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Reflections on how far the franchise has come in nearly a decade of Wizards fandom

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Washington Wizards v New Jersey Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As a freshman in college, I made a decision that would forever change my life; I decided to become a Wizards fan.

In 2008, watching on my 10x10 dorm room television, I embarked on a journey of fandom. As many of you know, the past ten years of Wizards basketball has certainly been rocky and at times downright painful to endure. But I write this with hope in my fingertips; hope that with one move, the Wizards have a chance to scale the summit of the Eastern Conference.

But first, let’s take a look back at the past nine seasons and see why we’ve never been closer than we are today to legitimately vying for a shot at the title.

2008-09 (19-63) – The Knee: Part 1 of 2

My first year as a Wizards fan had a taste of knee injury that would become all too familiar. Gilbert Arenas blew out his knee in a meaningless game the season prior and the squad was simply incomplete going into 2008.

Take what you will from 2017 DeShawn Stevenson quotes, but he thought the core of (a healthy) Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Andray Blatche and I’m assuming himself, had the potential to win a championship. Considering the team managed to go 43-39 with Arenas on the shelf in 2007-8, maybe Stevenson was on to something.

But the greener pastures never really came to fruition with Arenas continuing to battle the knee that would ultimately end his dominant career and Haywood tearing a ligament in his wrist during preseason. The early woes led to the unfortunate firing of Eddie Jordan, a coach who had done so much to clean up the mess left behind by the other Jordan.

Ultimately the 2008-09 season wasn’t pretty finishing with just 19 wins, but it was when we were all lucky enough to have one of my all-time favorite players, JaVale McGee, grace the NBA with his presence. All things considered, I’d call this a trial by fire initiation as a young Wizards fan.

2009-10 (26-56) – Locker Room Talk

With a new season came new hope, fueled by the promise a fresh start on the court (emphasis on “on”). Ernie Grunfeld brought in the late Flip Saunders, giving him the keys to a Ferrari with a rebuilt engine/Gilbert Arenas knee. The core was intact and JaVale McGee was averaging 6 points and 4 rebounds off the bench.

But then Christmas Eve happened and the off-the-court (emphasis on “off”) activities hogged the spotlight. The now infamous locker room gun incident between (star player) Gilbert Arenas and (not star player) Javaris Crittenton happened. Arenas proceeded to get photographed while jokingly making a gun gesture towards teammates just a day after the very publicized incident.

Needless to say, this expedited an indefinite suspension for Arenas and the beginning of a major rebuild. By February, the Wiz had cleared house by trading Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson, and Antawn Jamison, all within five days of each other.

This debacle can be summarized by the fact that a 33-year-old Earl Boykins played in 67 games for the Wizards during this season (he even started a game in January against the Cavs where he had 0 points, 0 assists, 0 rebounds, and 4 fouls in 11 minutes of action).

As hardened of a fan that I had already become, I’ve tried my best over the years to forget about the 2009-10 embarrassment and all of the Baltimore Bullets jokes that we had to endure.

2010-11 (23-59) – The Savior Arrives

2010 NBA Draft Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Thankfully after that dismal season, John Wall arrived with the first overall pick that summer. Wall’s selection effectively put an end to the Gilbert Arenas era in Washington, even though he was still on the team and playing for the team after his suspension had been lifted in the summer of 2010.

The era came to an official end with trade for Rashard Lewis that December where the Magic and Wizards swapped unfavorable deals. Lewis was acquired in a season in which he was paid $19.5 million to average 12.2 points per game.

Nick Young led the team in scoring, which I should repeat for emphasis, Nick Young led the team in scoring. Looking back on it, maybe we all should have known what was coming in the second year of the rebuild.

2011-12 (20-46) – Mirror Mirror on the Wall

I don’t think there could have been enough mirrors in the locker room for a team led by the likes of Swaggy P (16.6 points per game) and Jordan Crawford (14.7 points per game). Wall started all 66 games of the lockout-shortened season and averaged an encouraging 16 points and 8 assists per game, all while making almost a million dollars less than Andray Blatche. By the end of the season, the Wizards had one less win (20) than millions of dollars that they paid Rashard Lewis (21).

This season, for better or for worse, marked the start of the Randy Wittman Era. Also for better or for worse, JaVale was shipped to Denver and our blooper reel would never be the same.

2012-13 (29-53) – The Knee: Part 2 of 2

The 2012-13 season was over before it began, with Wall sitting out the first eight weeks due to a knee injury. There’s nothing worse than knowing a long NBA season is doomed before the first tip. Despite the best efforts of backup point guards A.J. Price, Jannero Pargo, and Garret Temple, the Wiz lost their first 12 games in a row and lost 24 out of their first 30 games.

Bradley Beal offered a ray of hope in the darkness. He averaged almost 14 points per game in his rookie campaign and give us all hope of a future beyond knee injuries.

2013-14 (44-38) – The Turning Point

The great thaw commenced in 2013-14 with two firsts in my Wizards fandom: Their first season over .500 and their first playoff berth.

All of a sudden, we had a backcourt with Wall and Beal dominating the tempo. We had Gortat and Nene controlling the paint. We had legitimate bench threats in the likes of Webster and Booker. We also got to get excited about our lottery pick from the previous season, Jan Vesely, who showed signs of the freakish athleticism that got him drafted sixth overall from Fenerbahce.

I sat in the very last row during the Bulls playoff series and had never been more proud to be a fan. The Verizon Center was red, white and blue with fan T-shirts and I’ve never heard the fans be louder during the Chick-Fil-A free throw giveaway. Although the season ended with a bit of a sour taste, losing to Indiana in six, the swagger of being a winning team had finally arrived in Washington D.C.

2014-15 (46-36) – “I called game.”

I think I speak for everyone when I say we rode into the 2014-15 season with our heads held high. Our core was still intact, we finally tasted success the previous season and we now had that 37-year-old vet that all great teams need, Paul Pierce.

The Wizards also found a place for the midrange jumper of Kris Humphries, fresh off of his Kim Kardashian debacle. The Wizards marched into the playoffs and, to the surprise of maybe even the Washington fan base, swept the Raptors. Despite ultimately falling 4-2 to the Hawks in the semifinals, we will always remember the “I called game” moment that will forever endear The Truth to his surrogate home in Washington.

2015-16 (41-41) – .500

With expectations sky high, the 2015-16 season brought Washington back to a glum reality. A 41-41 finish would be coach Randy Wittman’s swan song; not bad for essentially an interim coach that earned his four plus year tenure.

Despite the emergence of Otto Porter as a starter and support from players like Markieff Morris, Jared Dudley and Garrett Temple, this season was plagued with injuries. Beal couldn’t stay on the court and Nene was starting to look his age. In an unexpected step back, the Wizards actually missed the playoffs and we were all sent back to the drawing board.

2016-17 (49-33) – The Funeral

And we’re brought to last season, that was full of hope and yet left us with the same deflated feeling. Wall and Beal were continually discussed as one of, if not the, best backcourts in the NBA. The Wizards brought in a big name coach in Scott Brooks as well as bringing a few, shall we say interesting, signings in Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson, and Trey Burke. As we all remember, the season ended in a semifinal series against that Celtics that could have gone either way. That’s all I care to dig up on last season’s healing wounds for now, but let’s just remember this moment as we regroup:

Today – A New Hope

Despite how we all feel about last season, the Ernie Grunfeld Era has come a long way. In one of the greatest sports articles ever written, I was absolutely inspired when Bill Simmons illustrated why the Golden State fan base had a right to boo their owner at the end of the 2011-2012 season. The next year they made the playoffs for the third time in twenty years and two years later they won the title.

With Kyrie trying to force his way out of Cleveland, Paul George in OKC, Jimmy Butler in Minnesota, and an eerily quiet Eastern Conference, the scene is ripe for a Wiz run to the Finals.

The fact that I can even think of writing that last sentence illustrates how far this organization has come.