The Washington Wizards remain winless. Perhaps the league's most unsympathetic player was actually defended by some on Tuesday for taking pot-shots at the squad (a team that still sends him checks, it should be noted), and the cover of Wednesday's Washington Post featured a Wizards story with a picture of three fans with their weeping faces covered in weeping paper bags. Hopeful star guard John Wall is a week or two away from returning, and perhaps a month away from playing at his usual speed, and the team has taken to basically conceding games before tip-off against great teams by sitting important rotation players (as was the case with center Nene, and guard Shawn Livingston against San Antonio on Monday) in order for some much-needed injury rehab.
Things aren't going well. At least the team's players and coaches are talking, though, and not throwing chairs.
The Washington Post's Michael Lee detailed a players-led meeting that coach Randy Wittman encouraged before practice on Tuesday, with veterans and youngsters (even rookies) alike being allowed to air their frustrations at a season gone terribly wrong. Here's Lee's story:
"He came in the locker room and began talking and said, 'What do you guys feel?' " rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal recalled.
With the floor opened up, Martell Webster was the first player to stand and Beal said he told Wittman, "You can't take responsibility for everything because you're not the one playing."
"It's a good thing we're doing that because it gets it off our chest," Beal said. "We're holding stuff in and sometimes you feel like, well, you can't [challenge] the coach. You don't feel comfortable saying it to him. But we actually got the opportunity to tell him what we need to do and how we need to do it, basically, and I think we're doing a great job of getting that out."
And, because Lee is one of the best in the business, we get this carefully crafted take on the issues surrounding Washington that go beyond questionable talent and heaps of injuries. Tactful, but completely on point:
And from there, the Wizards let out all of their frustrations about confusion over ever-changing roles and responsibilities and about using schemes that maximize their strengths. Players have tried to stay relatively upbeat while quietly grumbling about lineups and rotations that change each game. They have to be prepared to play 25 minutes or not play at all. Wittman has relied a lot on his intuition, riding hot hands that quickly go cold and energy players who have already zapped out.
Nobody likes showing up to work for the day still unaware of their role in that workday's proceedings. Whether you're on the line at a restaurant, working the maddening retail season, juggling duties at the construction site, or alternately working the service bar or main bar (you hear that [former boss's name redacted] ???), settling into the groove of laid-out expectations is a necessary component for a healthy employee.
Just because these employees play a game for their job, and Wittman is desperate, it doesn't mean the Wizards players can't feel frustrated at the ever-changing rotations and minutes allotments. It's what they do with the frustrations that is key.
Though the Wizards players are quick to note that they have Wittman's back, he has made mistakes. He's made odd choices on the fly, he hasn't been able to come up with offensive sets that put his players in a position to score more easily, and the communication up until now apparently hasn't been good enough to keep the rotation frustrations at bay.
Irrespective of the actual choices, though, Wittman is doing the right thing. Group A isn't working. Group B isn't working. All resultant combinations of players culled from both Group A and Group B aren't working. And when nothing works, chaos has to result until you settle on a combination and rotation that is worth committing to consistently.
Wittman extends the message (Getty Images)He just, probably, has to explain this better to his team so as to avoid a players-led meeting 12 losses into a 12-game season. Because even if he's said it all before, the message wasn't getting across.
Wittman's in a pickle, to be sure. Two of the best five-man lineups for the Wizards this year include Nene up front with Okafor or in a small combo with Chris Singleton, but those pairings have come in limited minutes due to Nene's lingering foot injury. Another relatively highly productive five-man combo featured Jannero Pargo, a player who is no longer with the team, and shot 25 percent from the field when he was with the squad.
It's not going out on a limb to suggest that nobody is playing very well, and few are playing adequately. Nene has hit over half his shots and scored 15.5 points in just 24.5 minutes spread out over two games, but he's pulled in just six rebounds during that 49-minute stretch. Martell Webster has made over 40 percent of his 3-pointers and is playing very mindful basketball, but he needs others to create for him. Kevin Seraphin continues to round off the rough edges of his game as a scorer, but he's terribly turnover prone. The team is so bad that the next player in the "eh, not bad"-line is Jordan Crawford, a player I just can't bring myself to include.
Credit both Wittman and the players. The coach, for involving his crew as they attempt to figure it all out on their particular lonely island. And the players for not turning this into an out-and-out blame-fest full of rancor and raised voices. It's just a game, to be sure, but it's hard to walk away from 12 games in a row with a loss in the books. And even harder to know you don't have a few wins in the bank to fall back on.
Portland plays Washington on Wednesday. Then an angry New York team. Then Miami. Then Atlanta. This won't be getting easier.
At least Washington's on the same page. For now.