July 16, 2017

The Quest (Updated)

Nothing like starting a Wizards blog post with a picture of my bus passenger view from the TMZ Celebrity Tour of Los Angeles I took on a Wizards road trip. Tip for the unsuspecting: this tour is a laugh riot. I'd go if you have the time.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post on this blog detailing my plan to make it to all 29 NBA arenas and see a game live, hopefully with a focus on the Wizards as the road opponent. At the time I wrote that post, I'd sat in attendance at an NBA game at 15 of the 29 buildings (the Lakers and Clippers play in the same building; hence 30 teams but just 29 arenas). I've made some progress in the last 30 months or so. I figure it's time for a little update and then maybe some hopes for road trips in the current season.

Before we get to all that, let me say that a goal of attending an NBA game at every current arena in the Association is a little bit of a moving target. Buildings get replaced. I've seen an NBA game live in Charlotte, NC but in the old Charlotte Coliseum (which no longer exists) not the new-ish Spectrum Center downtown so I still need to get to Charlotte sometime. Keeping my results current could require me to take a trip each year a new spot opens if I really wanted to be obsessive about this. Not like someone with a blog devoted solely to being a Washington Wizards fan would ever get obsessed with this sort of a thing.

To hedge my bets a little here over the past couple of years, I've deliberately stayed away from attending Wizards road games against teams expecting a new building. That means I'm not making any extraordinary efforts to visit Oakland for a Warriors game any time soon; I'll just wait for them to move to San Francisco in a couple of years. Here's where I stand as of right now.

The East
Honestly, there's not a whole lot of change here. Since December of 2014, I've attended just one Wizards roadie against an Eastern Conference opponent when I saw them take on and beat the almost hopeless New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. But since I had seen a few Knicks games at the Garden way back when with my dad, I'm not actually adding a new arena, just checking the "Wizards Game" in my tracking sheets (shown above).

I did make some progress here in the non-Wizards category though. That progress is also shown in the tracking graphic above. I managed to take in most of the 2015 All-Star Weekend events in New York City, including the Rising Stars Challenge and All-Star Saturday Night at the Brooklyn Nets' Barclays Center. That means I've now seen NBA events in all five current arenas in the Atlantic Division. Add that number to the seven other current buildings I've visited in the East and I'm standing pretty good with 12 of the 15 covered. Still need to make it to Brooklyn for a Wizards game but I can check the box on the arena for now.

The West
When I wrote my first blog about this subject, my claims on conquering the West were pretty pathetic. I had only visited three of the NBA arenas (Dallas, Minnesota and Phoenix) in that conference and I'd only seen a Wizards game in one of those three (Minnesota). I've concentrated a bit more on getting this goal advanced since then.

In the Southwest Division, I've added the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans based on a trip to see the Wizards take on the hometown Pelicans in December 2015. I've also checked the box with the Los Angeles Clippers (twice) and Lakers with a quick weekend getaway in 2016 and a strategically timed work assignment this past spring. That gets my buildings total up to five and my "Wizards Game" total up from one to four. I'm showing my tracking sheet for the Southwest above and the Pacific below. I'm feeling pretty good about my progress here while acknowledging there's still a lot of work to do west and just a little bit east of the Mississippi River.

So what's next? Well, one of the most anticipated events in the NBA season for me is the annual schedule release. That's the day I get to see which road games are real possibilities for me to get on a plane and go see a new city or re-visit one I've already seen but just this time with a Wizards game on the agenda. The schedule matters because I'm much more inclined to get out of town for a road game on a weekend rather than mid-week. I'll take a Friday game every now and then but am not likely watching a Wednesday game in Utah. Here's my top five destinations this year.

1. Detroit
I have to admit, I have a soft spot for Detroit. I visited or drove through there a few times in the late 1980s when I was a student at the University of Michigan in nearby Ann Arbor, just about 45 miles to the west of the city. At that time, Detroit was ravaged by a combination of one of the worst pockets of the nation's crack cocaine epidemic combined with the flight of pretty much any kind of business from downtown. It made parts of the city into a dangerous and spooky wasteland and it was a place not to be visited unless you absolutely had to.

About the same time I was in school out in Michigan, the Detroit Pistons moved into the Palace of Auburn Hills, an arena more than 30 miles from the city the team was named after. This fall, the Pistons are back in Detroit in the brand new Little Caesar's Arena. So too, apparently, is downtown Detroit. Since I left Michigan in 1990 the Detroit Tigers have built a new ballpark, the Lions have moved back to the city and the whole town has been generally revived. I'd love to see how much. Detroit is my number one hoops destination right now.

2. Memphis
I love Memphis. I was there 10 years ago and would love to go back. Any place that has live music playing at a whole bunch of clubs at once every night of the week is a great place to visit in my book. The FedEx Forum is within walking distance of Beale Street so staying downtown and moving straight from a Wizards win (see what a game 7 in the second round does to my optimism?) to some good blues is about a 10 minute walk. I've actually already been inside the Forum when I was there last. The team (which at that time was just miserable) hosted an open house to drum up new season ticket holders so they allowed you to walk around the locker rooms and weight rooms and play some hoops on the court. Not looking to do that again but I'd love to see a game in the Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock and Roll.

Taking in some live music in some New Orleans club on my 2015 Wizards road trip. Memphis up next?
3. Denver
If I'm making my conquest of the Western Conference a priority, I gotta have some cities west of the Mississippi on my list (Memphis is not; only just not, but not). I picked Denver for two simple reasons: it's easy to get to nonstop from both Dulles and National airports and I've been to both Denver and Houston (one other city that is easy to get to) and I like it better than Houston.  Denver's downtown is walkable, you can get to the Pepsi Center on foot or using public transportation and they have a ton of microbreweries there. Hey, what's a road trip without a little beer. As far as the West goes, Denver seems like the most fun low hanging fruit there is.

Of course now that I've dissed Houston, the odds are the only weekend game the Wizards will have in the central or mountain time zone will be Houston and I'll end up going.

4. Charlotte
The Queen City is on this list because it's the last place that I haven't seen a Wizards game in the Southeast Division and checking that box would mean that I've finally seen a Wizards game in all five arenas in one of the NBA's divisions. Yes, that's the division that I only have to make four trips (since the Wizards are one of the five teams) but it would still be nice to get that one completed. I like getting things completed. I have no idea what I'd do as a side trip in Charlotte, maybe hit the NASCAR Hall of Fame and find some BBQ joint? I'll figure something out if it comes to that.

Pecan Lodge, Dallas. Part of my 2013 D-League BBQ tour. Would be nice to get some in Charlotte too.
5. Sacramento
Just like Detroit, Sacramento's got a brand spanking new arena to play hoops in. And just like Detroit, I'd been holding off visiting until their new digs were complete which they were at the beginning of the 2016-2017 NBA season. However, very unlike Detroit, it's just not convenient to get to Sacto. It's going to be a long flight with then either a second flight or some driving. I'd consider Sacramento a long shot on this list unless there's (a) nothing else available on weekends (totally unlikely) or (b) I really feel like I need to make it to a game in Reno before Kings pull their G-League affiliate closer to home base (also totally unlikely). Can't imagine I'm headed to Sacramento realistically until Golden State's new arena opens and I can visit both on one trip. Still, a guy can always dream.

I'm dying to make a dent in the quest. Can't wait for the schedule to be announced and the season to start. The schedule should drop in the first half of August and the season starts early this year on October 17. I'm hoping for an early or late season trip and I'm hoping one of the spots above is available. If not, I'll figure something else out. There's always plenty of G-League traveling to do...

July 13, 2017

Season Tickets vs. StubHub? 2017 Report

One of the most important non-basketball aspects of being a Wizards season ticket holder for me is getting some sort of understanding of how much the tickets I pay for every year are worth on the open market. Plain and simple, I want to know if I'm paying too much. To that end, for the past three seasons I've tracked the cost of tickets approximately equivalent to mine on one or two secondary market sellers. A little late, maybe, but welcome to year number four of the same series.

Let's start with a recap of the conditions of this experiment. Firstly, I have two sets of Wizards season tickets at Verizon Center: a pair of seats in the lower corner in Section 109 and another pair a little higher up but almost directly behind those 109 seats up in Section 415. My lower level seats are in row E; my uppers are in row C. Both, in other words, are in the lower portion of each section. This is important because my price comparisons here are based on section and row, not just section.

As an aside (feeling ADD today...) I've been asked over the years a bunch of times why I have two sets of season tickets. I started this years ago so I could bring someone to a game now and then without my friend Mike (with whom I share the bounty that is being a Wizards season ticket holder) missing a single minute of home hoops action over at 601 F Street. Nowadays, it helps give me some flexibility in managing the total cost of my season ticket experience while still attending (hopefully) every game. Until it gets just too darned expensive, I'll keep this arrangement for a while.

Back to the controls. In checking the cost of the secondary market, I'm looking for seats that are close to or better than my season tickets. That means to me in the center five sections of the arena and in the lower 10 rows and lower 7 rows of lower and upper sections respectively. I came up with 10 rows downstairs by doubling the distance from the hockey boards (where row A is) figuring those seats are about equivalent below that level; I came with 7 rows upstairs because row G is the last row short row formed by the exits to the concourse. It's a bit random, I know.

In past years, I checked both StubHub and Ticketmaster as sources for pricing. This year, I didn't and of course it's Ticketmaster's fault. I found their site so clunky and awkward to deal with at the beginning of the season that I just abandoned any input from their resale site.

Finally, the timing of a purchase on the secondary market could affect pricing drastically. Buy too early and you'll be dealing with folks that are willing to part with their tickets only for exorbitant prices. Buy really close to the event and you may find prices dropping as sellers try to unload inventory rather than taking a total loss. Buy really really close to the event and you'll find not much inventory at all and be at the mercy of the limited supply. This year, I checked prices once per month towards the beginning of the month but usually about a week before the first day. I'm sure there were bargains later as well as price spikes later.

How much is a ticket to a Wizards game again? Flex pricing makes it hard to tell.
So what gives this year? Let's get right to the big picture results. As I've done in past years, I'm comparing the average resale prices to the per game price for season ticket holders based on the total cost of a season ticket averaged over 41 regular season games. That means the cost of preseason games (which have pretty much no value to me) gets added to a typical game. I did not do research on preseason games on StubHub. If I could delete the preseason games from my package I happily would.
  • Purchasing Section 109, Row E seats for the entire 2016-2017 season cost me $3,400. Purchasing approximately equivalent seats on StubHub would have cost me $4,070. Season tickets are 26% cheaper. Last year the same study revealed season tickets were 29% cheaper. For the second straight year (the year before it was 46%), the gap between season ticket cost and secondary market cost has gotten smaller for these seats. That's not a good trend.
  • Purchasing Section 415, Row C seats for the entire 2016-2017 season cost me $1,275. Purchasing approximately equivalent seats on StubHub would have cost me $1,566. Season tickets are 19% cheaper. Last year the same study revealed season tickets were 17% cheaper. A larger gap is better here. That's encouraging (except that the Wizards upped the price of these seats next year).
On an absolute dollar basis (it's difficult to understand pricing trends using percentages of changing baselines, or the team increasing the season ticket cost year over year in this case), the value of a resold Wizards ticket last year was higher than the prior year, after a one year (non-playoff year) dip. Over the last three seasons (starting with the 2014-2015 season) the cost of a 100 level ticket like my season tickets has trended from $109 per game to $96 per game to $99 per game. In the 400 level those three year numbers are $38 then $35 and back to $38 this year. People pay to see winning teams is the message here.

As always, the devil is in the details. First, the numbers above are what the prospective customer would pay for a ticket on the secondary market, not what the seller would receive. So all you fans (or non-fans) looking to invest in a whole boatload of Wizards season tickets for a guaranteed profit need to remember that the ticket selling site takes a significant commission on these things. You won't make money using the numbers I'm reporting here.

Trend-wise this past season there was one really noticeable one: tickets re-sold better at the end of the season than in the beginning of the season. The Wizards 2-8 start had a lot to do with this; they didn't even hit .500 again until New Year's Eve eve. But another part of this has to do with the NFL, oddly enough. My data's always shown that ticket resale values remain lower while football is being played, especially if Washington's football team is still in playoff contention.

If you were to purchase tickets to Wizards home games before NFL Conference Championship weekend, you'd be paying an average of $76 per game for tickets comparable to mine downstairs at Verizon Center and $27 per game for a 400 level seat. That's cheaper per game than I paid for a whole season. Buy all the games after that time and your per game price on StubHub would be at $132 and $54 per game. Pretty big jump. And yes the Golden State game was in the latter part of the year as was a Cleveland game but there was a Cavs game in November too. D.C. is a football town; what else can I say?

If you were looking for bargains this past season, you could find them. Particularly against less popular teams on weeknights. The lowest prices on my list were mid-week games against the Charlotte Hornets and Phoenix Suns ($31 in the lower level and $12 upstairs). And yes, both those games were during football season. Want to buy just the Golden State game? Well, your per game price is going to skyrocket vs. a season ticket holder but (a) you are not shelling out money for the whole season and (b) you can probably afford a higher per game price if you are only buying one game. That's why there's a season ticket holder discount for buying in bulk. That same season ticket holder will be paying more for that early December Phoenix game.

Finally this year, the Wizards made their return to the playoffs so I have some playoff data to report here.

Now, you would think that playoff reselling would be a sure fire bull market, right? Not so much. Two years ago, I bought extra tickets to the second round series vs. the Atlanta Hawks thinking the same thing. I priced them high and kept them there as the Wizards took game one on the road in Georgia. But the market crashed after John Wall broke his wrist and the Wiz lost game two. Consumer confidence in the Washington Wizards secondary market is fragile. I actually lost money on the extra tickets I bought.

This year, Wizards season ticket holders looking to sell playoff tickets probably made out pretty well. Except for the fact that the whole point of buying season tickets is so you can get guaranteed playoff tickets that is; sure you can make some money, but you probably don't want to miss these games. Why suffer through an 82 game regular season to just make a quick buck when the action heats up?

The results in the postseason? I paid an average of $106 per game for my lower level seats over six playoff games (all wins by the way!!!). My StubHub data suggests that someone looking on the secondary market would pay almost double that or $206 per game. The results upstairs were similar. I coughed up an average of $41 per game. The secondary market price looked about 2.5 times that number at $106 per contest. Pretty good returns if you are willing to skip everything meaningful about the NBA season.

If I'm predicting the future (and I've been historically awful about that), I'm thinking next year the resale market will be a lot more robust, primarily because the Wizards elected to keep season ticket holder pricing the same in a lot of locations in Verizon Center. But if there are lessons to be learned here it's that the team needs to play well in order for the resale market to be hot and the casual fan would get better value for money before the end of January. I'm still upset at the price hike upstairs. I'm interested as to how that will compare with the resale market.

July 5, 2017

Feeling Guilty?

One of the saddest parts to the end of the 2016-2017 Washington Wizards season was the announcement that Phil Chenier would not be returning as the on air television analyst for the team along side play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz. The move was stunning. I can't name one Wizards fan out there who was in favor of this change. Even Phil didn't seem to be in favor of the move when I talked to him after his last broadcast in the second round series against Boston. I told him I wished he could stay on and he responded with a "So do I."

So what gives? Phil wants to stay. The fans want Phil to stay. I'm assuming Steve Buckhantz wants Phil to stay given the smooch on the head he laid on Phil during one of their last broadcasts together. Who the heck wants to get rid of Phil? 

Well, turns out the brass at the Wizards do. Maybe they've got some ringer in mind to replace ol' 45. If they have, they are not saying right now and it (along with what ugly advertising patch is going to adorn the Wizards' unis this coming campaign) is becoming one of the great mysteries of the offseason for me.

Right after the announcement, there were some nice statements from Monumental Sports and Entertainment about Phil staying with the Monumental family and providing expertise in the studio and things like that but in my mind, we've never really received a good explanation for this move. And it's still stinging in early July even after the NBA Draft and into Summer League. It just feels like Ted Leonsis and company are putting one of the best things about the Wizards out to pasture, so to speak.

Look, I've been a Washington Wizards season ticket holder since the 2000-2001 season and these last 17 seasons as a fan for me have been tough. Very little regular season and playoff success with just a single division title (this past season) and nothing beyond the second round in the postseason. I think I've suffered for this team but I got nothing on Phil Chenier. Phil's been calling games for the Wiz since any station started broadcasting a full season on television. This was way back in 1984. That's 33 seasons!!! I can't imagine the pain he's endured watching his old team try and fail year after year and sticking with it anyway. If anyone deserves to say when enough is enough, I think it's Phil Chenier.

So it's about a month and half after the end of the Wizards second round series with the Boston Celtics and I'm at my first Mystics game of the year wandering around the 100 level concourse and lo and behold I find a brand spanking new display on the north side of Verizon Center dedicated to Phil Chenier. And I got to say something about this.

First of all, what is the story here? Was this planned for months and months or was it some sort of compensation move after Phil's departure didn't sit well with fans? I'd love to think it was the former but the initial news was broken so quietly and with so little tribute that I'm thinking there's some serious guilt trip stuff happening over at 601 F Street NW. It's probably too late to change course now (especially now they've rolled out this new piece at VC) but I'd love it if they did and I could get Phil back on the air for a few more seasons. Let him enjoy some team success for a change please.

Who knows, maybe Phil's OK with all this. I'm clearly having difficulty adjusting. In my 17 years in the D.C. area, I've never heard anyone call Wizards games on a regular basis other than Buck and Phil. I love Dave Johnson as much as the next guy and I listen to Dave during the preseason when CSN is broadcasting another team's feed but during the regular season (and to avoid the annoying time delay between radio and television) I'm a Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier guy. Always have been but now I'm forced to make a change. And I'm not particularly happy about it. I'll get over it, but I don't have to like it.

When the Wizards tip off again this fall, stop by the concourse outside Section 112 and check out the tribute to Phil Chenier. I assume it will stick and is not some sort of rotating display through various Wizards alumni or something like that. If there's a guy that deserves this sort of a tribute, it's Phil. And it's nice. It's well done. It's professional. It's polished. There are Chenier model Nikes in there (who knew there was such a thing?). And above all, it's well deserved. If anyone has earned a tribute like this it's Phil. I'd just rather have the real thing.

June 16, 2017

47 Wins! And Beyond.

OK, so it's been a month since my last post. Immediately after the Wizards were eliminated from postseason play I shut down, stopped paying attention to all things NBA (well maybe not quite ALL) and fled the country for Japan. This may sound impulsive; it wasn't. I would have gone to Japan whether or not the Wizards were still in the playoffs. That makes me a bad fan, I know.

I'm going to get back into writing about one of my favorite subjects with a trilogy of end of the season posts. The first of these three will celebrate the Wizards success this year. As disappointed as I was with the game seven exit in Boston, we had a pretty good year. And this is the last time I will ever write about 47 wins. I promise.

One of the first posts I ever wrote in this blog way back in 2012 was a lamentation that the Washington Wizards were one of just two franchises (out of 30!!) that had failed to win 47 games since I became a Wizards season ticket holder just before the 2000-2001 NBA Season. Last fall I updated that post with some more thoughts, although now the bar had moved to 48 wins and unfortunately the Wizards were the ONLY team that had failed to reach that mark since '00 because the Charlotte Hornets won 48 games the prior year. Such is the life of a Wizards fan.

I'm thrilled to be able to write this post, not only because in the 17th year I have been a season ticket holder that the Wizards have finally won 47 games. but they went above and beyond and made it a cool 49. Yes, they missed the half century mark despite public acknowledgements that they were trying to reach it. I'll take 49 for now. This is a huge weight lifted, especially because it came with home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and an oh-so-sweet Southeast Division Championship, the first of its kind in Washington. Can't wait for that banner raising this fall.

Here's how it went down from my perspective.

Win 47: Tuesday, April 4 vs. the Charlotte Hornets at Verizon Center

So this was the game I've been waiting 17 years for, whether I knew it or not. Finally, the Wiz would reach the 47 win mark. But it didn't start out so well. The Wizards post-All-Star Game basketball was at times pretty uninspired. It was almost as if they had decided they'd proved they could win a ton of games pretty consistently (going 18-3 right before the break) and would take going into the playoffs rested with a decent seed. 

It almost seemed that they were right. By the time the Hornets rolled into D.C., the Wizards were guaranteed home court advantage with at worst the four seed. Ultimately that's where they stayed but these last few games meant something. We needed to be sharp at the end of the year and not just take it for granted we could turn it on after the regular season ended. 

It didn't look like the Wizards cared that much in the first half, surrendering a 12 point lead to the visitors by the 24 minute mark. But I guess the team knew more than I did, outscoring the Hornets by 18 in the third and killing their spirit. The lead swelled to 13 in the fourth before Charlotte made a run but ultimately succumbed. 

I should note this was the first in person hoops game for my cousin Ryan (proudly wearing his brand new John Wall jersey in the picture at the top of this post). This kid's now the biggest Wizards fan in Yorkshire over in the U.K. Hope he can stick with it through the lean years, assuming they will inevitably get here again.

Win 48: Thursday, April 6 vs. the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden

A couple of days after the Charlotte win, the Wizards were up in New York paying a visit to the hometown and utterly abominable New York Knicks. Fortunately for me, so was I for my third roadie of the season, a personal high for me.

I love attending road games. But it sure does help leaving the building when the Wizards win. And if there's a place you want to win more than any other, it's in New York. The last time I was in this building was for the 2015 All-Star Game and some guy behind me kept telling me John Wall was no good. I didn't want to lose in the Garden.

This game was pretty much the opposite of the Charlotte game. The Wizards game out strong, building a six point lead after the first quarter, moved it to eight at half and got it up to 15 five minutes into the third. They were dominant through two plus quarters and it looked like the Wizards starters could maybe call it an early night and let the bench finish off the Knicks. Not that they shouldn't have been doing that, with the Knicks suiting up without Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah or Kristaps Porzingis.

Of course it didn't last. The Knicks made a run and tied it up with just less than three minutes to go. But the starters righted the ship again and got the W. I didn't have to walk out of the Garden a loser. Win number 48. Felt good. Never been here before.

Win 49: Monday, April 10 vs. the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills

In 1988, the Detroit Pistons moved out of the Detroit metropolitan area and into the newly opened Palace of Auburn Hills, a full 32 miles from the city that the Pistons are supposed to be representing. Almost thirty years later, Bradley Beal closed the building for the home team.

I went to the Palace twice while I was in school at THE University of Michigan, once to see Duran Duran and once to see Eric Clapton (who was joined on stage by Stevie Ray Vaughan in an awesome and poignant surprise). I hated it. I couldn't believe the Pistons were playing ball all the way out in the far far far suburbs of Detroit. Seemed wrong somehow, although let's face it, those days you didn't really want to be spending time in the Motor City. Overall the building was pretty good to the Pistons; it saw them win all three of their NBA Championships while in residence there.

This was supposed to be a win for the Pistons. Despite finishing out of the playoffs the prevailing mood was that the home team would win one last game in the building for their fans that still bothered showing up to see the team. Bradley Beal was having none of it, scoring 33 in game in which he was both quietly dominant but at the same time clearly in charge of. It was the last regular season win for the Wizards sandwiched between two losses to the Miami Heat.

I was not in attendance at win number 49; so I watched it on TV, savoring one of the last calls of Phil Chenier's career. I vowed a few years ago that I would never go to a Pistons home game until they moved back to Detroit. Next year I could do that if I wanted to.

I get that the Wizards 2016-2017 season seems long gone. But I thought it was important to put in writing the thing that I've been looking for this team to do for the last 17 years. Now I don't have to complain about 47 wins every again.

May 16, 2017

Home Court Advantage

The morning after always sucks! Last night closed the books on this year's Washington Wizards season, the most successful by any account in 38 years. More wins than any year since the 1978-1979 season plus a deeper playoff run than any other season since that year and a division title, the first since, yep you guessed it, 1979. Despite all that, this sucks and it stings worse than any other year that I've been a Wizards season ticket holder, and not just because of the whiny crying way the Boston Celtics sent our team home. This could have been our year if things had broken right. And yes, I know that's a bit of a stretch.

I'm sure there will be lots of what if scenarios floated for this team in the coming days and weeks. Like I'm sure most Wizards fans, I'm thinking about that game two in Boston that we should have had with two good shots in the final five seconds of regulation that would have sealed the deal in that one and sent us back to Washington tied one game apiece. But I'm also thinking about another what if scenario, and that's what if the Wizards had just finished first in the conference. This year we didn't lose a single home game in the playoffs. It's not unreasonable to speculate that we would have been in the Eastern Conference Finals with four home wins against the Celtics.

So how feasible was that this year? Well, as it turns out, VERY feasible. This was one of those years when a low 50s win total got you the number one seed in the East. In this case, 53 was the number the Celtics needed to secure the top spot. There's been only one year other than this season in the past 10 seasons when 53 wins would have gotten you the one seed. In other words, it was extremely competitive at the top and the Wizards finished just four games back with 49 wins. Surely there were five wins that the Wizards could have pulled out over the course of the 82 game regular season to get to 54 and finish first, right? Well as it turns out, there were. Here's how I see the Wizards could have done it.

November 19 vs. Miami

Admittedly, the Wizards had a rough start to this season and to their credit, they fixed it. They are the only team in NBA history to start a season 2-8 or worse and end up 16 games or more about .500. When the Heat rolled into town on November 19 the Wizards were just 3-9. However, the Heat were not much better, sporting an oh so impressive 3-8 record through their first 11 games. This was a game the Wizards had to have and they came out blistering the nets, scoring 35 in the first period (also giving up 33). With two minutes to go in the half, they were up 4.

But then things fell apart. They gave up nine points in less than two minutes and ended the half down one. They then lost the third quarter by eight and got down by as many as 17 in the fourth before trying to come back. Ultimately they lost by just three. To a 3-8 team at home. This one should have been the turnaround game. Instead it sent the Wizards on the same course until later in December when they finally figured things out. This was not a quality loss or a moral victory type thing. This was also not the Miami Heat team that finished the regular season 30-11. The Wizards should have had this one.

December 6 vs. Orlando

If there's a Wizards game that I have been angrier with our team for their lack of effort and desire than this one, I can't remember it. Yes, the Wizards had a worse record than the Magic at this point in the season but this was a team that hadn't beaten the Wizards at all each of the previous three seasons and who had a roster that was and has been since just not talented enough to win a game on the road vs. a presumptive playoff team.

At halftime it was a 13 point game and not in the Wizards favor. By the end of three it was two points worse than it was at halftime. Verizon Center was about the quietest I've ever heard it, a combination likely of there being nobody there really and the Wizards' miserable on court play. At one point I was screaming so loudly at Bradley Beal because of his disengaged play that I sat down and shut up based on the looks the ushers in our section were giving me. Not that I would have minded really being thrown out of that game. On this night, the Wizards didn't even try.

November 16 at Philadelphia OR February 24 at Philadelphia

I get that it's tough to win on the road in the NBA. I also get this year that Philadelphia 76ers haven't been quite as historically awful as they have in years past. But I have to think that the Wizards could have come away with one road win in Philly in two chances.

I know what you are thinking...Joel Embiid is the future of the NBA and the Sixers were really pretty good with him in the lineup. Well, guess what? Embiid sat out both these games. 0-2 in Philly under those circumstances this year just won't cut it. I'm not asking for a sweep here. Just one game will do. After all, as I'll demonstrate if you keep reading, there are a couple of more games I could see the Wiz pulling out. These were also not buzzer beater losses. We're talking 7 and 8 points here.

March 15 vs. Dallas

From March 7 to March 13, the Wizards had an historical road trip, winning four of five on a west coast swing against Phoenix, Denver, Sacramento, Portland and Minnesota (the only loss). Never before had the Wizards or Bullets had such a west coast swing. Surely the first game back at home at Verizon Center vs. the lowly 28-38 non-playoff making Dallas Mavericks would have been a great return back to D.C. and winning ways at home.

Apparently not. A 10-2 start by the Wizards translated into a four point lead at halftime despite a notable lack of defensive focus. That four point lead swelled to seven by the end of three but things fell apart quickly in the fourth. Three minutes in it was tied and four or so minutes later it was a ten point lead, and not in the right direction. Ultimately the Wizards closed late before succumbing by five. In a game like that, playing an inferior opponent at home with potential future playoff seeding on the line and a halftime lead, you have to pull it out.

October 30 at Memphis OR
November 5 at Orlando OR
December 12 at Miami

So I'm not really saying the Wizards could have won all of these games that they lost. I obviously believe in home court advantage. On the other hand, I just need ONE of the three to get to the five extra wins I'm making the case the Wizards could have won. I've already made the case that the Magic and Heat were both either bad all season or in the first half of the season so I'll spare you more details except to say that the Heat boasted a robust 7-17 record before their December 12 win vs. the good guys.

If the Wizards had pulled one of those two Southeast Division games out, they wouldn't have needed to reverse their season opening second loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis to reach 54 wins. And I'm not saying Memphis is an easy place to win because it's not. But when you are up three with less than 20 seconds remaining you can't let Marc Gasol hit a three from wide open straight away center and then collapse in overtime. This has to be a win. If home court in the playoffs is so valuable (and I believe it clearly is), then pulling out game two at the end of regulation matters. I'm glad the Wizards made such light of Gasol's game tying shot and his two additional ones in overtime via Twitter the next day.

I'm for sure not trying to rub salt into the Wizards' wounds here. And God knows I hurt enough this morning. I think our squad played really well during their playoff run and I'm proud of everyone who committed to winning as many games as possible in the postseason. It was the greatest postseason run in almost four decades and the future has got to be way brighter than this time last year. I'm just saying what if...

May 6, 2017

Playoff Villains

I first bought Washington Wizards season tickets in the year 2000. I've been there for this team every year since. In 2005, the franchise rewarded me as a season ticket holder by making the playoffs for the first time this century. That would be the start of a four year run in the postseason that featured just one series win, the very first one played vs. Chicago in 2005.

Once Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison got by the Bulls that first year, we ended up in a series with the number one seeded Miami Heat. Despite the sometimes close scores, it was not much of a series and it lasted just four games. The Wizards despite all their good play that year were no match for Shaquille O'Neal, Dwayne Wade (42 points in the series clincher) and company. It was a domination. After a 4-0 nothing sweep during the regular season, the Heat made it 8 losses in a row in a single season for the Wiz. It was humiliating. And just like that Shaq became my first Wizards playoff villain.

For the next three years, I forgot all about Shaq even while he and the Miami Heat won a Championship the very next year. For the next three years, the playoffs and hating people on the other team were all about LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 4-5 matchup in 2006? Cleveland-Washington. 2-7 the next year? Cleveland-Washington. 4-5 the year after that? Cleveland-Washington again. 4-2. 4-0. 4-2. Three first round playoff losses to the Cavs back to back to back.

So let's be honest. LeBron was generally speaking really good at basketball those three years and that can totally make a playoff villain. But that wasn't it with LeBron. It was the whining, crying, babyish, smug way he won. It was whispering in Gilbert Arenas' ear before a free throw. It was protesting every call. It was telling referee Danny Crawford that Brendan Haywood was trying to hurt him (Haywood was ejected). It was taking Darius Songaila's hand and hitting his own face and then flopping mercilessly (Songaila was suspended). It was all the nonsense that James used to get his way over and over and over again. As if playing the games on an even playing field wasn't enough. 

It was those three years that will make me never root for this guy. I'd rather have JaVale McGee win a title before I see LeBron win another. It was those three years that put LeBron in a category by himself as the ultimate playoff villain. And then it was over. No more Wizards playoffs for six years.

Nice flop, LeBron! Got Songaila suspended for game six though.
2014. New team. No more Arenas-Butler-Jamison big three. Enter John Wall, Nenê, Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal. Two rounds and out. Beat Chicago; lost to Indiana. The next year? Ariza out, Paul Pierce in. Two rounds and out again. Swept Toronto and bowed out to Atlanta. Those two playoff runs were great and when they were over Wizards fans were buoyed by the fact that if it wasn't for John Wall's broken wrist, there may have been an Eastern Conference Finals berth in there.

But one thing they didn't produce for me were any playoff villains. Jimmy Butler maybe due to his tete-a-tete with Nenê that got our big man suspended or Al Horford for his game winner in game five of the Atlanta series. But it's difficult to despise teams you beat handily like Toronto in 2015 and the Bulls the year before and honestly the players on both the Pacers in '14 and the Hawks the year after were just difficult to dislike those years. No villains there for me.

So now it's 2017 and the Wizards are back again in the second round of the playoffs and locked in a battle with the Boston Celtics after taking care of the Atlanta Hawks in six. And holy crap there are so many guys on these opponents to thoroughly loathe it's amazing. There are villains all over these teams. I knew I'd feel this way about the Celtics but honestly I had no idea that I cared enough about anyone on the Atlanta Hawks to dislike them even slightly. I guess it's the competition that bring this stuff out.

On the Hawks side of things, let's start with Dennis Schröder and Kent Bazemore. Both are decent players but they both clearly both think they are way better than they actually are. The whooping and celebrating by Bazemore when things are going well drives me crazy and Schröder even suggesting he's in the same league (metaphorically speaking that is) as John Wall makes me laugh. Bazemore also gets no love from me for the push in the back on Bradley Beal in game six after Beal made a layup. I'm really not sure Beal fell due to the push but the very act of pushing a defenseless player to gain no competitive advantage when he's in a dangerous and vulnerable position is dirty. That could have turned out really badly.

But the guy on the Hawks who I loved to see sent home for the summer was their so-called All-Star power forward Paul Millsap. Since he got his game handed to him in game one (19 points but just 2 rebounds) by Markieff Morris on Easter Sunday, Millsap had a good series, averaging 24 points and 11 boards over games two through five and dropping 31 and 10 in the Wizards game six clincher. He for sure some damage to the Wizards but that's not why I was glad to see his season over. It's the whining, crying and flopping he did on and off the court that's got me upset. This dude's supposed to be an All-Star and one sub-par game against Kieff and he's complaining like the second coming of 2009 LeBron James. Good riddance.

If the Hawks got my blood boiling a little, there's no comparison to how I'm feeling about the Boston Celtics right now. I expected this. I mean there have been regular season in-game and post-game run-ins with Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart the last two years, two role players who use their physicality to gain an upper hand every now and again against opponents. This year featured Crowder poking John Wall in the nose after a game in Boston and Boston police standing between the locker rooms minutes later. The Wizards followed that up with the funeral game, one of the simultaneously silliest, immature and awesome stunts any Wizards team has pulled ever. It helped that the game was a Wizards blowout.

In this series Crowder and Smart have been doing their usual things but honestly other than Smart undercutting Bojan Bogdanovich on a three point attempt in game one and two consecutive flops for fouls from the same guy against John Wall in game two, those two have been pretty quiet. By the way, why don't superstar calls apply to John Wall? How is he getting whistled for two questionable calls back to back? And does the NBA still fine for flopping? It seems like that was either an official short term initiative or they've just gotten tired of fining. 

But there is no shortage of playoff villains on the Celtics side of things. Al Horford made sure his foot was well-placed under Markieff Morris to knock Kieff out of game one before Smart tried it with Bogey later in the same game. But the two guys who are going to have me yelling the loudest tomorrow afternoon are Isaiah Thomas and Kelly Olynyk.

So let's face it, Thomas is good. On offense. I don't understand how this dude hits half the stuff he hits around the basket. The only thing I can think is that his release comes from a spot vertically that is so much different than any other player in the NBA that no defender can get the right angle to defend him properly. But he's also taking his shots when he can under the protection of the refs and the rules I guess. The jumping backwards into Kelly Oubre bloodying Kelly's mouth in game two minutes after hitting Otto Porter in the nose with his head got zero fouls. And the constant yapping from a guy who can't D up makes me nuts too.

But let's also face it, Kelly Olynyk is just plain dirty. And I guess he's smart enough to get away with it most times. Olynyk is going to draw a lot of booing and I'm sure some things way less civil than booing tomorrow evening after his shoulder to the neck screen on Kelly Oubre made our Kelly lose it and get suspended for bumrushing and knocking down Olynyk in game three. But that's not the first time Olynyk has done something like that. He had a raised forearm to the neck screen on Oubre about two minutes earlier in Thursday's game and you can ask Kevin Love about his broken arm courtesy of Olynyk a couple of years ago. I have to believe Verizon Center's crowd will be doing everything they can to make this guy feel insecure tomorrow.

In the NBA, rivalries are made in the playoffs. Forget divisions and the regular season; there is nothing like a playoff series to solidify some hate between two teams. The only thing that makes these rivalries more heated is throwing a couple of guys out on the other team that you just plain love to hate, some villains that you want to see get what's coming to them on every play if possible. We got that in spades this year in Schröder, Bazemore, Millsap, Crowder, Smart, Horford, Thomas and Olynyk, although the kind of nastiness Olynyk is known for has no place in this game.

Game four is tomorrow. Let's tie this thing up, Wizards, then go to Boston and take game five.

April 26, 2017

ESPN NBA Management Rankings

Last month, ESPN released its 2017 NBA Management Rankings, a list of coaches, general manager/team presidents and owners of every NBA franchise ranked from 1 to 30. This is the third year out of the last four that the TV network has released such rankings, starting in 2014 and again a year later in 2015 before the revised list was published in March. I couldn't find anything for 2016 so I'm assuming they just skipped last year. 

This year, the Wizards did pretty well by the folks in Bristol, Connecticut, ranking 12th overall, 9th in coaching (Scott Brooks) and 14th in GM/President (Ernie Grunfeld) with their only bottom half of the league (barely) coming in ownership at 16th (Ted Leonsis). It's certainly better than they fared two years ago when they finished overall at 21st with the highest ranking in any category being ownership, which just like this year, finished in the 16 spot.

Now I'm not exactly sure who has input into these rankings over at ESPN. Two years ago they referred to their ESPN Forecast Panel as the authors of the results. They also provided a link justifying why their panel produces "the most accurate predictions in the game" before referring to the process as "the future of forecasting." There was a list of six names at the bottom of that page, two of whom were titled economist or microeconomist although I'm not sure those folks are the entire panel. This year, the Panel seems to be a little more mysterious but here's the thing: I'm not sure these people have any idea what they are talking about.

So I get that the statement I just made is a little bit laughable. After all, I'm an architect who blogs about being a Wizards fan on nights and weekends and these folks are paid professionals who are presumably respected in their field. I also can't take issue with them ranking the San Antonio Spurs first overall in 2015 and 2017 and the New York Knicks as last overall both of those same years. I mean, who would really argue with those results?

But that's sort of the point. What panel wouldn't put the Spurs first and the Knicks last? It's the results in between that are leaving me questioning the value of this ranking in total because it seems to be a what have you done for me lately contest, with on court results determining the opinion of the evaluators based on what's already happened. Look, I can tell you who wins each NBA division at the end of the season; it's predicting it at the beginning the year and stating why that's the hard part. I think all these folks are looking at is results after the fact. And that just ain't that hard.

Scott Brooks: From 20th to 9th in two years while taking one of the two off. Such progress!
So you need some evidence, right? Let's start with the Wizards. Two years ago, my beloved team finished 26th in coaching in this ranking under then head coach Randy Wittman, a guy who was pretty much universally reviled by any sort of NBA analystics guy. This year, Scott Brooks has the coaching on our team ranked 17 spots higher than two years ago. That makes sense based on him leading the team to more wins and the franchise's first division title since 1979, right? I'm not really proving my own point am I?

Know where Brooks, who was then coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder, finished two years ago? 20th. So I guess that involuntary year off really made Scottie a way better coach, huh? Probably not. Or maybe a bunch of guys ahead of him quit the profession?  Well, yes, if you consider three a lot; but they (Kevin McHale, George Karl and David Blatt) were relieved of their responsibilities. So what's the deal?

Well it turns out, according to the Forecast Panel, some coaches just aren't as good this year as they were two years ago. Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer dropped from 2nd to 11th; Portland's Terry Stotts went from 7th to 14th; Tom Thibodeau switched teams and turned his number 5 spot with the Bulls into a 13 ranking with the Timberwolves; Dave Joerger did something similar (11 to 23) by bolting Memphis for Sacramento; and Frank Vogel was also on the wrong side of history by taking the Magic job this year, dropping his ESPN coaching rank from 9 to 24. All five of these coaches posted worse records this year than they did two years ago and turned a combined 254 wins (.620 winning percentage) in 2015 into 176 wins (.429 winning percentage) this year.

I'm maybe being a little unfair. Some coaches (Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle) are still highly thought of despite not making the playoffs this season. And no doubt they are good coaches. Then again, maybe they are just saved by having led at least one team to a championship this century. But what's the excuse for the change of heart on Brooks and the five other coaches? I say it's team performance. And that sucks. Either you can coach or you can't. And the panel of experts ought to know that.

So let's move on, shall we? Let's get back to the Wizards. This year Team President Ernie Grunfeld looks like a pretty good guy to make personnel decisions according to ESPN, finishing in the top half in this category. Yet two years ago he was 20th. So why the sudden change of heart? He's executing the same plan he was two years ago but this year the team he's been assembling has been more successful than any other collection of players for this franchise since the 1970s.  Why move him up? Is it because the folks ranking him two years ago didn't understand what the plan was and how it would work out? I say yes.

The ranking mistakes aren't as pronounced in the GM/President category but let me offer a few thoughts. The Phoenix Suns seem to have one of the most questionable personnel decision records over the last few years, choosing to lock up Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight long term while letting Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas leave Arizona. But two years ago, ESPN had that franchise's front office ranked ahead of the Wizards (this year they are 11 spots behind) probably because the Suns two years ago were seen as way overperforming when finishing with 39 wins. Clearly ESPN's experts knew about as much as the Suns' General Manager Ryan McDonough (still employed by the way) when he decided to let Dragic and Thomas play for someone else.

The panel was also seemingly in love with Sam Hinkie's process in Philadelphia in 2014, choosing him over Grunfeld by three spots, but not so wed to the aftermath, dropping Philly seven spots behind the Wiz this year. But most striking seems to be their swing on Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, who two years ago cobbled together a lineup that won 60 games, but who is 17 games worse this year. Sorry, Bud, ESPN drops you from 6th to 15th for that. Looks like ESPN is following the records. Again.

Finally let's look at the owners. And here the Panel may have gotten things mostly right precisely because they kept past NBA Championship winners towards the top of the ranking and let the rest of the teams stack up from there. And let's face it, of the teams that haven't won titles recently, there is plenty of mediocrity. The last five franchises to win NBA titles have been the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. With the exception of Cleveland, these teams all rank in the top six in both 2015 and 2017. Kind of stupid to pick against a winner that's already won, right? Like shooting fish in a barrel.

But ESPN does follow the same recent history rule for ownership too. Cleveland is ranked 7th in this year's survey, the year after they won their first ever title; that's a jump of nine spots from two years ago which was 11 spots higher than 2014. Know what the Cavs' record was in 2014? 33-49. Three years, 27 to 7, same owner. The only difference? A title.  Stick to your guns people or stop predicting when you get things wrong. If Dan Gilbert is fourth worst among owners two years ago, why is he seventh best this year? Winning. Plain and simple.

The same situation plays out elsewhere in the midwest in Chicago. Jerry Riensdorf's basketball acumen got him a top 10 ranking in 2014 when the Bulls were 48-34. But with a 41-41 record, Reinsdorf can't crack the top 20 this year. Good owner two years ago; bad owner now. Makes no sense.

I suppose if ESPN ever does this sort of thing again, I may take a look, but only to get annoyed about how much they are dissing the Wizards for not having a great regular season record or winning a title recently. But this thing is of little value to me. It's all results based. They are just putting the teams who are the most successful at the top of the heap and if the same personnel with the same (or different) team are not quite so successful, they knock them down to the bottom. I'll pass on the "future of forecasting" thanks.  I'll just decide for myself how successful each team is at the end of the season. After all, that's what ESPN's doing.

Championships don't necessarily make you a better owner. Except in ESPN's eyes.