The state of the Washington Wizards' season can be as confusing as the plot of the movie "Inception" if you zoned out for a few moments in a popcorn coma. Many from the all-knowing talkshow-caller faction, not to mention an assortment of media chattering types, have grown to mock the team's losing record. Now that the Wizards and their rookie sensation John Wall have managed to at least hold serve at home in recent days, the overly optimistic and immediate gratification-seeking portion of the fan base is starting to notice the playoffs are within reach.
Both are "small picture" perspectives. You do not need to have Leonardo DiCaprio's dreamy flair for going in-depth to find the truth. For the long-term welfare of the on-court product, the interested parties both inside and outside the Wizards organization should be chanting the negative version of that famous quote by Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis:
Just lose baby.
With their matinee win over perennial playoff contender Utah on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Wizards have won four straight at home and sport their first overall two-game winning streak of the season. That blinding white hot run aside (yes, tongue-in-cheek), right now even with burgeoning talents of Wall, the 12-27 Wizards are NBA plankton. To become one of the league's Great Whites, they will need to add additional high-end talent and the most effective way is too keep swimming deep toward the draft and lottery waters, not away from it.
Here is a simple truth when it comes to being an NBA franchise: you want to be a true contender or a cellar dweller. The reasons for the former are obvious. As for the latter, unlike the other major U.S. professional sports with their larger rosters, just a couple of prime time players change the fortunes of a franchise. Those squads in the middle die a slow, false-hope kind of death.
Unlike in the NFL where teams regularly go from worst to first within their division, the NBA hierarchy tends to stay stagnant until seismic additions are added. Adding a game-changing option through free agency is indeed an option, but Washington has not yet shown to be a destination spot, especially compared to those storied franchises (Lakers, Celtics, Bulls) or a warm-weather contenders (Miami, Orlando).
That's why the draft lottery is the place Wizards fans should fantasize about. Forget the playoffs.
They have lost plenty, but the Wizards stand only 4.5 games out of the playoffs with half the season to go. Don't get lost in that sort of daydreaming. When teams reach the bottom as the Washington did last season, piling up defeats over the next year (or two) is both desired and necessary. Winning enough to become first round playoff fodder and thereby lower one's chances in the NBA's weighted draft lottery is counterproductive. Just ask any Bullets fan from the mid-1980s to early 1990s.
After a four-year run of playoff appearances, in which they never advanced past the second round, the Wizards were rapidly becoming one of those teams that was equidistant from the top and the bottom. After last season's trials and tribulations, they found themselves in the worst spot of all; a losing franchise with a veteran roster and no likelihood of reaching the upper echelon.
Midway through the 2009-10 season and after Gilbert Arenas was suspended for the remainder of it, the Wizards gutted the squad. They finished the job when they sent the former face of the franchise to Orlando last month. With that, the Wizards secured more than enough opportunity to get draft healthy via their 26-56 record.
The lottery bounces went their way and the Wizards landed the overall number one pick which they wisely used to select the talented and charismatic Wall. The 20-year-old rookie, who dished out a career-high 15 assists against the Jazz, has shown enough game to warrant the choice and the hype despite a series of nagging injuries.
The hope, beyond lightning striking twice and again landing the next number one pick, is that Wall's style and status will have other NBA stars wanting to bring their talents to South Capitol Street. But that's the hope. The "plan" they can actually control is the lottery.
The good news is the team is set up to add high-priced talent in two to three seasons after they shed several large and unworthy contracts. Further proof why winning now should not be the goal.
To be among the best, you typically need a couple of all-star types plus one "franchise" player. Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest NBA player of all-time, but his Airness had the support of high lottery picks Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant to start the run and they came after Jordan suffered down seasons. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the flavor of the month when it comes to up-and-coming franchises due largely to the scoring ways of D.C. area native Kevin Durant. But it is the presence of fellow top-five picks Russell Westbrook and former Georgetown star Jeff Green that gives the potential title-contender praise legitimacy.
Only time will tell if Wall becomes the end-all be-all "franchise" player, one of the other high-end building blocks or something else entirely. Clearly, nobody else currently on the roster is destined to fill the big shoes.
Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Nick Young all have their supporters, but none have the feel of a championship starter and Wall alone will not allow the Wizards to scale the playoff ladder. Seeing improvement out of the largely youthful roster is encouraging, but ultimately not as important as the young point guard's development and the gaining of other promising talents. (Though it would be nice if they could win outside the Beltway already.)
Desiring losses might be a nightmarish concept to grasp for some. Years of indoctrinated group-think about winning not being everything, but the only thing has lead to fans believing that hometown heroes must be triumphant no matter the scenario. Winning the title is the only thing, or at least truly contending for one is, and in this case losing is the best course of action to do so.
Add in the nonstop barrage of modern day reminders to "root, root, root for the home team" whenever you step inside the Verizon Center, and it is no wonder that a "lose won for the Gipper" approach can be hard for fans to envision.
But they should.