There's a big Washington Wizards spread in this week's Sports Illustrated (not online yet), which is very much worth reading in print. S.L. Price wrote about the team's rise, John Wall's maturation and Washington D.C.'s tendency to hype up young players too quickly. There are a ton of odd Washington D.C. analogies, but otherwise, it's a fantastic piece.
Some key lines:
John Wall thinks the Wizards should have been much better: From the story:
"We could've easily been a 55-win team. We let 15, 20 games go into overtime or everybody was not coming out and playing right away. And it all starts with me: Some nights I didn't bring it all."
That's a slight exaggeration, but it's definitely true that the Wizards had more talent than a 44-win team.
That early-season meeting really was a season-changer: You'll recall that Trevor Ariza and Al Harrington called a players-only meeting after a disastrous blowout loss on the road to the Spurs dropped the Wizards to 2-7. It came after Nene spoke out about the team's struggles, saying that the team's young players needed to get their "heads out of their butts." Price noted that there was a lot of fear that Wall was playing selfishly in an attempt to prove that he deserved a max contract. "I'm not going to lie: [Wall] was getting a lot of people nervous," Marcin Gortat said in the story. "My question was, 'Is anybody going to do anything about that?'
It's been reported that the veterans turned to Wall and asked him to explain everyone's role. From there, things started to turn around. Here are Price's words on the impact of that meeting.
"It was a brilliant veteran move, if only because Wall wasn't going anywhere. But now he wouldn't be able to have it both ways, couldn't defer to older teammates while holding all their fates in his hands. By translating the clout endowned by status and contract into pure basketball terms, by explicitly ceding him leadership, Wall's teammates made him assume the full responsibility of stardom for the first time."
Ted Leonsis is still defiant: The Wizards' owner never misses an opportunity to nod to his team's critics. From the end of the story:
"That we were able to trade Gilbert Arenas for Rashard Lewis, then for Rashard to get [Emeka] Okafor and Ariza -- and then from that one end up with Gortat? We have Gortat and Ariza, two starters, for Gilbert Arenas, who's been out of the league for several years. And that trade was unbelievably criticized. Why? We got two starters!"
There's much more, but I don't want to spoil it. Buy the issue and read the whole thing.
(UPDATE: Dan Steinberg has more excerpts here).