Congratulations, fellow Wizards fans. We now root for a team that will soon become everyone else's least-favorite team.
Monday's preseason victory over the Bulls made it crystal clear: the Wizards want to be TOUGH and won't take any crap from anyone, even if said crap is a figment of their imagination. It's no accident that Paul Pierce committed that FIBA-style foul in the open court on Jimmy Butler. It's also no accident that Kevin Seraphin stood over Butler later in the third quarter after a perfectly legal screen in the open court. This goes back to DeJuan Blair's words about how the Wizards want to evoke the memory of the old Detroit "Bad Boys."
Just scan the reactions of several key members of the team to yesterday's physicality. They speak volumes:
I love how my boys are already setting the tone about how we wanna play this year.— Martell Webster (@MartellWebster) October 7, 2014
That screen tho... #BadBoys— kslife (@kevin_seraphin) October 7, 2014
"We’ve got bigs now and I want us to be physical," Wittman said. "I thought we did a good job of setting screens. We got called for some illegal screens, which I don’t have problems with. If they’re trying to set screens and they get called for an illegal screen, I thought they played pretty physical." (via Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post)
For better or worse, this is who the Wizards are now. They're instigators. They're loud, brash and cocky. They're going to taunt you when something good happens. They're going to wear the black hat and they're going to wear it proudly, at least when they're not waiving it in Joakim Noah's face.
How this came to be strikes me as far more interesting than whether it's merited. You have to trace this wayyyy back to the Flip Saunders era, when the Wizards were the laughingstock of the league. Every single move since then has been a cry for the league to notice that they are serious. Nene for JaVale McGee? Look, we have a big, angry SOB instead of that athletic tease. Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza? We'll take the certainty of brick walls over the potential of those sliding doors. DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries? Don't you dare try to get over a screen against us!
And then there's Paul Pierce, the man bringing "enlightenment from the learned guidance of a true sage," as the great Paul Flannery wrote. But this isn't a cute wizard riding in a top hat while speaking in a calm voice. This is more like Emperor Palpatine imploring John Wall and Bradley Beal to let the hate flow through them. If Pierce had his way, the Wizards would hit big shots and step on their opponents on the way back down the court. It's how he's become a great clutch player, so how else would he lead?
It's tempting to say there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance, which is sort of true. The Wizards are long on brute force, but that is also to some degree at the expense of wing athleticism and shooting. Which wins in today's NBA? Good question. Aesthetically, some may also prefer a more open style built around John Wall's speed. I get it.
But any quality has a dark side, even ones that don't actively embrace the dark side. Perspective depends on achievement: a successful result suggests confidence, an unsuccessful one means arrogance. On the flip side: a meeker approach paired with success is seen as "classy," while the same team paired with different results is dubbed a "pushover." And thus, we're back at the same standard that'll define this Wizards season, regardless of style.
Just know this: after decades of being pushed around, it's no accident that the Wizards are shouting to the world that they are the bullies on the school yard.