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Wizards ranked one of the NBA’s worst franchises in ESPN’s Ultimate Rankings

Not a surprise the Wizards fell because of a combination of a down season, rising ticket prices, and increasing fan skepticism.

G-Wiz, the Wizards mascot walks during a game. Stewart W. Small

ESPN released its annual Ultimate Standings, when NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB teams were ranked against each other in title track, ownership, coaching, players, fan relations, affordability, stadium experience, and “bang for the buck.” The Wizards were 93rd this year out of a list of 122 teams. Last year, they were 63rd. Not good.

This year’s review was particularly harsh, given that Washington fell in every subcategory with the exception of coaching. But even there, the Wizards moved up 11 spots from 105th to 94th.

I’ll let you read Sean Morrison’s rationale in its entirety as to why the Wizards dropped as much as they did. But I think the overall rating is a fair assessment. Here is why:

  1. The Wizards performed below expectations - People expected to see the Wizards build on a 46-36 campaign in the 2014-15 season. Instead, they finished 41-41 in the 2015-16 season. I see it as a good thing that Wizards and national NBA pundits saw a 41-41 record as a really, REALLY bad thing. More often than not in the past, Wizards fans saw 41-41 as an above average year, so that’s progress when you think about it.
  2. The 2016 NBA Free Agency season had little buzz. Objectively, they addressed the bench which is younger and deeper than last season. But like Morrison noted, the lack of a Kevin Durant homecoming prevented them from moving up in a number of areas, like players and fan relations.
  3. The Wizards raised ticket prices significantly right before an underachieving year - I was not surprised to see Monumental Sports raise ticket prices between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. But if a team raises prices by 20 to 30 percent across most seating areas, fans expect a considerably better team. That didn’t happen to say the least. I was quite surprised to see that their price increases were higher than anyone else in the NBA besides the Golden State Warriors, who won a championship in 2014-15 and followed it with the best regular season finish in NBA history.
  4. The Wizards have been relatively strong with affordability and bang for buck in past years, but even that’s weakening. The Wizards started the John Wall Era with some of the cheapest tickets in the league (and this is with gate prices by the way). Now that they have become a middle-of-the-pack team, prices have increased considerably but they remain lower than most NBA teams though they are in a large and affluent market. Still, price increases and performance declines aren’t a good combination to say the least.
  5. Of all their subcategory rankings, the Wizards’ most damning one is “title track” - The Wizards aren’t the worst team in the NBA. But when they were ranked 117th out 122 teams when it comes to being on a championship track, that’s not just a reflection of Wall’s knee surgery. It’s a subtle sign that the Wizards should start thinking about rebuilding in the post John Wall Era. Right now.

How did the Wizards rank against the other Big Four League Teams?

If you want to see where the other Big Four teams in D.C. ranked, here they are:

Nationals - MLB (34th overall)
MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Nationals ranked above average in nearly every subcategory except for affordability. Unfortunately, they lost in the playoffs to the Magic Johnson-owned Los Angeles Dodgers this season, but with a strong roster led by 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper and manager Dusty Baker, they’re in good shape for years to come.

Capitals - NHL (47th overall)
NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Washington head coach Barry Trotz led the Capitals to their second President’s Trophy in the Alex Ovechkin Era. The Great Eight himself led the league in goal scoring. The second round playoff exit to the Pittsburgh Penguins was disappointing, but this team is still in position to win a Stanley Cup in my opinion despite their obscenely low “title track” ranking of 96th.

Now this, I don’t get. How can Ted Leonsis and Monumental Sports be ranked 19th overall for the Capitals and be 77th for the Wizards? I don’t think he runs both of these teams differently from each other, all other things being equal.

The main reason is likely because these standings are heavily based off of fan feedback. Since the Capitals have been a consistent playoff team and have only seen Leonsis as their majority owner over the past 10 years, perhaps there’s more trust with their hard core fans. With the Wizards, Leonsis has only been majority owner for six years and we’ve yet to see the team experience what the Capitals have with a run of consistent playoff performance.

Redskins - NFL (108th overall)
NFL: New Orleans Saints at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t like pitting team fanbases in different leagues within the same city against each other. But the Wizards, despite their fall, weren’t the worst franchise in the area. They came up ahead against the Redskins, who still run this town like Jay-Z’s song when it comes to the sports scene.

The Redskins won the NFL’s NFC East Division last season after an impressive second half run and are off to a good start this season with a 4-2 record. Yes, they may win the division again. Their improved performance on the gridiron is primarily why they moved up 12 spots from last year’s rankings.

Besides their on-field performance, the Redskins remain among sports’ worst with fan relations, affordability, and ownership. Fans are still not willing to give owner Daniel Snyder benefit of the doubt for anything, but perhaps he is turning a corner.

Closing thoughts

Overall, I think the Wizards’ ranking is fair, though I think some subcategories like coaching and overall player talent were a bit too low. Do you see the Wizards and Capitals’ rating disparities — especially with ownership — as something that Monumental Sports sees as a “wake up call” of sorts? Let us know in the comments below.