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Podcast: Larry Hughes sees “red flags” from the Wizards, but it’s not time to panic yet

Hughes is concerned by the team’s rotations and players’ body language so far this season.

Washington Wizards v Philadelphia 76ers
Bradley Beal reacts after a foul call against Philadelphia
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Yes, it’s early in the season. Yes, training camp and preseason were rushed. It would be totally understandable to be 0-3 after playing two solid teams if the Wizards just looked rusty and disorganized.

But the way they’ve lost those games has gotten a lot of attention from fans and pundits. After benching players with hot hands and odd lineup combinations that lose leads, head coach Scott Brooks should not be free from criticism, no matter how early it is.

When asked about some of his less conventional lineups, Brooks attributed them to early season experimentation. But when asked why Raul Neto didn’t get back in the Game 2, he blamed it on the pre-established rotation. So which is it? Is Brooks still tinkering or is he locked into rotations already?

Therefore, I can understand why Albert and some of you may be panicking already from a fan perspective. I though a player’s perspective on the situation might help provide some additional insight.

I asked former Wizard Larry Hughes about the Wizards’ 0-3 start and their issues on the latest Bleav in Wizards podcast. Hughes spent 13 years in the NBA and played for a half dozen coaches so he would know much better than any of us if what we’ve seen so far makes sense.

I asked Hughes if the rotations through three games have made any sense to him.

“No, they haven’t,” said Hughes. “They haven’t made any sense. We’re trying to figure out what the issue is, if it’s conditioning, if it’s just really early in the season and trying to see what you’re going to get from certain guys. But we’re not getting that information so it’s hard to speak on what the strategy is. What’s the plan?”

I asked him about the lineup of Russell Westbrook, Raul Neto, Ish Smith, Troy Brown Jr., and Robin Lopez. More specifically, I wanted to understand the logic of not surrounding Westbrook with perimeter shooters.

“If you have those guys and you think you want to have Russ play with three other point guards and he’s not shooting the ball well, so in order for those guys to be effective, they’re point guards, they need to handle the basketball. But if he’s going to get the basketball and go, watching the game, I have no idea what they’re doing,” said Hughes.

Not putting Neto back into the second half of Game 2 and then attributing it to the rotation was also concerning to Hughes. Hughes speculated that maybe that was an attempt to keep Neto fresh for the next night, knowing they would be without Westbrook, but still didn’t like the move.

“That’s not right because you fast forward that to the very next game and he balls out again,” said Hughes. “So he just missed an entire half of him balling out to help you win, to obviously give yourself a chance to win the next game. But that’s what you brought him here for is to play basketball. For me to see him ball out the very next game, that puts his coach in a very bad spot.”

Hughes also wanted it be clear that because it is so early we shouldn’t be panicking just yet. He believes that if some of the things we are seeing so far continue for another few games and become trends then we might need to be worried.

“I have to make sure that I acknowledge that it’s three games that have been played but they’re heading toward a trend of settling into a funk that it’s going to be tough to get out of,” said Hughes. “For me, I just see guys’ body language and it’s like they’re waiting for that time to lose that game and once that creeps into the function of what you do, it’s going to be hard to shake that.”

“The only way I see those things being remedied is to make changes, real changes. When you watch the game and you can see body language, and being a former guy, I’ve been on teams where you’re like, ‘oh (expletive), here it comes,’ and that’s hard to shake.”

Sorry to disappoint those who have signed the petition calling for Scott Brooks’ firing, but the changes Hughes is referencing are more related to the team’s strategy. He believes they need to make sure everyone in the locker room is on board and understands the plan for each situation and their expected role. Don’t be surprised to see the players take a more proactive role in those situations either.

“Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook, those guys, if the adjustments aren’t coming from the coach, the decisions aren’t coming from the coach, then they have to figure out what needs to happen,” said Hughes.

Episode breakdown

What is Scott Brooks doing? - 1:00

“Honesty over harmony” - 4:00

What is their strategy? - 6:00

A feeling of expecting to lose - 8:00

Bad body language - 11:00

Westbrook’s play and holding people accountable - 13:00

Westbrook/Neto/Smith/Brown/Lopez - 15:00

Benching Neto in Game 2 - 17:30

Benching the hot hand in all 3 games - 20:30

Their best lineup so far: Neto/Beal/Avdija/Bonga/Bryant - 26:00

When Vinny Del Negro sat Hughes in favor of younger guys - 29:00

Davis Bertans taking bad shots - 32:00

Beal’s play and shot selection - 36:00

Practice’s role in determining rotations - 42:00

Is Westbrook healthy? - 45:00

Hughes posterizing Anderson Varejao - 48:00

Avdija and Bryant being surprises so far - 51:00

Bryant dunking on the wrong hoop - 52:30

What would a coaching change look like for this team? - 56:00

Predictions versus the Bulls - 59:00