Professional sports is one of the few areas where we tend to side with ownership over the employees. When Larry Hughes and I started doing the Bleav in Wizards podcast, there were more than a few people who clearly hadn’t gotten over Hughes leaving and going to the Cleveland Cavaliers after the 2004-05 season. They said some pretty terrible stuff about him as a person.
As we’ve addressed on the show numerous times, Hughes really liked playing in D.C. and did not want to leave the Washington Wizards. He said as much at the time and many of those teammates are still some of his closest friends from his time in the NBA. As fans, we often just accept the narrative the team puts out because they’re typically the loudest, most frequent voice we hear from.
The narrative around Hughes was that the Wizards made him an offer and he wanted to leave. The truth was, they drastically lowballed him and forced his hand. So why is that relevant now? I keep seeing posts and comments blaming Bradley Beal for the Wizards’ personnel decisions.
While Beal surely has some influence, the organization is ultimately responsible at the end of the day. I think it’s time we stop giving ownership, the front office, and the coaching staff a free pass for their role in things.
Would the team be better if Russell Westbrook turned the ball over less? Of course. Would the team be better if Bradley Beal locked in more defensively? Absolutely. Would the team be better if Davis Bertans didn’t look like the Monstars stole his powers? You better believe it.
But I don’t think Westbrook is suddenly loafing for the first time in his career. He’s been injured and I can promise he didn’t want that to happen. And the team might have performed better if he had rested until he was fully healthy. But we shouldn’t crush a guy for that. We should want guys who want to play. Maybe the team didn’t bench him because they were scared to offend him or thought it was better marketing to have him out there. Whatever the reason, that’s their fault and not his.
It would be preferable if Bradley Beal didn’t look pouty on the bench during a nationally televised game. It would be preferable if he wasn’t calling out the team’s lack of defense and then not playing much himself. But he’s frustrated because he cares, not because he’s checked out. Yes, it could have been done behind closed doors but I can’t say I can blame him. I can barely hold back my frustration watching them from home so I can’t sit here and tell you I’d be the model of decorum if I was living through this chaos firsthand.
Let’s say you’re going to the Chipotle by Gallery Place to grab dinner. The person taking your order messes it up and doesn’t seem to care when you correct them, they’ve run out of every protein except barbacoa, the person who is supposed to wrap your burrito does a terrible job and your ingredients spill out all over the counter, and the cashier has no idea how to work the cash register and gives you the wrong change.
All of those individuals could have done a better job. Each one of them might have annoyed you. But when that many things are wrong at a business it’s generally because they’re mismanaged. The store’s general manager needs to make sure they have enough of the ingredients they need. The shift manager needs to be working with them to correct their mistakes or sending home employees with bad attitudes.
They need to ensure new employees are properly trained or employees are placed at stations that maximize their skill sets. The guy who is bad with numbers probably shouldn’t be the one working the register. If you do those types of things in a business, you are setting yourself up for failure. People will eventually stop coming and maybe if they start to take a financial hit they’ll realize it’s finally time to make some changes.
An NBA team is likely only going to increase in value so I’m not sure Ted Leonsis will ever feel the wallet pressure necessary to force change. But maybe enough a strong enough fan reaction or media attention can help force his hand.
As easy as it is to just blame everything we see on the people out on the court, we should be mad at the establishment. For example, Troy Brown Jr. has taken a lot of heat from fans for his play over the last season or two. But I don’t think he’s been set up for success.
One year he’s told he’s going to be a 3-and-D wing, then he’s a back-up point guard, then they told him during training camp to be ready to play as a small-ball power forward, and then they’re back to him as a 3-and-D wing again. That’s like taking the Chipotle employee who isn’t good with numbers and trying him at every station before finally deciding to let him work the register again.
If a coach is mad that his players play too many video games and don’t watch enough film, then he should do something about it. If a coach repeatedly says the team needs more urgency and hustle, then he shouldn’t leave the players who routinely show the most hustle on the bench for several games after their best stretch as a member of the team. If he doesn’t think he has the personnel needed to play better defense, then that’s his general manager’s fault and they need to get on the same page.
Again, I’m not saying the players don’t share some blame here. Someone will inevitably reply in the comments and say, “Brooks isn’t the one out there missing defensive rotations, Sheppard can’t box out for them, and Leonsis isn’t turning the ball over.” All true.
But it’s Brooks’ fault if he continues to give minutes to guys he thinks aren’t working hard enough. It’s Tommy Sheppard’s fault for keeping a coach if they can’t execute his vision for the team. And, most importantly, it’s Ted Leonsis’ fault if Sheppard can’t put the pieces in place for the team to be successful yet keeps his job. I’m not advocating for anyone to lose their jobs but things don’t seem to be working and Leonsis is the only who can really bring about meaningful change.
Accountability starts at the top. Fans are really the only ones with any chance of holding Leonsis accountable so let him know how you feel about the product they are putting on the floor. His other franchises are successful so hopefully that can translate to the Wizards.