December 11, 2018

First Round Exit

This Wizards team had me there for a week or so with their 3-0 start to December and their next game against the miserable Cleveland Cavaliers. It looked like they would pull to within two games of .500 heading into the middle of the month. Two games later and two losses later including one to the aforementioned miserable Cavs, John Wall's out with a bone spur, the team's back at 11-16 and sitting in fourth place. In the division!!! 

With all that happening in the last five days, about the last thing I want to do right now is write about this year's lackadaisical, mail-the-game-in Wizards team. So I'm not going to. Instead I'm going to write about last year's lackadaisical, mail-the-game-in Wizards team. I know, I know; it's a marathon, not a sprint and there's a long way to go. Still...

For the last five years, Panini America has added a special insert set into their annual Hoops basketball cards release detailing the path each team took in the previous year's playoffs. There's a single card for each game of the postseason which are issued in progressively smaller numbers as the playoffs march to the NBA Finals. These Road To The Finals cards have been a way for me to celebrate the prior year's playoff success (yes, I'm defining reaching the second round of the playoffs as a success for the Wizards) in this blog.

In 2014, 2015 and 2017, I've posted the Wizards games in this insert set on this blog and reminisced about beating the Bulls, Raptors and Hawks before bowing out to the Pacers, Hawks and Celtics in each of those years. 2016 is missing because, well, the Wizards just decided not to try so much that year and just plain missed the playoffs (bye, bye Randy Wittman!).

There are some good memories in these cards I've collected over the years and there is some agony. That first round sweep of the Raps in 2015 still stands out as one of the nicer surprises I've had as a Wizards fan and the first round ouster of the heavily favored (by like every supposedly knowledgeable media figure) Bulls was pretty special too. I can still remember Ted Leonsis in his  Nenê jersey courtside while the big Brazilian was suspended for getting into it with Jimmy Butler in the prior contest. The Celtics game seven loss still kills me, especially since right now, it looks like that was the pinnacle of success for this current Wizards team. The home loss to the Hawks on Paul Pierce's disallowed three was pretty painful too (bye, bye The Truth).

Last year's season sucked but I couldn't break tradition and not buy these cards so here we are. An eight seed after barely losing to the Celtics in the second round the prior year was about as disappointed as I've been as a Wizards fan (and that's saying something). Still the team was brimming with playoff confidence before their first round matchup with Toronto  last season only to get blown out in games one and two. If there's one thing the Wiz weren't short of last year, it was false confidence. And it was on full display in Toronto in the first two playoff games. Serge Ibaka was the top performer in game one with 23 points and 12 boards; DeMar DeRozan poured in 37 in game two. The score of both of these games was not as close as the games themselves.

Home cooking worked in games three and four for the Wiz. John Wall and Bradley Beal make appearances on the cards for these two game by virtue of 28 points, 14 assists and four steals (for Wall in a game three blowout) and 31 points including 12 in the fourth (for Beal in a tighter game four). Unfortunately, that's all the Wiz could muster, letting DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry out perform the House of Guards the rest of the series and close the Wizards out at home. 

Series over. Playoffs over. Season over. Just six cards to collect this year. They are on display for your enjoyment or misery here.  Right now, it doesn't look like there will be a post like this next year. We'll see how it goes the rest of the way. Go Wizards. Sort your issues out, please.

December 8, 2018

Wizards Season Ticket Holder Roundtable

Over the last six plus years I've been writing this blog, I've talked, tweeted, texted and otherwise corresponded with a number of Washington Wizards season ticket holders. Some of these are one time encounters; others have evolved into regular communications or even developed into friendships. With the Wizards in the midst of another slow (I'm being kind here...) start, I thought it might be a good time to get some input from some of them about the current state of the team and what they would do to straighten things out. Assuming they agree that things are a little crooked right now, that is.

I've adopted a format used by ESPN in their 5-on-5 series. In other words, five questions answered by five different people who supposedly know a little about what they are talking about. Here goes my first (and maybe last, who knows) attempt at getting a little bit of input from four fellow season ticket holders about the state of our favorite pro basketball team. For perspective, I'm including the section at Capital One Arena where each of us sits and the current tenure as a season ticket holder. I'm doing this on the first question response only. Also, apologies in advance for the all-male panel on this one.

1. What is most wrong with the Wizards?

Patrick (Section 417; Season 4): The mismanagement of the roster during the John Wall era like the absurd contracts offered (e.g., unnecessary player options, Otto's contract), the midseason trades, the trading of draft picks. You could even make a case that the hiring of Scott Brooks was attributed to roster mismanagement as the hiring was supposedly to lure Durant to the team.

Taylor (Section 115; Season 17): This team needs a leader in the worst way… a leader who holds himself accountable, as well as others. The Wizards have been at their best in recent years with credible veteran leaders: Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. Nene. Paul Pierce. It’s become clear that the team’s current players don’t have the experience to set an example and guide the team to regular season success, much less post-season success. At least not yet. How much longer can we wait?

Marcus (Section 104; Season 5): They don't seem to really care all that much about playing basketball. The team believes that they have the talent to turn it on and off at any time. The hunger is missing, but the bravado isn't. I think a lot of that falls on the coaching and the leaders on the team. The leaders have to lead and set the example. Paul Pierce's words ring true: do they just want to be good or do they want to be great? They are also one of the worst  defensive teams I've ever seen. It doesn't seem to be a personnel issue. If you look down the roster at each position, they have the talent to defend. It goes back to the point of they just don't seem to care. They don't communicate on defense and teams easily pick them apart. On the bright side, this should be the most "fixable" aspect of the current team.

Stephen (Section 108; Season 5)My response is based on having to come up with only one thing the sticks out and if corrected would have the most impact on increasing wins and reducing Twitter misery culture.  Failure to execute is most wrong. Failure to execute is caused by many things such as lack of focus, taking plays off, not trusting teammates, coaching, culture, egos, injuries, new teammates, new schemes, the other team, etc. I actually like the talent on this team and feel they should be able to compete at the number four spot in the East right now if they would have executed in more of the October and November games instead of underplaying.

Jonathan (Sections 109/415; Season 19): "Team" is most wrong with the Wizards. This roster appears to be a bunch of individuals who do not function as a team. They are sometimes variously lacking in effort, self-accountabilty, trust, sacrifice for the greater good and inattention to results (i.e. winning the game). Unfortunately, everyone is at fault here. Ernie brought this group together, hired a coach who struggles to find different ways to motivate and there appears to be no leadership in the locker room.

2. You own the Wizards for a day. What do you fix?

Patrick: I think every well-informed fan of the franchise would answer this question unanimously. Replace the GM. As the Twitter hashtag enthusiasts would say: #FireErnie.

Taylor: You mean what do I fix, other than the team name? Hmm. Is it breaking the rules if I spend my billions on a time machine to go back and prevent the Ian Mahinmi signing, which was predictably a disaster? I mean, with win shares ranking 205th, 149th, 229th, and 53rd in the league in four seasons with the Pacers, who could have predicted Mahinmi’s win shares with the Wizards would rank 230th, 269th, and (on pace for) 272nd, given that he’s an aging player at an outdated position? Can you imagine how different the Wizards’ path, and perhaps the Celtics’ path, would have been if we’d signed Horford instead of Mahinmi, or if we’d even saved that cap space? But I digress. Grunfeld has generally failed at drafting, failed at free agent signings, and excelled at trading (when draft picks aren't involved). So he needs to get as much as he can for Oubre (we’re not going anywhere this year and there’s no way we can afford to re-sign him), and then I’d fire Grunfeld as soon as the trade deadline passes. There needs to be a new tone from the top. As they say, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Culture matters.

Marcus: I wish my first move didn't have to be the one that should have happened years ago, but I would get a new GM in place. This franchise definitely needs a culture change and it "starts at the top" as Deuce Beal's father says. And hopefully that GM can move that Otto contract but that's up to them. I'm just the owner. No meddling. Also, while I'm owner I'm going to fix one of my biggest pet peeves of Capital One Arena: I'm upgrading the scoreboard. As you look around the league, arenas really have immersive scoreboards that have very detailed stats about game play. The "first HD scoreboard" from 2007 is definitely showing some age.  I'm very tired of having to crank my neck and squint up in the top corners of the building to see the basics of points/rebounds/assists on a small grainy display.

StephenThe coaching staff. Hard to swallow Scotty’s contract, so I would get some discipline minded coaches to assist him with taking back the locker room.

Jonathan: I think the obvious answer here is find a new general manager, which I would totally do. But I'd also find a way to engage or re-engage (as it were) with season ticket holders because I think that is as broken as the squad on the floor is. Over the years, benefits have been stripped away while ticket prices have increased. We used to have occasional pre-game chalk talks with Ted Leonsis but he seems to have stopped doing those. I don't feel valued as a season ticket holder and that starts with the top of the organization. I feel I could decide to not renew and nobody in the organization would care. After 19 seasons of shelling out money for one division championship, I'd love to feel more valued than that. I'd start by building bridges to the team's most loyal paying customers.

3. Otto, Brad and John. Start one, sit one, waive one. Who do you start, sit and waive?

Patrick: Start Wall, Sit Brad, Waive Otto. Wall is still the most dynamic and valuable player on the team. I am a silent Otto apologist, but I did not support the matching of the Nets offer.

Taylor: The answer of who to start/sit/waive is fairly clear, even before salary cap implications are considered. Both Beal (25) and Porter (25) are younger than Wall (28). At this point, Beal and Porter frankly seem to have better character than Wall, and Beal may also have more upside. While I’ve rooted for Wall and give him credit for dragging the team out of the post-Arenas doldrums, this is his 9th year in the league, and it’s just not happening with him. He’s become aloof, sometimes surly, and has never engaged with the fans other than his brief “This is MY city!” game-winning hop onto the scorers' table in 2017 – only to be eliminated from post-season contention in the following game. If Wall goes to another team? Maybe everybody eats again. Talented point guards are in abundance these days. Beal is streaky, but compared to Porter, he has the highest ceiling and could potentially blossom into a leader. So: start Beal, sit Porter, and waive Wall – especially since he’s not proven himself to be a leader, he costs twice as much as either of the others, and his game will likely suffer the most with age.

Marcus: The waive is pretty easy. See ya, Otto! The next two are tough but I'm sitting Brad and starting John. John is still the heartbeat of this team. He has taken a lot of heat recently but he's still one of the most exciting players to watch in the league. When he's thumping his chest, flexing his arms, and throwing up the occasional gang sign, there isn't a better show in the city. Also, Brad would be one heck of a sixth man, right?

Stephen: Start Otto; he needs the work. Sit Brad; he could use the rest. Waive Wall; that supermax deal handcuffs ability.

Jonathan: I'd start John, sit Otto and waive Brad. Maybe it's an emotional decision for me but I still think John Wall is the best player on this team and he's done so much for the organization and the community; I'd love for him to fall in love with defense and stop complaining so much. Call me naive. I hate that Otto Porter is on a max contract, especially with the player option (thanks, Brooklyn) but it is what it is. When Otto is playing well, it's a bonus; when he's not, at least he's not hogging the ball or taking possessions from someone else. I think Bradley Beal is an aloof guy who feels no personal responsibility for his own poor play or that of the team and that just drives me crazy. I'd have no problem rooting for a Beal-less Wizards team.

4. What's the best part about being a Wizards season ticket holder?

Patrick: Prior to this season, it would have been the ability to get tickets at a cheaper price, but the reselling prices have been so cheap this year. I do enjoy the opportunity to engage with the players and coaching staff and the other neat events that are held each season.

Taylor: For years, the best part of being a season ticket holder was the community of my neighbors in Section 115. They’re still great, but probably only a third of us remain, either having given tickets up or having been frequently re-located on game nights by the mixed blessing offered by the Wizards’ Fluid Ticket Program. My next favorite benefits are the Milestone Awards and Playoff Ticket Pricing. I mean, a ticket to the NBA Finals in my section would have been just $146 this past year, less than the cost of a Warriors or Cavaliers (with LeBron) game! Sadly, however, I’ve never gotten to enjoy NBA Finals pricing or even Eastern Conference Finals pricing, and the Milestone Awards happen only once every five years.

Marcus: The connection to the team, the familiar faces around you, and getting to watch the best players in the world every night. I love the game of basketball and have been a lifelong Wizards fan. I am just as excited to watch the Wizards play the Sacramento Kings on a Tuesday as I am to see the LeBron train (and bandwagon) come into town. Also, shout out to my usher, Antonio, in Section 104. He's the best in the business.

Stephen: DC12 Club events and the access to the players.

Jonathan: For me, it's the opportunity to interact with the players. Some of my friends think I'm stupid for collecting autographs but it's something I do and the Wizards giving me the opportunity to stand in line and get stuff signed is awesome. They used to do more of this: years ago they used to have receptions for 10+ year season ticket holders. My friend Mike and I had a half hour or so discussion at one of these events with Josh Howard about diet and exercise and keeping focused on what was important about doing your job as a professional athlete. The opportunity to do that was very insightful. FWIW, I'm not sure anyone else at the thing knew what Josh Howard looked like.

5. If you could do one thing to improve season ticket holder benefits, what would you do?

Patrick: It's honestly difficult to choose just one thing because, even though this is only my fourth year as a season ticket holder, I feel like the benefits have gotten worse during my tenure. I don't have any creative answers right now but I think the fluid ticket program could be improved. I don't like the limitations that were implemented this season. For example, I believe we should be able to return as many tickets as we want (not just for 10 games) and we should be able to use the returned funds on other things, not just the tickets. Allow us to spend it elsewhere like at the team store or on concessions. Oh yeah, and I'm still salty about the surprising end of the Monumental Rewards program. While Monumental is raking in the cash, I don't believe they have done enough to keep me around next year.

Taylor: Like any paying customer, I’d like more transparency and consistency. Just when I feel like I’m getting used to a program, it’s cut or disappears. Season Ticket Holder Advisory Board? Unceremoniously disbanded with no explanation. Autograph sessions? There's no player list sent out beforehand to allow us to match memorabilia to the event (just say "tentative" in the invitation if specific player appearances can't be guaranteed). Free bonus tickets? Gone as inventory dwindles. Monumental Rewards Program? Terminated with no real announcement, along with the points I’d spent effort accruing. Fluid Ticket Program? $100 credit eliminated, and there is now a burdensome 48-hour pre-game restriction blocking ticket returns in that window. The sad part is I'd be more understanding about most of these changes if their rationale was communicated overtly and honestly, instead of in a way that comes off as on the sly, in hopes that no one will notice. As a result, in recent years, my relationship with the Wizards has felt much more like an impersonal business relationship and much less like #DCFamily. 

Marcus: This is the easy answer for a season ticket holder, but the prices should really be lowered about 10 to 15%. That is  the biggest hindrance to building out a fanbase and all that it ends up doing is pissing off the real "diehards". The market that Ted thinks the Wizards should be at versus the reality of that market is not close. When I see tickets being sold around me for 50 to 60% less than what I paid, it is discouraging and makes you wonder why you pay for season tickets. (And no, the Lebron and Warriors game do not make up the difference). Also, the fluid ticket program used to be a real true benefit but they have  destroyed it in the last couple of years. Getting rid of the VIP options and forcing you to return tickets more than 48 hours in advance have made the program not worth it. Would love to see you be able to use some percentage of the fluid ticket program returns at concessions, but that's just a wild dream that I know would never come true.

StephenBring back the rewards program with real value. Allow season ticket holders to use for food and beer, Wizards swag, player experiences, and seat upgrades.

Jonathan: Bring back the occasional VIP experience to the average season ticket holder. Over the last few years, it seems like Ted Leonsis has done everything he could to scale back any sort of VIP access to those people who aren't (a) paying tons of money for it or (b) guests of the players or staff. This was a benefit that used to be complimentary at our ticket rep's discretion (typically once a year). Then access moved to Monumental Rewards program before that got eliminated. Then the Fluid Tickets program allowed a little more costly access before access got totally restricted this year. I used to feel really valued being able to do this a couple of times a year. It's especially frustrating sitting in Section 109 because there are a bunch of player and staff guests who get seats in 110 who have VIP access every game. I'd also give away more bobbleheads; I realize that's two things.

I appreciate the time each of these folks took to answer these five questions. I was looking for a random sampling of opinions from season ticket holders and I think I got it. Most of all, I appreciate the fact that all four of these guys said yes without hesitation even though half of them have never met me in person. We'll have to change that last part. I at least owe everyone a beer here I think.

December 1, 2018

Bobblehead Nation 2018 Update

It's been about a month and a half since I published my annual post detailing the bobbleheads available as in-game giveaways around the NBA. Since that time, a few more teams have revealed their promotional schedules so we now know (1) where there are some additional bobbleheads for the taking and (2) which franchises are passing this year. Time for an update!

First the bad news. If you are a Timberwolves or 76ers fan, looks like you are out of luck in the bobblehead department this year, although the Sixers did produce a Joel Embiid bobblehead to hand out at their G-League team's game in Philly on November 20. Yes, I realize that was last month but I did make it clear in my post two months ago that this one was on the slate. With no bobbleheads on the schedule, the most exciting item on Philadelphia's promotional schedule is the free mittens on December 12. I'd definitely be there early for that one.

There's also some bobblehead uncertainty out there for me right now. The Atlanta Hawks have a graphic of a throwback Harry the Hawk bobblehead on their website (and shown below) but it appears nowhere on their schedule that I can see, although it does appear to be tied to the purchase of tickets like the Dominique Wilkins bobblehead that they made available last month. And in a surpise, the Dallas Mavericks have not released a promo schedule on their website; Dallas has been a great source for bobbleheads over the last couple of years with at least 10 in each of the last two seasons. Doesn't mean they are sitting this season out, just that I can't find it.

But enough about who's not giving away bobbleheads, let's get to the supplement to my original post.

12 Gus T. Bull & Benny The Bull Bobblehead (Windy City Bulls)
How awesome is this double mascot bobblehead? Very awesome is the only reasonable answer. The Bulls' G-League franchise is taking the safe route here by not issuing a player bobblehead (who knows who's going to be around in January on a  G-League team) but I don't care. This thing is fantastic. I assume Gus is a younger version of Benny? There's a striking unibrow resemblance but what color is Gus exactly? Not sure about the ochre colored hair any more than I'm sure about how Benny came to have red hair.

25 Julius Randle (New Orleans Pelicans)
2018 was a big year for the New Orleans Pelicans. They not only made it to the playoffs for the second time since they drafted Anthony Davis number one overall out of Kentucky but they also made it out of the first round. But late in the season, DeMarcus Cousins tore his achilles tendon and both he and Rajon Rondo left in the offseason. Julius Randle was probably the team's best shot at re-loading in the offseason since the Lakers seemed to be focused on other folks filling their roster this summer. The Pels reward Randle for his commitment here by getting him his own bobblehead in January.

12 Nikola Mirotic (New Orleans Pelicans)
Apparently the Pelicans are into handing out bobbleheads of players who might not be in New Orleans next year. Julius Randle has a player option for next year and Nikola Mitotic is an unrestricted free agent. Maybe the team hopes that making a bobblehead of each will help them to stay in the Crescent City. On the other hand, their tens of millions of dollars of cap space might do the same thing. The only thing I'm curious about with the Mitotic bobble is: beard or no beard?

21 Black Panther (Brooklyn Nets)
Yes, the Nets, after their disastrous first attempt at a mascot with the BrooklyKnight are getting back into the superhero game. This one, though, seems way safer than the mascot they invented. Who isn't going to show up in Brooklyn for a free Marvel Black Panther bobblehead? 

The Nets, by the way, are not the first professional sports team located in Brooklyn to give away a Black Panther bobblehead. The minor league baseball Brooklyn Cyclones did it this summer. The picture above is the Cyclones' version, not the Nets' version.

27 Caris LeVert (Brooklyn Nets)
Last year was not a good year to be a Nets player who was also on the bobblehead schedule. Allen Crabbe was just fine but D'Angelo Russell missed almost half the season with knee issues and Jeremy Lin missed the entire season (well, minus 25 minutes...) with a ruptured patella tendon. How's this season going for the Nets' bobblehead players? Well, LeVert, after a strong early season showing, had a horrendous ankle injury in November. It looked way worse than it might actually be but suffice it to say, I'd be worried if the Nets had my bobblehead on their giveaway schedule. 

If you are a Wizards fan looking to collect an opponent's bobblehead when you are on a roadie, February 27th's opponent is the Wizards.

I love the Harry the Hawk throwback bobble. It's just not entirely clear how to get one.
11 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Brooklyn Nets)
How nervous should Rondae Hollis-Jefferson be about making it through this year fully healthy with the Nets? Depends on if you believe in the Nets bobblehead curse or not. Either way, assuming he's still on the team, it looks like March 11 will get you your third of three Nets bobbleheads for the year.

5 TBD (Washington Wizards)
Finally my beloved Washington Wizards announced the date for their (one) bobblehead giveaway of the year but just like some previous years, they are refusing to disclose who that might be. My early money was on Dwight Howard but with his mysterious back/butt injury requiring early season surgery, I'm not sure any more. Maybe ownership knew there was disaster coming and couldn't commit to keeping anyone on the roster this late in the season. Nah...that can't be it, right?

That's all I'm going to say about bobbleheads this season until the mystery Wizards bobble gets handed out on April 5. Unless something major happens in the meantime, that is.

One final note on a past bobblehead and a reason why I used the cover photo above. The Kevin Love bobblehead game in Cleveland is passed, as might be Kevin Love's time in Cleveland (we'll have to see about that one). As it turns out, the Cavs gave away two versions of the bobblehead that night: one wearing the Cavs' (awful) wine-colored jersey and one wearing what looks like a Goodyear company jersey (what else could it be?). Apparently they only made 100 of the Goodyear version and handed them out randomly. Head to eBay, Cavs fans.

November 25, 2018

Free Money!

This may be the shortest, most useful blog post I have ever written about the Wizards game experience.

Got Washington Wizards tickets? Got a Capital One card? If you answered both of those questions in the affirmative and you actually can stand going to Wizards games lately, you need to start putting those two things together, if you are not already.

There are many ways to enter Capital One Arena before a Wizards game. My pattern for probably the last 10 plus years or so is to usually go in through the main entrance on F Street or the back entrance in the alley near Clyde's and then head straight upstairs to the second level to buy the cheapest (and that's a really relative term) beer in the place up in the Budweiser Brewhouse from my bartender, Roxy. 

Now everything has changed.

Before this year, the last thing I would think of would be to enter Capital One Arena on the east side of the building. It's just further to walk for someone who is coming from either the Gallery Place Metro exit at the southwest corner of the building or from further west all the way at Metro Center. Plus it's not like there are lines at the door at most Wizards games I attend. Nobody is looking to see this team play the Jazz on a Tuesday or Magic on a Saturday. Do I really need a dedicated entrance with a marginally shorter line so I can inside the building maybe five minutes faster? Those five minutes may end up just offsetting the extra walk I have to make to the southeast corner of the building.

Thumbs up for the Capital One line!
The answer, as it turns out, is yes, I do really need to go to that dedicated entrance. It is a shorter line, although let's face it, the lines for the Nets, Clippers and Pelicans games weren't all that long to begin with. If nothing else, the whole metal detector process seems easier and quicker.

But the real reason I've been entering the building through that door is they folks checking my Capital One card have been handing me $5 off concession coupons every game I've done this. And $5 concession coupons means $5 off food like David Chang's new spot on the west side of the building or the build your own tater tots stand on the east side (I know they are bad for you but they are seriously really freaking good!). It also works on beer and in the Budweiser Brewhouse, which means my first 25 oz Budweiser is now $4.25. How awesome is that? And if you detest Bud, you can get something else (Budweiser is my only choice of beer at Cap One; just is) at a $5 discount instead.

Think that extra walk isn't worth anything? It's at least worth $5. Get yourself over there with your Capital One card tomorrow night against the Rockets. If nothing else, you'll likely get money off your beer or food (unless it's Dunkin' Donuts which isn't playing along here). No card, no coupon. But if you've got a card, you will likely get one. Hey, you might even get two. 

It's happened.

Says it's good on 100 and 400 levels only but it works at the Budweiser Brewhouse.

November 18, 2018

The Polish Machine

Right before the beginning of the 2013-2014 NBA season, I was sitting in a bar in Clarendon having one or two (or maybe more) beers when I saw the ticker on the bottom of the ESPN screen announce that the Wizards had traded starting center Emeka Okafor and their 2014 first round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Marcin Gortat. Okafor was coming off a comeback year with the Wizards and had re-established himself as a legitimate defensive minded center on a team with playoff aspirations. 

Yes, I said aspirations. At that point, the John Wall version of the Wizards had yet to make the postseason.

Unfortunately for Okafor, there was a mysterious back injury which promised to sideline him indefinitely (it would be this calendar year - or more than four years - before Okafor's next NBA game) and the Wizards needed a solution. For the Suns, they flipped Gortat's expiring contract for a first round draft pick. For the Wizards, the team got a starting center in his prime on a one year rental with the hope that they could re-sign him long term going forward. The Emeka Okafor era was over in Washington. Time to see what Marcin Gortat could do for the Wizards.

Turns out Marcin was a pretty good Wizard. His stats rank better than any other big man the Wizards (I said, Wizards, not Bullets) have ever had. Over his five seasons, Marcin managed to place seventh all time on the franchise rebound list (fifth in defensive rebounds and seventh in offensive and overall, if you must know); third in field goal percentage all time; and eighth on the franchise blocks list.

Yes, you can get pretty far up these lists if you play enough games in Washington and there have been so few long tenured players in this organization recently that in some categories, it's easy to measure up on the all time leaders list in just five years. But Marcin genuinely produced in his time in Washington. He averaged double figures in scoring every year except last season and at least 8.7 boards per game each year with the exception of last year. He also was a perennial league leader in screen assists (4th last year and 1st in 2016-2017) and seemed like the perfect screen and roll partner for John Wall.

And, unlike a number of other Wizards players over the last five seasons, Marcin showed up  healthy, in shape and ready to play pretty much every game. His regular season games played totals over his five years in D.C.? 81-81-75-82-82. The 75 game season was affected more by his mother's illness requiring him to leave the team for a few games than it was by anything else.  Bottom line, Marcin kept himself in shape and came to the arena ready to play every single week and month. And he wasn't shy about letting folks know how proud he was of his conditioning. Of course, that's where things went a little south.

When Marcin joined the Wizards in the fall of 2013, they had just drafted Otto Porter. Marcin took one look at Otto and knew he needed some serious time in the weight room to bulk up and made it one of his missions his first year in D.C. to add some pounds to the rookie's frame. It was exactly the kind of mentoring that teams should want and expect out of their veterans. 

Unfortunately, finding fault with his teammates' conditioning seems to have been more of an issue for Marcin than he could really be expected to contain. After a loss in January of 2016, Marcin was quoted "they've got to take care of their bodies. At the end of the day it's the players' responsibility. I personally can't understand how this is possible, how people can constantly get hurt." That rant of sorts was seen by me as a direct criticism of fellow front court mate Nenê who admittedly had difficulty at times in his career setting foot on the court each night and was at times seen as a bit of a diva. But on a team, you have to keep that frustration in house.

Marcin didn't. It happened time and time again and eventually he couldn't even stop with franchise cornerstone John Wall, tweeting "Great 'team' victory" after a March 2018 victory over the Toronto Raptors in a game that John Wall missed. While Marcin downplayed the significance of the tweet, the press made a lot of it, perhaps even more than should have been made. But whether Marcin's intent was accurately inferred or not, it seemed that this incident was turning out to be a tipping point of sorts. The conventional wisdom with the Wizards became that what was really holding this team back was locker room chemistry and that Marcin Gortat was a cancer that needed to be cut out.

So now we are 16 games into the post-Gortat Wizards era after Marcin was traded this offseason to the Los Angeles Clippers. His replacement, noted non-locker room chemistry guy Dwight Howard, has been a dream signing, producing on the court and remaining quiet off it (I know, it's only 16 games...). Yet the Wizards are not fixed. In fact, they might be worse. Their record through 16 games? 5-11 with bad losses already to Orlando, Brooklyn, Dallas and Oklahoma City amid a notable lack of passion and effort. Like really noticeable.

So what's the problem this year? Maybe it's the coaching. Maybe it's the front office's failure to adapt to the modern NBA. Maybe Brad and John don't like playing with Otto? Or resent his salary? Maybe Markieff Morris needs to sit? Maybe it's the rotations? Maybe it's conditioning? Maybe Brooks needs to stagger his starters more? (he does) Or at least some? Maybe Troy Brown needs more time on the court during games? Maybe the Wizards need to realize they have a real G-League team of their own and use it properly? Maybe it's rebounding? Maybe it's effort? Maybe it's the fact that one or more of their three max deal players lack motivation? 

Whatever it is, it's not Marcin Gortat's fault. And given the start to this year, it probably wasn't Marcin's fault last year either. There's something way more wrong with the Wizards than a starting center. I'm not saying the Wizards trading Marcin this off season wasn't a good idea. Marcin is averaging fewer minutes, points and rebounds than any point in his post-Orlando career. He's also on a team with a winning record and surprisingly in the playoff picture at this early point in the season.

I have a personal tradition at Wizards games when a former player returns to Washington. If I felt that player contributed in his time in a Wizards uniform and left on good terms (i.e. not Jared Jeffries) then I'll give a personal standing ovation. Marcin Gortat is going to get one from me on Tuesday. And he'll have deserved it.

November 13, 2018

New Cap One Signage, Ranked

Over the summer, Capital One Arena underwent a significant transformation. New seats were installed, the entire lower level concourse was renovated and there are a significant amount of new dining options in the building. I posted a quick rundown on this blog of what I saw at the September Wizards open house a couple of months ago.

The coolest of all the renovations, in my opinion, is the installation of new signage at the entrances to the lower level seating sections. Now it's true that the purple and yellow signs were one of the more objectionable design decisions made when MCI Center was built, but it's not just the removal of these monstrosities (i.e. addition by subtraction) that makes this upgrade the coolest part of the renovation. The new signs celebrate the history of the building and the history of the Wizards, Capitals and Mystics that call the building home. All told, there are 22 of these things. Let's rank them shall we? Why not? We rank everything else in life it seems.

Inevitably in any sort of comprehensive ranking like this, there will be some excellent entries and some real stinkers. That's totally true of this list. Some of these signs are awesome while others are not unique in any way to 601 F Street NW, which really sort of sucks. In some cases, the event depicted on the sign didn't even happen in the building at all and I've taken that into account sometimes as I'm counting them down from 22 to 1. I'm including the section where each sign is located in parentheses in case you want to check out your own favorites.

22. Capital Investment (101/102)
I get that Capital One paid for all these new signs but this is ridiculous. This is not an accomplishment in any way. It's just paying money. If I could have ranked this sign lower, I would have.

21. WWE (112/113)
Come on. Really? WWE? You only have 22 of these signs and decide to devote a whole sign to WWE? I guess they pay money to rent the building when they come to town. Money talks at 21 as well as 22.

20. Tim McGraw & Faith Hill (108/109)
There have been many, many, many concerts held at 601 F Street NW over the last 20 or so years. Was Tim McGraw and Faith Hill really one of the best? I have a hard time believing this. I've seen Bob Dylan twice in this building. And while one of those shows was not Bob's best, I'd go with Dylan over McGraw and Hill.

19. Inaugural AFL Game (115/116)
Nobody really cares about the AFL, do they? This four team league (half of which Monumental Sports owns) is barely on life support. At least they didn't make a sign out of the electronic sports league. I'm thankful for that at least.

18. (NCAA) Tournament Host (105/106)
I was truly tempted to put the building hosting NCAA basketball games below Tim McGraw and Faith Hill but ultimately basketball won out over country music here, even though basketball is exactly what the building was designed to host. Neither is really worth making remarkable enough to put on a permanent sign in the building in my opinion but they didn't ask me.

17. Wizards Draft Bradley Beal (113/114)
16. MVP Comes To DC (119/120)
Only time will tell if these two events are really as important as they seem right now. Sure, both players are elite in their own leagues but their time in Washington has been either (a) really short or (b) just not that significant from a team perspective. Yes, Elena Delle Donne has taken the Mystics to the WNBA Finals after forcing a trade to Washington two years ago but what if that's it? Does she really deserve a sign in the building? I'd go out on a limb here and suggest that the Mystics in the Finals is more deserving of a sign, but perhaps that happened too late in the construction process.

Bradley Beal has made an All-Star Game. Once. What if Beal gets traded? What happens to his sign? It has to get replaced, right? And why Beal not Wall? Isn't Wall getting drafted more significant right now than Beal getting drafted? I'd say it is. I'd also say that Monumental Sports was looking for a way to get Beal into the mix somehow and this was their only chance. 

Neither of these things happened in the building, by the way. That in addition to the uncertain significance of these two events puts these two 16th and 17th. In a few years, they could be a lot higher. And I have no idea what's up with the color on these two pictures. It's completely operator error.

15. Beyoncé (118/119)
I struggled with putting Beyoncé higher than Delle Donne and Beal but at least she performed in the building. Not much else to say on this one.

14. Gonchar Hat Trick (110/111)
There have been 140 hat tricks in Washington Capitals history through the beginning of the 2018-2019 season. Sergei Gonchar has one of those, on January 4, 2000. I'm not sure why this particular hat trick was picked for this sign. It wasn't the first hat trick at MCI Center (Peter Bondra had the first four of those). The caption on the sign says it was just the second in franchise history by a defender. Is that really worth it? I'm not sure. Seems like a stretch to me.

13. Snow-vechkin (117/118)
12. Playoff Goals (114/115)
Caps fans are hating me right about now, I'm sure. Actually who's kidding whom? The likelihood of any of the 12 or so people who read this blog being enough of a die-hard Capitals fan to actually hate me is slim at best.  I put these two at 12 and 13 because honestly, there's enough love for Alex Ovechkin later on in this countdown and these are just two of his 20 career hat tricks. Both of these happened to come against the Pittsburgh Penguins, which I am sure is no accident. The 2009 game is ranked higher because it's a playoff game.

11. 2001 NBA All-Star Game (103/104)
I may have short-changed the All-Star game on this list but looking at everything below it (meaning higher ranked), I can't honestly justify moving it higher. I never really valued the All-Star Game until I attended for myself in New York in 2015 and even then I didn't really value it as a contest, just as an all-weekend event. Shown in the photo above? Allen Iverson, David Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo. No Wizards participated in this game even though the starting forwards for the Eastern Conference were Anthony Mason and Antonio Davis. The Wizards were not good in 2001.

10. Prince (104/105)
Non-basketball, non-hockey stuff hasn't done very well on this list but let's face it, the WWE, Beyoncé and Tim McGraw/Faith Hill are NOT Prince. According to my (not very exhaustive) research, it appears Prince only played the building once, on August 14, 2004. If that's really the case, I would have made sure the date was on Prince's sign. Prince playing is every bit as important (actually, way more) as Sergei Gonchar scoring a hat trick.

9. 1978 NBA Champions (120/121)
I struggled with this one more than any other. The Bullets won the NBA Championship in 1978, 19 years before MCI Center opened. It's a distant memory and not associated with this building in any way. It's also the single-most memorable thing the Packers/Zephyrs/Bullets/Wizards franchise has ever done and that's not likely to change any time soon. If this list were just about significant events in Wizards etc. and Capitals history, this would have to be number one or number two. But it's not. It's about celebrating events in MCI Center / Verizon Center / Capital One Arena. At least that's how I see it. Sorry to all the Bullets fans out there who are still pining for the old name.

8. WNBA Comes To Washington (106/107)
I'm sure there are folks out there who think this is way too high on this list, especially since it's higher than the Bullets winning the NBA Championship in 1978. I don't care. The WNBA is the longest running significant women's team sports league in the United States. The Mystics have been around in D.C. for 20 years and just capped off their most recent campaign with an appearance in the WNBA Finals. The success of the WNBA is important. It deserves this spot on this list. 

7. Earl "The Pearl" Monroe Number Retired (111/112)
I never saw Earl Monroe play but I've run into him in New York a couple of times during 2015 All-Star Weekend and I get his place in basketball (and Baltimore Bullets) history. Maybe a little biased pick prioritizing a Bullets / Wizards historical event over some sporting events actually held in the building but hey, it's my list. I was there on December 1, 2017 when the Pearl's number was retired. I still have the mini-banner giveaway they handed out that night.

6. 1000th For Hunter (107/108)
Dale Hunter is one of four Washington Capitals (right now) with his number retired. Hunter spent 19 seasons in the NHL and 12 years in Washington. As of the beginning of the 2018-2019 NHL season, only 87 players had recorded 1,000 points in the NHL. Hunter is the only one of those who also has 3,000 penalty minutes (Hunter is second all time with 3,565). He's likely never to be passed in penalty minutes by a 1,000 point scorer. Hunter's 1,000th point came at MCI Center on January 9, 1998 when he actually recorded his 998th, 999th and 1,000th point in the same game.

5. Game Winner (100/101)
The Wizards have made it to game seven of the second round of the NBA playoffs just once and John Wall's game winner in game six at home in May of 2017 did it. Wall doesn't hit many game winners. This one was the biggest I've ever seen him hit. He was absolutely on top of his game at this point and it's deservedly memorialized in one of these signs. After hitting the shot, Wall jumped up on the scorers' table and declared himself pretty much king of Washington. I missed that. I was too busy hugging my friend Mike and jumping up and down.

4. Southeast Division Champions (109/110)
I feel bad having this event so far up this countdown. As I've already pointed out in my September blog post, the Wizards didn't actually clinch the Southeast Division at home. But since it's the only thing this team has won in the 18 plus seasons I've had season tickets, I'm throwing myself a bone here.

3. Ovechkin's Debut (102/103)
It is quite frankly difficult to put anything that has happened at MCI Center / Verizon Center / Capital One Arena ahead of all that Alex Ovechkin has accomplished in his time in Washington. Certainly for the purposes of this post, I find it difficult to put anything Wizards-related ahead of the Great Eight (although I did). And yes, Ovi did make his debut at MCI Center (not on the road) on October 5, 2005 and yes, he scored in his first game. Twice, actually.

2. "I Called Game" (116/117)
It seems odd to me that I'm placing one shot in one playoff game by a guy who ended up being a rent-a-star for a single year above all other Wizards moments but I am. I know Ted is deliberately exiling Gilbert Arenas by not including anything Agent Zero did in Washington but for all the great game winners Gil hit, this one was better and more important. Too bad the one in game six didn't count.

1. Champions (100/121)
I mean is there really any competition for this? The only championship won by a non-AFL resident of the building and it was clinched in the building. No contest. This is number one.

There you have it. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. At least until Elena Delle Donne makes the Mystics into champions or Bradley Beal wins the NBA Most Valuable Player award. Go ahead and tell me I'm wrong. This is clearly a list heavily sponsored by Ted Leonsis. The complete absence of Wizards prior to John Wall's arrival is testament to that. I still think Gilbert Arenas at his best was better than any other Wizard at his best.

And yes, I'm still having doubts about that nine spot.

November 11, 2018

The Patch

Let's face it. So far this season, the Wizards stink. It's either poor coaching, poor roster assembly, lack of effort, lack of caring or all of the above which has gotten the team off to a 3-9 start through last night's victory agains the Miami Heat in southern Florida. Tied with the Atlanta Hawks was not where I thought we'd be 12 games in. 

By the way, it's definitely at least poor roster assembly.

From the opening tip against Miami in the season opener at Capital One Arena on October 18 to the final buzzer last night at American Airlines Arena, the mood of Wizards fans and Wizards Twitter has been like a pendulum the last month. Calls of "Fire Ernie!" (they should, and I mean now) and "Fire Scotty!" (they should soon unless...) and critiques like "John Wall looks out of shape" (he does) and "the Wizards don't like each other and that's why they look like they don't care" have turned to guarded optimism after just one road win against a maybe playoff hopeful. I actually saw one tweet this morning proclaiming the Wizards as a title contender. Not sure how beating the 2018 version of the Miami Heat gets you to championship hopeful but that's where some Wizards fans are right now. I feel their pain. Truly.

And don't worry, that situation will likely correct itself this week.

About a week and a half ago, the Wizards released some news about their jerseys for the young season and it was about as good and bad as the team has been so far this year. Just hours apart the team revealed this year's fourth jersey (dubbed by Nike as the City Edition just like last year) and then announced they would be joining 27 of the other 29 teams (Indiana and Oklahoma City are the lone holdouts) in the NBA in slapping advertisements on their threads for this season and presumably forever.

A close up look at this year's Wizards City Edition jersey.
Let's cover the good really quickly then move on to the point of this post. This year's City Edition uniforms are exactly the same as last year's but instead of being mostly white, they are mostly black. I think Wizards Twitter about exploded when these things were revealed. In the midst of pretty much the maximum level of angst experienced by Wizards fans (the team was 1-6 at the time) this year's fourth uni got almost universal praise. I'm not as psyched about black uniforms as just about everyone else in the D.C. area I guess. I think they are OK. If nothing else, the Washington Monument shows up way better on the sides of the jerseys than it did on the whites last year. It's also going to be really difficult for me to not buy the truly excellent City Edition black with red D.C. flag t-shirt that Nike brought out to accompany these things though.

Now that's out of the way, let's talk about jersey sponsorships. I knew this day would one day come when the Wizards would cave and let some company pay some money to slap their advertisement on the Wizards jerseys but it doesn't mean I have to like it. This stinks. It's purely a money grab because the league can. The press release announced this news as "more than a patch" and they are absolutely correct. It's a violation, it's unnecessary, it's ugly and it just plain sucks. I thought when the Wizards finally did this that I would roll over, having been desensitized to this stuff by 27 prior franchises. I didn't. It's truly terrible. I hate it. The only thing worse about the jersey patch is I know there's no going back.

And yes, this is all about the principle of the thing. It's not at all about GEICO, the company who the Wizards are allowing to befoul their jerseys. I actually love GEICO. When I was first trying to get car insurance for myself they were the only insurance company willing to let me buy insurance despite a flawless driving record and I've been with them ever since. But their name does not belong on my basketball team's jersey any more than GE belongs on the Boston Celtics jerseys or Zatarain's belongs on the New Orleans Pelicans jerseys or Bumble belongs on the Los Angeles Clippers jerseys. 

OK, the Bumble thing is pretty appropriate.

The Wizards aren't the only team afflicted with the GEICO ad on their jersey. The brand new Capital City Go-Go also get an extra large sponsorship from my favorite insurance company on their kit every game this season. I'm not so upset about this branding. There's no way the G-League makes money for the NBA owners and ads have been rampant in the NBA's development system for years. I actually find the GEICO wording less objectionable than the "Capital City" wording on the team's blue jerseys. Could they have found a worse font for these things? I'm not sure they could.

But the team that really got screwed by this partnership ('s more than a patch) are the Washington Mystics. Sure, advertisements looks awful on NBA jerseys but if we had to have them, they couldn't really have made them any smaller and the GEICO fits in pretty well into the space on the left shoulder. Ditto for the Go-Go branding but at least they put the GEICO at the bottom of the jersey which allowed the name of the city (sort of...I still don't like the Capital City name) and the team nickname to be where it belongs on the shirt. But the Mystics jerseys look like they are playing on the GEICO company basketball team.

Look, I get the WNBA takes a back seat to the NBA and apparently also the G-League. But unless you have some kind of great seats or some kind of great eyes, it's going to be difficult to tell that you are rooting for the Mystics or the city of Washington when you are at a game. Sure the name (in logo form) is still on the jersey, but it's about as big as the GEICO logo on the NBA version although the font size is way smaller. 

I know the Mystics are not the only WNBA team to have this happen to them. In fact most of the teams are using this same strategy of having the sponsorship across the top of the uniform and the team logo on the shoulder. Notable exceptions include the Chicago Sky who have sold advertising space both across the top of the jersey AND on the shoulder (and so have no team identification at all) and the Las Vegas Aces who are using the NBA model with the team name where it belongs and a small advertisement on the shoulder.

The reason the Mystics can't use the Go-Go style of design is that the bottom of all the WNBA jerseys features the Verizon logo. But I don't see why the Mystics can't force the GEICO logo into the same spot that the NBA places it just like the Aces have done. How much is GEICO really paying for the WNBA sponsorship anyway?

Call me old-fashioned. Call me resistant to change. Call me just plain old and stuck in the past. But I don't like these things one bit. I've been watching teams playing European soccer with very large advertisements across their chests for as long as I can remember and I guess I accept that. But there's no good reason for the NBA to do this except to generate slightly more (and I do mean slightly more) revenue. I hate this. Thank God they are still selling jerseys without the ads. Although considering the Wizards performance the last couple of years, I'm sticking with my old Adidas John Wall jersey for as long as I can I'm thinking.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Fire Ernie!