Earlier today, the Wizards finished their first of three straight pre-season games at Verizon Center. This season features the greatest number of preseason games at VC since I've been a season ticket holder. The other two are later this same week, which means I'll be making two more trips down to F Street before the end of the day Friday.
I generally spend very little time around Verizon Center in the summer months since I stopped working downtown seven years or so ago, so the first Wizards game of the season, be it preseason or regular season, brings an opportunity to see how the neighborhood has changed since the previous Wizards season was over. The most dramatic change was some years ago when they finally took the construction scaffolding off the front or south face of the Smithsonian American Art Museum which allowed an uninterrupted view down F Street all the way to Union Station; after years of seeing the American Art Museum under renovation, the change was striking. This year, the only changes I noticed were that the FroZen Yo store on F Street has moved to Chinatown and Souvenir World at the corner of 10th and F has closed. It seems like that place has been there forever.
In addition to changes outside the arena, it's exciting to see what's happened to the inside of Verizon Center over the summer. The most obvious changes this year were the repainted main entrance to the building and a brand new basketball court (shown above) with the Unity Hand logo replacing the Wizards wordmark at center court and solid red lanes beneath the basket. In past seasons, the lanes have generally been striped for the professional game (at 16 feet wide) and the college game (at 12 feet wide); this year, it's just one lane for the NBA game. I love the lane change but I'm a big fan of the Wizards wordmark so I'd rather they just stick with that. I realize I'll be in the minority on that one.
But there's still work to do inside Verizon Center to get ready for opening night on November 1. Let me explain.
A couple of years ago, the team installed a series of photograph panels or billboards, if you will, on the lower concourse of the building. These billboards feature Wizards, Mystics, Capitals and Georgetown University basketball players, in addition to some other acts who play Verizon Center frequently. A little over a year ago, I had a picture of myself taken in front of the picture of Martell Webster for my "About This Blog" page. I was curious to see who would be up on these panels this year, so before the game, I took a quick stroll around the 100 Level of Verizon Center. Here's what I found, starting at the north entrance to the building and walking counterclockwise.
Marcin's our starting center and just signed a new five year, $60 million deal. During the 2013-2014 season he played in all but one of our regular season games and averaged 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He poured in 31 points and snagged 16 rebounds in game five of our playoff matchup against the Indiana Pacers, the last playoff game we would win before being eliminated by the Pacers. It makes a ton of sense to have Marcin up on the wall. I believe he was placed there after we traded Jan Vesely to the Denver Nuggets for Andre Miller at the trading deadline last season. It would be nice for Marcin if the Wizards ticket sales table were not blocking most of his picture but whatever.
Nenê was the first real building block in the Wizards' culture change that started at the trading deadline of the 2011-2012 season with the team trading goofball center JaVale McGee for a legitimate professional NBA player, in this case Nenê. Critics decried the trade when we made it; most felt the Wizards had traded a player with tremendous upside for a broken down, overpaid, undersized center. A year and a half later, it looks like the Wizards fleeced the Nuggets. Nenê not only brought a sense of professionalism and seriousness to the Wizards, he's actually played in way more games than McGee has since the trade (124 regular season games plus 10 playoff games to McGee's 104 and 13). How could a big picture of Nenê not be on display at VC?
OK, so Josh Groban doesn't play for the Wizards and never has. Verizon Center has two musicians on display in its lower concourse. One is Bruce Springsteen. I find it curious that Groban is the other.
I'll be brief here talking about Wall. Franchise player. Number one overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. 2014 NBA All-Star. 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest winner. Led the NBA in total assists during the 2013-2014 NBA season. John is the only player on the team with a maximum contract and the unquestioned leader of the team. As he goes, quite often, the team goes. The best player deserves his picture up in the building.
Martell's first season with the Wizards two years ago was his best as a pro as he averaged 11.4 points per game with a 42.2% success rate from beyond the three point arc in 76 games. He parlayed that season into a four year deal for the full mid-level exception or between $5 million and $6 million per year. Coincidentally, the Wizards put his picture up near Section 102 just before he re-signed. Martell's production dropped off last year as a sixth man. I'd love to see him back in the starting lineup with John Wall this year. I feel he really prospers with Wall on the court. You can debate the merits of Martell getting a billboard but the fact that he's my favorite player is good enough for me to keep him there.
I like Chris Singleton a lot. I love the interview he gave to ESPN during the lockout before the 2011-2012 season, we've hung out in Vegas together (OK, maybe not so much) and I've always found him one of the most approachable Wizards players in his three years in Washington. But…he doesn't play for the Wizards anymore (he's currently playing as a training camp invitee on a non-guaranteed contract with the Indiana Pacers).
Now I'm not sure what the Wizards' attitude toward retaining Chris in the off season was but I'm pretty confident considering they didn't pick up his contract option and really made no significant strides to retain him that they probably knew by the end of last season that they had no plans to retain him. So why is his picture in our gorgeous white home uni still up in the building?
I can't imagine how much money it costs to replace the graphics on one of these panels but Chris can't stay here more than like another week, right? And if the Wizards can't think of someone to replace him, I'd suggest they try Bradley Beal because this is the last Wizards related graphic on the lower level of Verizon Center starting at the north entrance and walking counterclockwise. I think Bradley's earned it. The real deadline to get this fixed is November 1 when we open our home slate against the Milwaukee Bucks. Verizon Center spent a bunch of money this summer installing a Capitals hat trick display which is just awesome. They need to fix this next. It's on the east end of the building in case this is just an oversight.