A lot of assumptions and speculations will follow Bradley Beal's powerful words about the Wizards, especially about who he was referring to and what is at the core of their problems in a 36-39 season. Mathematically, they're still alive for the playoffs but as constructed -- namely between the ears -- this isn't a team worthy of a spot.
If by some miracle they back in and qualify for the third year in a row, they'd be headed for an early exit anyway. So what has changed so much that a team such as the Wizards, with a lot of the same personnel and upgrades to the supporting cast, find themselves on the outside looking in?
They were riddled with injuries but that doesn't explain even half of the problems at 601 F Street NW.
They're 1-2 on this five-game road trip, with Wednesday's non-effort at the Sacramento Kings freshly on everyone's minds. They play at the Phoenix Suns tonight (CSN+, CSNmidatlantic.com and NBC Sports Live Extra, 10:30 p.m. ET).
The projections coming into this season was 47-50 wins, a top 4 seed in the East and a legitimate chance to advance to the conference finals. They'll be fortunate at this point to finish ninth and reach .500:
- The basketball IQ already is on summer vacation. Only so much can be put on coach Randy Wittman (will get to him later) but in-game adjustments also are on players. If you're running down the floor after a long rebound on a missed shot and you're matched up with Kosta Koufas before he gets past halfcourt and you see Ben McLemore getting a straight line run to the basket unchecked, what do you do? A) Stay with Koufas because that's your man, McLemore isn't. B) Point out the free runner for a teammate who is in better position to rotate. C) Leave Koufas and sprint to stop McLemore from getting a catch and easy finish at the rim. While the second option is viable if there's someone in position to recover and that's the easiest way to keep containment, a rotation still has to happen if one man leaves his to take away McLemore. Option C is viable because there's no need to stay with Koufas that far away from the basket. But these are the type of judgment calls the Wizards repeatedly fail at when in scramble mode and that's all on the players. That's not a scheme. That's basketball 101 and if a coach is required to explain that at this level, your problems are far greater than you think. Too many times, Option A is chosen.
- The butting of heads between younger players and vets hasn't resolved itself. Beal basically said it (Marcin Gortat objected). They've all said it in different ways. But there's a feeling that Beal and John Wall can be difficult to talk with during games. That they are "hard-headed" was a description used to me earlier this season when the team struggled. In other words, when adversity strikes, it's competing ideas on what they should do next and they're not receptive to advice or suggestions. Remember Nene's remarks about young players on the team needing to get their "heads out of their butts" two years ago? It still applies. This isn't to say one side is right and the other isn't. Only the players themselves know the answers. But it's still an issue that was overshadowed because of successful playoff runs the previous two years. The players-only meeting called by Trevor Ariza after a 2-7 start in 2013? That was because players -- admittedly -- had personal issues with each other. Some of those players are still here. And while they'd like to gloss over the elephant in the room, the second they hit a tough skid the same problems return. This season, however, they haven't been able to recover in the win column so the differences are more pronounced. They're not really new problems. These are old problems.
- Communication is terrible. Switching is a necessary component to be a good defensive team in today's NBA because of the three-point shot. Give a good shooter that small window to get off a clean look by not switching and you're playing with fire. Have you seen how Al Horford sets screens? A lot of them border on illegal. So try to fight over his screen or go under without switching, the bucket will be good. The Wizards have proved sub-par at it when/how to switch and help accordingly. Jared Dudley was caught on a switch vs. Steph Curry on Tuesday, just before the first half ended when the Wizards were giving up a 12-0 run to go down 49-46 at halftime to Golden State. Curry smoked him for a layup with 1:13 left. Was Dudley at fault? Was it a bad switch? No and no if they're true to their principles. The scheme required the big in that instance to step up once Curry got around Dudley which was a foregone conclusion, eliminate his path to the rim and Dudley would dive to block out the big's man from getting the rebound or pocket pass. The result should've been a difficult shot for Curry over a Wizards big or a pass for a lower-percentage shot for someone else provided Dudley recovers in time to take away the angle. By botching this rotation, none of this matters. The scheme was working. Curry began the game 6 of 17 shooting. But the lack of recognizing situation and personnel is the fault of the players on the court. One breakdown makes everyone look bad and it becomes contagious.
- The relationship between coach and player has disintegrated relative to what it used to be as Wittman's authority has been publicly questioned. Wittman only is partially guaranteed for 2016-17 and after two steps forward with them being in the playoffs and advancing the previous two seasons this debacle represents a major step backward. He has been slow to adjust in-game as well, as noted by Dudley and Wall. Should Dudley have been put in position to switch on to Curry in the first place? That's probably a role better-suited for Markieff Morris or even rookie Kelly Oubre who are long, athletic and have a better chance to stick with Curry and contest his shot at the rim without help from the big. More than one player after that loss to Golden State said as much. It's never a good sign when that happens but this has been common for the last few months. In their two playoff seasons, can't recall it ever happening.
- Gortat had been agitated all season since Wittman called him out publicly for his lack of rebounding in an early November loss to Oklahoma City. He went months without having a conversation with Wittman to hash out their differences and for a long time had no desire to do so. From Gortat's first season in Washington, they've had a checkered relationship. When Wittman would pull him out of games last season to go with small lineups, Gortat didn't like it and didn't hide his distaste for being on the bench in fourth quarters. Maybe Gortat should've lightened up and understood the big picture. Maybe Wittman should've been more aware of what type of personality he has in his center and tried to massage his ego a bit. The latter just isn't Wittman's style and sore feelings will linger.