the Clippers game competitive there may be something to build on for the rest of the season. For now, my fingers are crossed that the energy level following the coaching shakeup isn't tied to an emotional high and simply that Randy Wittman knows how to play his roster. I never thought I'd say it, but I'm glad he's in DC.