Last week Washington Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard made his way to The Hoffman Show on Team 980 to discuss the team’s current status, including the reasoning behind only making one trade at the trade deadline, the future vision for 2022 1st round draft pick Johnny Davis, and the future of the core of Porzingis-Kuzma-Beal. Sheppard spent part of the interview defending his recent decisions and trying to convince fans that they need to exercise more patience with his plan.
The interview was interesting in how Sheppard presented the direction of the team. He stated that he believed the team was in a good position, while at that time, being in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. He urged patience with Johnny Davis, who going into Tuesday’s game has scored a grand total of 13 points for his entire rookie season so far, while several players drafted behind Davis nearly average this amount per game. If I were a casual fan, who did not know much about this team, I would likely walk away from his interview with some optimism, but that’s not the case for me.
Like many in this region, I have grown up to love the game of basketball. Basketball was the primary sport that I played in my youth, and even to this day I have taken up coaching this great sport and continue to be involved as an adult.
My story is not unique in this region. Many of us have had our share of experience with this great sport, whether we played, coached or have some indirect involvement with the sport. It is no accident that our region has produced legendary players such as David Robinson, Grant Hill, Kevin Durant, Adrian Dantley, Steve Francis, just to name a few. It’s also no accident that this region is home to a number of Nationally ranked High School Basketball programs. The DC region eats, sleeps and lives basketball. Make no mistake about it, the DC region is a basketball region.
With all of that in mind, it’s also not surprising that the same group of basketball fans are simply disinterested in this team. The Wizards ranked 24th in attendance last season. This season, the Wizards are hovering around 22nd in attendance. As a matter of fact the Wizards have not finished in the top 10 in attendance since the 2003 season, which coincided with Michael Jordan playing on the team.
Is it not clear enough? Fans are not buying into what this team’s direction nor the players they are attempting to build around. In this region, we know good basketball and we know when we see a good basketball team with a real chance to compete.
In my lifetime, at almost 40 years of living, I still have not seen this team play in a conference championship series or win 50 games in a season. There are generations of kids who have grown up in this region and have not seen much success from this franchise, so it’s no wonder the team has struggled to attract fans.
But it’s not all bad for the Wizards because according to Forbes, the Wizards netted a $90 million operating income in 2022, which puts them ahead of teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Denver Nuggets who have all become perennial winners over the past decade. Even without the fan support, the Wizards are a huge money maker for Ted Leonsis and Monumental Sports.
After the trade deadline, Sheppard stated in another interview, this time with NBC Sports Washington “The playoffs are always the goal, the ultimate destination.” The Wizards organization doesn’t just state these things, their actions and their results back up this claim. Making only one trade in perhaps one of the most over inflated and active trade deadlines in recent memory, while hanging on to a number of valuable expiring contract is certainly a choice.
Some would argue like Sheppard, that the core of Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle Kuzma and Bradley Beal is sufficient to compete, and that they just simply need more time together. This core has only played 25 games together going into Tuesday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Without proper context, that sounds logical, but part of the reason why this core hasn’t been on the court with each other is because they simply cannot stay healthy. The 25 games comes over the course of an entire year, after Porzingis was traded to the Wizards a year ago at last year’s trade deadline. With two players, Porzingis and Beal, with extensive injury history, it seems the team is not just banking on exceptional play, but to also overcome an injury history that has factored significantly into two of their core players’ careers.
It may very well be possible that this core exceeds expectations and makes this team more competitive, but the reality is the evidence shows, the fans in our region are not buying into the vision of this team. That became very evident as Sheppard has been very defensive and very demonstrative while defending his team’s standing this season.
The organization will certainly continue to speak positively about the direction of the team, but experience speaks for itself, the DC region knows basketball and this team has not done enough to convince this fan base that they have a clear path to being true contenders.
The opportunity that is being missed to bring a true winner to such a basketball rich region is tragic and difficult to fathom. The team has so much more that needs to be given than words to build this fan base back, but when does the franchise and the power that be care enough to make it happen?