School was back in session on Monday as the Wizards kicked off Media Day. There were laughs, daps, smiles, and pictures as the team arrived at their brand new practice facility.
Head coach Scott Brooks looked relaxed at the podium, even though the team is entering a critical season after their disappointing playoff exit last spring. This season, Brooks will be tasked with getting the most out of the league’s fifth-most expensive roster. The raw ingredients are there. He has an All-Star backcourt, one of the league’s best 3-point shooters, and now has Dwight Howard to solidify the team’s presence in the paint.
The challenge now is, can the Wizards get more bang for their buck this season out of this talented roster? To do it, Brooks said the team will need to adjust their approach. “Just focus on us and playing. Stop talking,” he said unprompted as he was responding to a question about competing in the East now that James has moved to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“There’s enough talk. Players and teams that talk are the ones that usually don’t have success,” he said. “The players that just let their play speak for themselves are the teams that are successful, so we just want to just focus. We want to focus on being a good basketball team. A team that plays hard and plays for one another. A team that our fans can respect and come out every night to enjoy watching us play.”
The Wizards got off on the wrong foot early last season after LaVar Ball predicted the Lakers would defeat the Wizards, which prompted responses from both Wall and Marcin Gortat. Then, Wall shot 7-for-20 from the field as the Wizards suffered their first in a series of losses to bad teams. His backcourt buddy Beal said the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers “didn’t want to see us” in the 2017 playoffs. Washington proceeded to go 1-3 against the Cavs, including an embarrassing loss in which James went off for 57, and another in which they gave up a 17-point lead in the final eight minutes of regulation.
Brooks preached put up or shut up, but based on some of the comments at Media Day, the message still hasn’t fully gotten through yet.
For starters, Wall talked about ESPN ranking him in their top 100 NBA player rankings, which released last week. “It’s funny,” Wall said. “I really wasn’t going to say much about it, but if there’s 31 player’s better than me in the league-prove it. That’s all I got to say about that.”
Markieff Morris didn’t shy away from sharing his thoughts on the team’s chances in the East. “I think we’re the No. 1 team,” he said. “Raptors going through a little bit when they changed DeMar DeRozan but other than that, Boston has never been better than us. Record shows, but internally we don’t think they were better than us last year. You know, we just got to play up to our ability and we’re better than anybody in the East.”
The Raptors and Celtics have both finished ahead of the Wizards in each of the past three seasons, and both have not only advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, but they’ve both eliminated Washington from the playoffs. Morris’ statement is objectively just not true and only serves to add drama and controversy to the start of a new season.
The first day of school was nice, full of positive energy and confidence. Getting away from frustrating times will do that, which is why summer is beneficial for everyone. But despite Coach Brooks’ new less-talk, more-action approach, the comments at Media Day show it will still take some time for his message to resonate this season.