A repeated theme this season, including last week when John Wall told CSNmidatlantic.com that he thinks part of the reason that Kevin Durant wouldn’t even meet with his Wizards is a fickle fan base and environment at Verizon Center, is back. Blame Al Horford's father for this one, but he detailed the reasons for his son choosing the Boston Celtics.
This will generate furious responses that debilitates into a chicken-vs.-egg argument (again). Are the Wizards at fault because they haven’t competed for championships or is it a passive atmosphere to be expected in a transient city such as D.C.?
The Wizards and Celtics were among the final two destinations that Horford, the four-time All-Star forward-center, considered before making his decision Saturday night. Why did Horford opt to leave Atlanta, a team that he led to the playoffs every season since being drafted there in 2007, and choose Boston? The Hawks won a franchise-record 60 games in 2014-15. What was important to him when making his decision? It was those very intangibles.
While Durant, who chose the Golden State Warriors on Monday, hasn't been definitive about his reasons for not choosing his hometown, Tito Horford broke down how the lacksaidaiscal fan support at Phillips Arena in Atlanta, the rabid support he saw when playing on the road in Boston and how that all mattered:
There wasn’t as much motivation for him when he saw all the empty seats when they were winning. He said to me, ‘Dad, when we were playing Boston, they were down 15 points and they were cheering their team like they were winning the game. They’re so into the game.’ This is special for us, especially for him.
Players notice. They talk about it to each other and it matters when players such as Horford make his decision. While Boston has a long championship history, in large part because they were able to fleece financially struggling franchises out of their best players, the current Celtics haven't been more successful than the Wizards. They've won 18 fewer games in the last three years and while both have made two playoff appearances in the same span the Wizards have done something they haven't which is advance out of the first round.
The criticisms of Wall for pointing this out are unfair. He didn't say anything that wasn't already known. He’s just honest about it. When splitting hairs between D.C. and Boston, which had the same max offers of $113 million over four years, this sort of thing mattered. The Hawks owned Horford’s Bird rights and could’ve offered him an extra year and higher raises each year of the deal and he passed up the extra $30 million-$40 million.
Ignoring these elephants in the room won’t make them go away. The only way to minimize them is to be Golden State good, and now that they've added Durant that might be too much of a task even for defending champion Cleveland.
Tomorrow’s free agent doesn’t care about the dysfunction of yesteryear, or that this franchise hasn’t won 50 games in a season since 1979. They weren’t born. They don't even care about Jan Vesely being the No. 6 pick in 2011. They care about what they experience when they come to the arena today. They want as much money as they can get on the market and they want to win (not necessarily in that order). Wall being booed loudly at the end of a close game while shooting free throws -- against Boston, no less -- stays in the back of the minds of free agents on the other team you might want to get in your colors one day.
Yes, the Wizards need to be better on the court though the deck will be stacked against them since they didn't land a third star this summer. And so does their support system, from the front office to the development by coaching staff led by Scott Brooks and to ownership providing the tools.
This includes a real home-court advantage, too. Durant went on record earlier this season to voice his displeasure over being cheered for while he wore an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform. Horford's father has brought up a similar point. The Wizards' two best players, Wall and Bradley Beal, haven't hidden their displeasure for what they perceive as disrespect. And this is all contrived or blown out of proportion? Not when they go out of their way to bring it without being prompted to do so. If you root for any team and it underperforms and doesn't give the effort (the Wizards were guilty of this on mutliple occasions last season alone), by all means boo it into oblivion. That's the way you keep them honest. But that doesn't mean cheering for the opponent is acceptable.
There's a much better free-agent class coming up in 2017. Show those players when they come to Verizon Center that side of D.C. and those chances won't be as strong as they could've been.
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