December 19, 2017

Bobblehead Nation 2017 Update

So we are a couple of months into the NBA season and about that same length of time since I posted my Bobblehead Nation post for this calendar year, my annual roundup of all the bobbleheads I can find advertised as in-arena giveaways on various NBA teams' websites. I've written a post like this each of the last four years and I always miss some because some teams just don't roll out their promotional schedules on a timeline convenient to me. Imagine that, right?

So this year to be more of a bobblehead completist I have decided to post an update to my original post based on some new intel from some teams around the league. Turns out I was just missing a couple of teams and there have been some TBDs clarified since my initial post. The Milwaukee Bucks lead the way here with a ton of throwback bobbleheads. Let's get right to it, starting with some that have already come and gone.

Well, before we get to that, let me say just how awesome the James Harden bobblehead the Rockets gave away earlier this month is. OK, now let's get to it.

15 Bob Dandridge (Milwaukee Bucks)
In my first bobblehead post of the season, I covered in detail the Phoenix Suns' plans to celebrate their 50th season in the NBA with a series of five bobbleheads this year, one for each decade that the team has been playing ball. There's another team celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and that's the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the most creative teams out there when it comes to giveaways. The Bucks' reaction to turning 50? Well, I thought based on their initial promotional schedule that it was pretty much nothing. Turns out the Bucks were waiting on the announcement of the good stuff and are actually rolling out seven bobbleheads to celebrate their half century, starting about a month ago.

The Bucks have won just one championship in their 50 years in the league and they did it in 1971, just three years into their existence. Bob Dandridge was the starting small forward on that team after being drafted by the Bucks the prior season. Dandridge played a total nine seasons in Milwaukee (his first eight plus his last year in the NBA). In between? He was a Washington Bullet and picked up a second championship in Washington the very first year he played here in D.C. Many credit Dandridge with being the guy who pushed the Bullets over the edge and got them a title. Maybe it's about time for a Dandridge bobble in D.C. too? Wishful thinking, I know...
6 Sidney Moncrief (Milwaukee Bucks)
It's been so long since the Bucks were really good that it's easy as a fan of today's NBA to imagine them as a perennial doormat or middle of the pack team for their entire 50 year history. Sure they got that one title in 1971 but that was so long ago (I was two years old) and they almost made it to the Finals in the early aughts (lost in the Conference Finals to Philly in 2001) but what about the rest of the 48 years?

Here's the news: the Bucks had a couple of eras where they were really good. They won five division titles in the early and mid 1970s back when they won it all. They also won seven straight division titles from 1980 to 1986. And this was when division titles actually meant something. There were only four divisions back then after all. The guy anchoring most of those teams in the 1980s? Sidney Moncrief.

Over those seven seasons (including his rookie year in 1979-1980) Moncrief started a minimum of 72 games per year. He made the All-Star game five times. He made the All-NBA First Team once and the second team four more times. He flipped that script for the NBA All-Defensive team, making the first team four times and the second team once. Oh, and he was also the Defensive Player of the Year twice en route to getting his number 4 retired in Milwaukee. Earlier this month the folks in Milwaukee got him in bobblehead form.

3 Bob Lanier (Milwaukee Bucks)
After single bobbleheads in November and December the Bucks crank up the heat a bit in January and hand out three. First up? Bob Lanier, who got to the Bucks the same year Sidney Moncrief did. Well, almost.

Lanier was likely already a hall of famer before he got to Milwaukee, posting seven All-Star appearances (including the 1974 All-Star Game MVP award) in his first nine and a half seasons in Detroit before being traded to the Bucks during the 1979-1980 season. In Milwaukee he became part of the core that won the first five of those seven straight division titles. Lanier's number 16 is retired in both Detroit and Milwaukee. In 2006, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Three down, four to go in Milwaukee.
6 D'Angelo Russell (Brooklyn Nets)
After a violation of the bro code with Nick Young (bye, Iggy!) and (more likely the reason for his L.A. exit) the Lakers drafting Lonzo Ball, former number two overall pick D'Angelo Russell found himself shipped off to Brooklyn and the worst team in the NBA this past offseason. Worst team last year anyway.
So how are things in Brooklyn this year? Well, record-wise about the same as things are for the Lakers? And Russell? Well, up and down. Up because he was putting up good numbers in the beginning of the year and he gets himself a bobblehead in early January. Down because he hasn't played for the Nets since early November with a leg  injury. No timetable for recovery right now but at least he gets a bobblehead, which apparently is some sort of ongoing curse this season for Nets players. Read on...
8 Jeremy Lin (Brooklyn Nets)
As bad as D'Angelo Russell has it with a leg injury and no schedule for getting back on the court, he's got it good compared to Jeremy Lin, who gets his own bobblehead just two days after Russell gets one. Lin's fate this year? One game and 25 minutes played, one ruptured patella tendon in his right knee, gone for the year. Terrible. Awful luck. I'm sure a bobblehead helps this situation in no way.

10 Brian Winters (Milwaukee Bucks)
To this point in the season, the Milwaukee Bucks have celebrated players who played on their early 1970s and early 1980s teams. With the rollout of the Brian Winters bobblehead on January 10, they celebrate both. Winters arrived in Milwaukee as part of a trade for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, after making the All-Rookie First Team with the Lakers during the 1974-1975 season.

If you are thinking being traded for Kareem is kind of a tough act to follow, you'd be correct. Winters was not anything close to the player Kareem was. But he did manage to make a couple of All-Star teams in 1976 and 1978 and did enough I guess in Milwaukee's eyes that they retired his number 32 jersey.
12 Charles Barkley (Phoenix Suns)
No, this is not a new bobblehead giveaway date, but at the time I wrote my initial post, the Suns hadn't yet revealed the player to be honored in bobble form this date. All bobblehead dates for the Suns' 50th anniversary season were determined by fan vote. January 12 is 90s night at Talking Stick Resort Arena and of course the fan choice HAD to be Barkley. For the record, I nailed the Suns yet to be announced results in my first post. See March and April below.

17 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks)
So if you are the Bucks, there had to be a dilemma here, right? Do you go with a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar bobblehead or a Lew Alcindor bobblehead? Kareem played six seasons in Milwaukee after being drafted by the team in 1969 out of UCLA and while he had already converted to Islam, he was still known on the basketball court as Lew Alcindor, a name he continued to use publicly until after his second NBA season, the same year the Bucks won their one and only championship.

So...two seasons as Alcindor and four as Abdul-Jabbar but the championship came as Alcindor. What to do? The Bucks, apparently, are choosing Kareem over Lew. I'm not sure I'd make the same choice here but it's probably what Kareem wants. So be it. Regardless, Bucks fans get the best player to every suit up for the team on January 17. I'd be there early that day if I was a Bucks fan.

10 Allen Crabbe (Brooklyn Nets)
If I'm Allen Crabbe, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. The third and final Nets bobblehead recipient this year has so far escaped major injury, unlike D'Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin. I'm sure he's hoping there's no connection between bobblehead nights and injuries in Brooklyn. If there is, he can kiss his season goodbye soon.
Crabbe took the long way to Brooklyn. He was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers out of school who sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers that same night. After his third year in the league, the Nets signed him to an offer sheet that was matched by Portland. About a year later they decided Brooklyn could have him anyway, sending him to New York for Andrew Nicholson who they ended up waiving instantly. The Nets are obviously thrilled enough to make sure he has a bobblehead night this year. Let's hope there's no curse. For his sake.

15 Jon McGlocklin (Milwaukee Bucks)
Bob Dandridge won a title in Milwaukee in 1971 and gets a bobblehead this year. So did Lew Alcindor / Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Bucks are handing out a third bobblehead celebrating that team in the form of Jon McGlocklin. McGlocklin is way less celebrated than the other two, having made just one All-Star appearance in his career and winning no significant postseason honors. But he's spent the longest time of any of the three around the Bucks team, serving as a member of the Bucks' broadcasting team for the last quarter century. His number 14 hangs in the rafters of the building where he calls home games.
1 Kyle Korver (Cleveland Cavaliers)
If I nailed the bobbleheads that the Suns would be giving away, I totally whiffed on the Cavs' choices. You just traded for an All-Star (Isaiah Thomas) in the offseason and you go with Kyle Korver and (spoiler alert for March 19 here) Derrick Rose? Sure each of those guys have been on the All-Star team in the past and yes, Thomas is currently injured but he's playing at some point this year, right? Otherwise you traded Kyrie Irving for Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic. I'm stunned there's no Isaiah Thomas bobblehead in Cleveland this year. Show up March 1 for your Korver bobble, Cavs fans.
2 Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns)
I predicted Barkley in January for the Suns' 90s night and I was right. I predicted Nash in March for the Suns' 00s night and I was also right. No flies on me. At least not here. Cleveland's another story. I guess I understand the fan mentality more than I do that of Cavaliers' ownership. Thank God for that!

7 Junior Bridgeman (Milwaukee Bucks)
Six down, one to go for the Bucks. The last Legend of the Rafters bobblehead giveaway in Milwaukee features Junior Bridgeman. Bridgeman (who's full name is Ulysses Lee Bridgeman) came to Milwaukee in 1975 along with Brian Winters in the trade for Kareem and spent 10 years with the Bucks in two separate stints, spending time on the rosters of both the great 70s and 80s teams a la Brian Winters.
In their 50 year history, the Bucks have retired a grand total of eight numbers. Their series this year is called the Legends of the Rafters bobbleheads. But there are only seven giveaways. The missing player with the eighth retired number? Oscar Robertson. What gives?
19 Derrick Rose (Cleveland Cavaliers)
So I've already expressed my surprise about the choice of players to receive bobbleheads from the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier in this post. My only other question here is does your new Derrick Rose have doubts about his suitability to be a bobblehead? Is he going to take unexpected absences every so often to contemplate whether he really should be standing with the rest of your Cavs bobbles? I'd still go with Thomas. Just saying.

6 Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)
The Suns' 50th celebration wraps up with a bobblehead of a player on their current team on April 6. Who else could it be but Booker? Three for three on Suns predictions. Congrats on your five bobbleheads this year Phoenix fans. It's about all you got this year.

That's it for me this year in the league-wide bobblehead department. There may be some schedules out there yet to post but I'm done searching these things out. All told, there are a ton of bobbleheads for fans to collect this year. For me, I'm waiting for the Wizards solitary bobble in March. Patience...

December 17, 2017

Healthy Scratch

No, I'm not posting from tonight's game. The photograph above is from the Wizards-Cavaliers game on November 3 of this year. 

Every so often I miss a Wizards game. I'd say over the past ten years or so I've missed a maximum of four home games in any one year, including a couple (or at least one since I've been writing this blog) of zero miss (or perfect attendance) years. Sometimes life gets in the way. Christmas. Vacations. Birthdays. Weddings. A Smiths/Morrissey cover band at the State Theatre. Whatever. Inevitably something most years takes me away from Capital One Arena (or previously Verizon Center / MCI Center) at least once per year and has me checking the score on my phone or watching a game on the iPad even though my Wizards team is in action just a few miles from my home.

Tonight is not one of those nights. 

Let me clarify. Tonight is not one of those nights where life has gotten in the way of the Wizards home schedule. The Wizards ARE playing at home and I am NOT there and I am sitting at home watching. It's Sunday night and it's an early evening game and I'm on my couch with some snacks watching the Wizards playing the Cleveland Cavaliers on television and I have no excuse for missing this game. No excuse except Wizards tickets are getting just too darned expensive and the prospect of selling my tickets to someone else on a Sunday afternoon in December got to be too much. I had to take a pass on this game. If it were March or April or even February and definitely not after April I wouldn't have done this.

I feel like hell. I feel like I'm letting my team down by not contributing just a little to the boos that used to be rained down on LeBron James or the applause for a John Wall drive or Bradley Beal three pointer or Marcin Gortat rebound or whatever it is going on center stage on the Cap One Arena court. For sure I should be there. This is literally the first home game I have watched on TV from my home since November of 2009 when I was laid up at home unable to walk due to a massive gout attack (totally my fault; who knew cranberries were loaded with purines) after a road game in Indiana. 

This year I spent more on Washington Wizards tickets than any year in my life. $9,680 to be exact. I realize some folks spend way more but $10K per year is nothing to sneeze at. And it's going to go up. I'm dreading my season ticket renewal notice in late February or early March. I've been shelling out money for Wizards tickets for the last 18 years of my life and I've gotten very little emotional satisfaction in return. For sure, winning in the first round of the playoffs four times has been sort of satisfying and watching John Wall and Gilbert Arenas has been nothing short of amazing. The passes John makes are unbelievably skillful and Gil's cold blooded daggers were just spectacular back in the day. But one division title in the first 17 years of me buying season tickets and nothing playoff-wise beyond the second round? I'm not doing too well on return for my investment.

So I'm home. And I'm hoping the Wizards win. For what it's worth, I'll be cheering loudly from my couch in Arlington, while I'm munching on Cheez-Its and drinking $10 per bottle wine (just one bottle, I promise). Not that it will drown out the cheers of the (probable) Cavs fans sitting in my regular seats. Although, let's face it, they are probably just cheering for LeBron James and have never actually been to Cleveland. 

I would love that I didn't have to do this and honestly I probably didn't have to but there's only so much per year I can spend on tickets. I would love it if the Wizards would incentivize fans to attend home games through non-sellable low cost tickets like I proposed towards the middle of last year to get us to come to the games every night and recognize a savings. Even better I'd love for the Wizards to offer discounts over and above the current season ticket prices for fans that have suffered through 19-23 and 25-57 and another 19-63 and 26-56 and 23-39 and 20-46 (labor dispute shortened season) and 29-53 seasons. Do they realize I've shelled out cash for each of these seasons?

I don't expect anything. So I'm here at home watching the Wizards on TV. But I'll be there on Tuesday, rooting for the Wizards to beat the Pelicans. And I won't stop doing this until the Wizards price me out of my seats completely rather than for just one game per year. Let's hope they never do that. They've already forced me to sell this game. Here's hoping the next years won't be like this. I'm not holding my breath. 

Tonight is also the Wizards' annual toy drive. Love this graphic.

December 3, 2017

Kids Club News

If you know anything about me from reading this blog, you know how much I love bobbleheads. They are a central focus of my life as a Wizards fan and I'm in favor of any way to get any additional team-issued bobbleheads. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you'll know I've been fairly critical of the Wizards frugality in the bobblehead department. While teams like the Golden State Warriors or Dallas Mavericks are issuing five, six, ten or 12 bobbleheads in a season, the Wizards have stuck to their guns with the steady one per season.

But over the last couple or three years, the Wizards have started to show more flexibility. Four years ago, they offered a Martell Webster bobblehead with the Slam Dunk Kids' Club membership and then continued that tradition over the next three years with bobbles of G Wiz, Otto Porter and then Bradley Beal in street clothes. Now all you had to do to get more bobbleheads was find or invent a kid, pay $20 and pick up a free-quality team issued bobblehead. Then last year, the team issued a Monumental Rewards-exclusive Scott Brooks bobblehead. Things were looking up up up in the bobblehead department for Wizards season ticket holders.

Then this past summer, Monumental Sports and Entertainment made the decision to cancel the Monumental Rewards Program. Just like that, an opportunity for additional bobbleheads disappeared, along with my 97,107 Monumental Rewards points. Now, it seems they've done something similar with the Kids' Club.

No, the G Wiz Kids' Club hasn't disappeared. But the bobblehead component has. At least for this year. I've been tracking the Kids' Club announcement on an almost daily basis by checking the page on the Wizards website based on a promise from the team to have something announced by the end of November. They finally swapped out the information from last year in the last couple of days. This year for your $24.99 (yes, they raised the price) you or your kid (real or imaginary) get a drawstring bag, earbuds, pedometer, lanyard and water bottle. My niece already has a drawstring bag and water bottle from past years' memberships. I get the fitness focus for this grab bag but do we really need kids wearing pedometers? I say bring back the bobblehead.

I'm assuming part of the deal here is that the Wizards just feel like they ran out of bobbleheads to include with the Kids' Club. Martell Webster was an ideal fit for the Kids' Club because of how focused he was on his family. Otto Porter has also had a presence at Kids' Club events (as has Kelly Oubre, Jr.) so he seemed like a good bobblehead to issue. G Wiz of course fits well since his name is on the Kids' Club. Last year's Bradley Beal seemed like a stretch.

So an ideal theme for Kids' Club bobbleheads to me would be rookies. But since the Wizards have a tendency to just totally disregard the value of draft picks most years (including this year and last year), I guess they can't do that. Kelly Oubre, Jr. would be great but he just had an all-fans bobblehead giveaway last year. John Wall? The team already issued three Wall bobbles over the last few years (four if you count the season ticket holder only "starting lineup" bobblehead set). Marcin Gortat or Markieff Morris? Maybe a little scary? Not too popular with the kids? Markieff especially?

So why not go a little deeper into the team? I know issuing a bench player bobblehead goes contrary to the Wizards recent history of bobblehead issues (with the exception of Jordan Crawford instead of Emeka Okafor in the aforementioned starting lineup set) but other teams do it all the time. The Mavs issued bobbleheads 12 deep last year. If you made the team, you pretty much got a bobblehead. This year I could easily see Jason Smith who seems great with kids based on me standing in line for about five minutes at Six Flags to get Jason's autograph and who just had his first kid this summer. If he's not good, what about Mike Scott? He's covered with emoji tattoos. What kid doesn't love emojis??? Reach a little here, Wizards.

I'm dreaming, I know. Consider this blog post my appeal to bring back the bobblehead component of the Kids' Club next year. The Wizards know where I am if they need my input.

Is this the all-time Wizards Kids' Club bobblehead collection? Here's hoping the answer is no.

December 2, 2017

The Capital City Go-Go

Between the first and second quarters of last night's win over the Detroit Pistons, the Washington Wizards made an important announcement, revealing the name and logo of their minor league or G League affiliate which will begin play in the fall of 2018. The name? The (drumroll please...) Capital City Go-Go!!! The logo? Well, that's the picture at the top of this post.

How good are the name and logo? I'll get to my thoughts on that in just a minute. Let's talk about some more practical considerations before we get to the fan stuff.

From a basketball standpoint, yesterday's announcement is a next step forward in what is an important process and one which frankly the Wizards have been trailing most of the rest of the NBA on for a significant period of time. For sure, rolling out a name and a logo doesn't make a minor league franchise any more real but this process has steps and this is one of them. It now allows fans to believe that we are on schedule with having a support franchise of our very own.

Why is this so important? Well, in addition to bringing pro basketball to more people in this country at a more affordable price point, having a dedicated farm team allows concentrated player development and rehabilitation assignments. This year, 26 of the 30 NBA teams have G League franchises that are singly affiliated, meaning either that the two franchises are owned by the same organization or that the operations of the minor league team are run by the parent franchise. That means that the coaching system is identical between the two teams, allowing faster development of young talent or rehabilitation assignments for players coming off injuries in a basketball playbook environment exactly the same as they will find when they get to or back to the NBA.

The Wizards ain't one of those 26 teams with a dedicated G League affiliate. That means the League has way less value for the Wizards than about 26 other teams. In fact, this year the Wizards have used the G League only because they pretty much have to. Devin Robinson and Mike Young were signed to two-way contracts which allow them to play in both leagues under specific guidelines and salary structures. So far, the Wizards have confined both to the G League and left it at that. The only way they could have had less involvement so far is if they just opted to not sign any two-way contracts at all.

So how are Robinson and Young developing? Right now, no clue. Devin is playing the Philadelphia 76ers way on assignment to their Delaware G League franchise. Mike is learning how the Phoenix Suns do things down in Arizona. Earlier this week they actually played each other in a game. Assuming the G League franchise is actually interested in developing another team's players, does this setup sound ideal in any way? Not to me it doesn't.

So how else might not having a G League franchise hurt a team? Well, earlier this week, the Chicago Bulls announced they would be sending Nicola Mirotic and Zach LaVine to their nearby G League team for a rehab assignment. They are not the only team to have done this in the past. There's no way the Wizards are going to send some of their NBA players to another team's minor league affiliate so they just simply don't have that luxury available to them. The Wizards are a step behind here.

Capital City Go-Go shirts were mandatory shirt wear during second half warmups last night. 
So about that name and logo.

Really? The Capital City Go-Go???

OK, first, let me say I appreciate the effort to do something different. Of the 26 teams currently in the G League, 11 of them have nicknames that match their parent franchise (I'm counting the Iowa Wolves in this number) which is both unimaginative and sad. The best names in the G League are the ones that existed before single affiliation was a concept. The Maine Red Claws, Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Fort Wayne Mad Ants and Reno Bighorns are all awesome names. The Capital City Go-Go certainly matches the spirit of these names, just like the Memphis Hustle did when that franchise began playing this year.

I also appreciate the effort to create a name that's place specific instead of generic. Warriors can come from anywhere, as can Wolves, Raptors and Stars. There's no place else that Go-Go (named after D.C.'s own go-go style of music) can come from.

So what's my problem, you might ask? Well, there are a few issues. First, I object to the Capital City moniker. I am going to think of The Simpsons every time I read or hear that. In case you are not a Simpsons fanatic, in one episode Homer self-appointed himself the mascot of the local minor league baseball team the Springfield Isotopes and was so successful that he got sent to Capital City to pinch-mascot for the world-famous Capital City Goofball. Of course, he failed. I like Capital. Just not Capital City. I've had Tony Bennett in my head all day singing the Capital City song from The Simpsons. Hate that!

Second of all, it's not really very sports-y. It used to be mascots were concrete things like Orioles or Cowboys or Jets or Hawks or something like that. I get that some teams have appropriated more abstract concepts like weather (Heat or Lightning) but now we are dealing with sounds? I guess the Jazz is the same way. And how is the name going to roll off the tongue when the team's on the court? Are we going to chant "Let's go Go-Go!"???

Finally, and the biggest reason really, is that nobody outside of D.C. is going to get it. On one level, I love that. It's like an inside joke that everyone is in on except people not from the District. On the other hand, nobody really cares about the G League nationally and it's going to be ultra-confusing to explain to other people what my Capital City Go-Go shirt means. It's just going to bring up endless questions. 

Some nicknames have hidden meanings: I love how the Charlotte Hornets name references a quote from Lord Cornwallis during the Revolutionary War. But the great thing about the hornets name is it works whether or not you understand the hidden meaning. The Memphis Hustle is another name with multiple levels of meaning. The Go-Go name is just confusing and there's no hidden meaning although until it's explained, nobody's going to get it on any level.

And then there are the logos. We got three last night. The (what I assume will be) primary logo at the top of this post, a partial version of that same logo with just the bongo drum with basketball patterned drum head and then the alternate logo which features a note with three stars over a silhouette of the District of Columbia.

I think the primary logo is fine. I'm not crazy about the "Capital City" font but other than that I am pretty ambivalent about the whole design. My biggest objection is the name itself. Because the name makes up most of this logo, I can't imagine I'm ever going to be purchasing any apparel with this logo on it.

I actually like the secondary logo a lot. I don't like the red background but if the team sells shirts with this logo on it that are not red, I could see myself owning one or two of these things. It represents the District way more than the name itself. I'm surprised, and actually refreshingly so, that the team didn't make basketballs out of the circles on the note. Basketball logo designers have a way of turning every circle on a design into a basketball. Not doing that here was a good move.

I'm not sure I have the answer to what I wanted here. I wrote a post last year on this blog where I wondered what the name of the team would be. My answer was Capital Bullets, although I really liked my Ward 8 Wizards suggestion better over time. My answer was non-creative. The Capital City Go-Go is way more creative. But I just don't like it. Maybe I'll warm to it over time. I expected today that I'd be hunting around on the internet to see where I could find a t-shirt with the new team's logo on it. I haven't done that and I don't think I'm going to do it any time soon. I'm disappointed here. I get it. But I don't get it. Oh well.

November 29, 2017

The First Quarter

The real title of this post should be Five Things I Hate About The First Quarter Of The NBA Season but that title is just too damn long. But that's what this is about.

With last night's win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Washington Wizards pretty much wrapped up the first quarter of the 2017-2018 season (yes, I get that the actual quarter point is halfway through tonight's game in Philly). Their record? 11-9 with five quality road wins against Milwaukee, Toronto, Minnesota, Miami and Denver. That 11-9 record is better than last year's 7-13 record at this point so that's good, right?

Well, yes. And maybe.

Yes because it's just statistically better. More wins is good. Last year the team won 49 total; this year they are four games ahead of last year's pace a quarter of the way through. All good, yes?
Maybe because after that 7-13 start last year, the team responded by winning 17 in a row at home. Can they do that again? If not, if they even go something like 12-5 at home over that span, then the current start doesn't look that good at all. Unless they can make up the number of games they drop this year vs. last year by winning a corresponding number on the road.

I'll say one thing about this start that I never expected to say (ain't this always the case with the Wizards?): I am probably more frustrated with this team than I can remember at any point in the last 10 or 15 years. That's saying a lot. There was a 19-63 season in there. There was an 0-12 start in there. There was a missed playoff year after making it to the second round two seasons in a row in there. This one is worse. Right now. Maybe it's because I'm in the moment. Is there time to turn things around? Sure. Absolutely. But right now I hate this season. And here are five things I particularly hate about this Wizards season right now.

1. Bad Losses
Last year the Wizards finished four games out of first place in the Eastern Conference. They also won every game at home in the playoffs last year. Wouldn't it have been great to have finished first overall and had homecourt advantage throughout? Not saying it would have gotten us all the way to the NBA Finals but it sure would have given us a better shot. How possible was that? Well, I wrote a post on this blog in May detailing a series of games we could have won but didn't.

If that happens again this year, I already have five games the Wizards could easily have won but didn't: home games against the then 3-4 Phoenix Suns and the then 1-10 Dallas Mavericks; a home game against Miami where the Wizards scored just 29 points in the first half and ended up losing by 3; a road game in Charlotte when they held a 9 point with 3:12 to go in the game; and this past Saturday's loss to Portland by 3 after holding a 17 point lead in the fourth quarter and failing to score a single point in the last 2:30 and allowing the Blazers to score 10 over that span.

We've had apology after excuse from the Wizards players after these losses. It's not good enough. Honestly I felt a little disingenuous writing the post last May I referred to earlier. It's difficult to win every game you should win. But these five this year? No way. No excuses. Five blown games in the first 20 is horrendous. And I'm not even dwelling on the Lakers game in L.A. or the Cleveland game here at home. One could easily argue the Wizards should have seven more wins than they do now and sit 18-2 and first in the conference. But they aren't.

2. John Wall's Injury
One of the reasons the Wizards lost at home to the Miami Heat on November 17 was John Wall's play. John managed zero points in the first half that saw the Wizards down by 21 at half and he finished with just 8 points on 3 of 12 shooting in the 3 point loss. After the game it was revealed that John's knee was swollen, likely from the intravenous fluids administered to overcome sickness and dehydration before the home game against the Atlanta Hawks the prior Saturday.

Apparently that wasn't true. Now John is in the midst of the first week of a projected two week absence due to swelling in his knee and not from the IV before the Hawks game. Instead, the story has been revised to reflect some knee-to-knee contact during the game against the Dallas Mavericks on November 7.

I'm not frustrated with John missing time. I'm frustrated with another mis-diagnosed injury to a Wizards player. This used to be a pattern. For years, the Wizards dealt with injuries and every so often the training staff would get it massively wrong (thinking Jarvis Hayes here but there were certainly others). I thought getting a new training staff in the door in the summer of 2016 would fix that and maybe I'm being too harsh over the first occurrence with the new staff. I guess long suffering Wizards fans like me are extra-sensitive. It would have been nice to get it right the first time is all I'm saying.

3. The Boston Celtics
The Wizards drew a lot of praise over the summer from a lot of folks for staying the course on their plan and keeping their team of current and budding future All-Stars (and max players) intact. In a summer that saw Cleveland trade Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics who seemingly blew up their defensive core to make that trade and sign Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward, it certainly seemed like staying the course was a sensible move.

While the conventional wisdom was that the Cavs were all in once Isaiah Thomas recovered from his hip injury and the Cs would be the team of the future once their young team developed, there was a chance the Wizards could start strong while those teams were still gelling and steal the number one seed. Six weeks or so into the season things look a bit different. Standing pat looks safe to the point where the Wizards have let some teams just roll right by them. The aggressive and potentially reckless moves by the Celtics seem to have paid off big time. That team sits comfortably in first place in the East even considering they lost Hayward for the season on opening night.

This is not necessarily surprising. After refusing to commit to contracts for years so the team could sign a max free agent in the 2016 offseason, the Wizards are now overcommitted to sub-par players long term to the point where they are severely limited in the moves they can make without shaking things up. Well, maybe that's the key. Maybe we do need to shake things up. Maybe not now. Maybe later in the season towards the trade deadline. But there's one sure thing: the Celtics knew they likely couldn't win it all unless they made some big moves. So they did. And it's worked. The Wizards have preferred to stay the course and somehow they expect different results than last year. So far it's not working. I was looking forward to some good rivalry games with the Celtics this year. So far, we look like an eight seed to the Celtics' one seed. Although that might start to change if we stop dropping eminently winnable games.

4. Ian Mahinmi
So full disclosure here...this post actually started out as a post solely about how bad Ian Mahinmi's season is going so far. But I didn't want that much bad karma so I decided to expand it to cover some other issues that I am a little less angry with in addition to his participation this season. Suffice it to say I am frustrated on pretty much a nightly basis by Mahinmi's play.

Say the name Ian Mahinmi to me this season and I think of three things: defensive lapses, fouls and turnovers. None of those are positive.

Would it surprise you to know that Mahinmi leads the team in turnovers per minute played? Not John Wall (although he's close). Not Bradley Beal. Not Tim Frazier (although he's also close). Ian Mahinmi. His current turnover rate per 36 minutes is 3.5, good for first (or last depending on your perspective) on the team. Think about how much Wall, Beal and Frazier handle the ball and then think about how much Mahinmi handles the ball. On a per minute basis, Ian turns it over more. Wow!

Ian doesn't commit more actual turnovers than John or Brad or Tim, of course. The reason? He's not on the court long enough. But when he is out there, he's usually committing fouls. 8.3 per 36 minutes to be exact. That's 12th in the whole NBA but it's really worse than that. To be statistically valid, metrics like points, assists, rebounds, blocks, fouls and anything else need to have a reasonable sample size. Khem Birch actually leads the NBA in fouls per 36 minutes because he's played 2 minutes this season and collected one foul, yielding a rate of 18 fouls per 36 minutes. But because of the small sample size, the statistic is useless. If Birch had happened to hit one three point shot in his two minutes of action, he'd be leading the league in points per 36 minutes too at 54.

In the case of Mahinmi's fouls, he actually does have enough game action (at 248 minutes) to make the stat worth paying attention to. And he's really actually second in the NBA. Only one player "ahead" of Mahinmi has played over 32 minutes this year and that's the Houston Rockets' Tarik Black, who is barely edging out Jan with 8.4 fouls per 36 minutes.

Almost the biggest mystery about Mahinmi this year is he seems to have forgotten how to play defense. He is (when he's not fouling) frequently way out of position on his man and is not really the rim protector we thought we were getting when Ernie Grunfeld panicked and plopped down $16 million per over four years for this guy. I say almost the biggest mystery because the biggest headscratcher is how Scott Brooks continues to put this guy out on the floor. And what about his teammates? Is there no peer to peer pressure being applied for him to step up? I'm stumped here.

Having said all that, I thought Ian actually played Karl-Anthony Towns well last night. We need a lot more of that like every night. Otherwise I don't get why he's on the court. And one game of good performance should not get him a pass for the next 20 or so. Minutes should be earned here.

5. Fluid Tickets
Last year the Wizards introduced a new season ticket holder benefit called the Fluid Tickets Program. I raved about this program last November for the option it provided to season ticket holders when there was a home game we just couldn't get to. Instead of selling tickets for pennies on the dollar on a secondary market site, the team granted us full purchase price credit for future purchases in the same season. Most especially, it offered fans the opportunity to upgrade to better seats every once in a while.
Last year this was an awesome benefit. This year? Good but not so much. It just doesn't seem like there are many really great seats available, particularly in the VIP areas, and some games don't seem to have any tickets available at all. The jury's still out on this one for me but I don't understand why the team doesn't make tickets for every game available, unless they are getting rich off of balances left in ticket holders' accounts at the end of the year. The balances are non-refundable and don't count towards next season's purchases. I'm willing to let this one ride out a bit but for now, this benefit is trending down for me.
Tonight the Wizards are in Philly on their second back to back of the year. Then it's home against second place in the East Detroit and then a west coast swing. This thing has got to get better soon and I honestly think at least two of my complaints above are within the team's control. Stop playing Ian Mahinmi unless he earns minutes and try every minute dammit. The Wizards have proven they can win some tough games on the road and the crowd support for the first time in a long time is there at 601 F Street. Start playing hard and putting teams like Phoenix and Dallas and teams that you hold big leads on at home away early and often. Then we can start getting back to chasing the Celtics. And the Pistons. And the Cavaliers. And the Raptors. And the Sixers. And the Pacers. Start tonight in Philly, please.

November 18, 2017

Second Class Citizens

So I was going to let this whole banner thing go. Honest. And this has nothing to do with the Wiz losing four at home already. Honest. 

After the home opener this season about a month ago, I wrote a post on this blog detailing my disappointment in what I saw as something the team owed me and other long suffering Wizards fans: the first banner raising for the team in 38 years. I honestly said my peace and was prepared to let it rest. Then I read Twitter.

Yes, I get that Twitter is a pox on all of us and society in general which has been especially amplified in the last year or so with current events in our country. But it's also for me a valuable source of targeted Wizards information and a way to connect with fellow fans. And it turns out I wasn't the only one out there who was disappointed in the team's lack of celebration over something that was a long time coming. Waiting for me the next morning after I wrote that opening night post was the following Twitter feed.

And then I stewed on it. And stewed on it. And believed and agreed with every word.

Don't believe those thoughts? Let's check the facts. Then maybe after this I can let all of this go.

Over the history of the franchise, the now Washington Wizards franchise has won seven division titles: five in the Central Division, one in the Atlantic division and one in the Southeast Division.  The Washington Capitals franchise has won ten division titles: one in the Patrick Division, seven in the Southeast Division and two in the Metropolitan Division. Both franchises have won titles in three divisions over their histories. The Capitals get a separate banner for each division for a total of three division title banners. The Wizards do not. The Baltimore/Capital/Washington Bullets and Washington Wizards get a single banner with all seven years they won a division. The different divisions aren't even listed. What's up with that?

Check out all the Capitals banners and how pretty they look, logos and all.
Let's move on shall we? Meaning move on to the next complaint, not move on from this issue entirely. In addition to their seven division titles, the Wizards franchise has four conference titles and one NBA Championship. In addition to their ten division titles, the Capitals franchise has one conference title and three Presidents' Trophies (which resulted in zero conference finals appearances by the way). Both teams get a separate banner for each of their conference titles and (in the case of the 1977-1978 Washington Bullets) their championships. The Capitals' single Eastern Conference Champions banner has the team logo from that year on it. The Bullets' four Eastern Conference Champions banners do not. The Bullets logo only appears on the NBA World Champions banner.

What's up with that? The franchise with by far the most success (albeit four decades ago) has to win a championship to get their logo on a banner. The lesser successful franchise gets a logo on every single banner, even their three different division titles banners. And yes, the logos are time specific, meaning that the logo in effect during the seasons when the team won the division titles is the one used. So the Capitals not only get a logo on each banner but they also get their whole history of team logos raised to the north side of Capital One Arena.

I get that the Caps' banners are a recent overhaul. The old banners used to be substantially similar in character to the current Bullets Conference Champions banners, meaning no logos and one title (including division titles) per banner. In the Caps' case, that meant that there got to be a whole lot of banners up in the rafters even if they amounted to little real actual success. You could make the case that at that time the Wizards/Bullets and Capitals were treated equally. Except they weren't. As I pointed out in February of 2015, four of the six Bullets division titles weren't even acknowledged.

So why if the Capitals banners can get some spiffy overhaul can't the Wizards, and Bullets before them, get an overhaul too? Will it happen if the Wizards win more than one title in the Southeast Division? If that's the case, why should it? Why doesn't the south side of Capital One Arena have Wizards/Bullets banners representing the two teams' statuses equally? Why aren't there logos on all the Bullets and Wizards banners and why aren't there three division banners? Most importantly of all, why doesn't last year's Wizards team get its own banner for the sole (to date) Southeast Division title?

I'm expecting all these questions to be treated as rhetorical by the team, just as they treated my question about the missing Bullets banners almost three years ago. I'm guessing this situation isn't going to get fixed until the Wizards win another three division titles, because it appears there is space on the single division title banner for two more division titles before the team has to make a new one. In the meantime, this still sucks. I've waited 17 years for my own division title banner and the team has waited 38. I'm still annoyed by the whole thing. I sound whiny I know and I hate that.

I realize what I'm proposing is raising more basketball banners than there are now. And in case you feel that it's a space issue, that's clearly not true. The cover photo from my February 2015 post clearly shows 12 Capitals banners. I hope I never have to write anything more on this subject but I'm for sure not sure that's going to be true. Here's hoping the Wizards get the right treatment. I sort of already know it won't happen.

November 17, 2017

Road To The Finals 2017

Three years ago, Panini America introduced a new insert series into their annual NBA Hoops basketball card release which chronicled the prior year's NBA playoffs. They issued a unique card, serial numbered to a decreasing number as the playoffs progressed, for every single NBA playoff game of the prior year. They have continued to do that every year since that time.

I love these cards. It's a way for me to look back on each game my beloved Washington Wizards played last postseason. The only bad thing is the story ultimately ends in heartbreak.

Four years into this thing, I've collected one card from every playoff game the Wizards have played in the past four years. Of course, I only had to buy them three of the four years because, well (ahem!) they didn't make the playoffs in 2016. Here's this year's batch which represents the Wizards best playoff run in my first 17 years as a season ticket holder. In case you care, I also wrote about the 2014 and 2015 issues.

For the first time in 38 years, the Wizards (I'm including Bullets years in this calculation) finished the regular season with home court advantage in round one of the postseason. Their opponent? The Atlanta Hawks, the same team the Wizards lost to in the second round of their prior playoff appearance in 2015. The result? Much different. Two years ago, the Wizards lost at home in game six on a Paul Pierce buzzer beater that wasn't. This year? Well, let's say turnabout is fair play.

I have a couple of fond memories of this series. First I remember how whiny Paul Millsap was in the first two games in Washington as Markieff Morris absolutely stuffed him in game one. And I don't just mean on the court; I mean off the court too. A little physical play from Kieff turned Millsap into a no contact player. What's up with that? 

The Wizards did a great job holding serve in this one but after five games it really did look like a series that would go every game to the team on their home floor. Until John Wall's sublime 42 points in the Wizards 16 point in game six in Atlanta. The only thing better than Wall's performance was his press conference after the game. 

Sitting next to Bradley Beal at the post-game press conference, a grinning smiling John explained his back and forth with the Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones, hip-hop artist Quavo and rapper Gucci Mane towards the end of the game when John was just unstoppable. When asked by a reporter what was "going on", John responded with a perfect "What was going on? I told 'em I was going to get 35 or more and we was going to win. And we did that." Best postgame press conference ever from the Wizards.

John gets two appearances on the first round Road to the Finals cards. Joining him are Bradley Beal and Otto Porter on the other two. On to Boston.

The Wizards and Boston Celtics spent the regular season last year beating each other at home. The Cs played two games in Washington and got beat both times. The Wiz went up to Beantown twice and came back with losses. In between the start and end of the last regular season, there was a poke in the nose, some bad blood and a game where the Wizards dressed in all black for the Celtics' funeral and beat the stuffing out of them at Verizon Center. 

Based on that season head-to-head history, all the Wizards needed was a single win up in Boston and they had the series. I thought they had it in the very first game. 16-0 Wizards. Then 22-5 Wizards. Man, this series was going to be fun! A game one upset and three Ws at home and we got the Eastern Conference Finals. At halftime it was just a five point game in the Wizards' favor. At the end of three it was a 15 point game the other way. Game one lost.

Maybe game two? Another strong first quarter had the Wizards up 13. Surely they learned from game one right? Maybe. Despite letting the Celtics to within one point in the second quarter, they carried a five point bulge into the fourth and were up five with three minutes to go before the game got tied up in the fourth. The Wizards were done in overtime, losing by ten in just five minutes of action.

The Wizards got back into it with home wins in games three and four despite the Celtics dressing in all black (not able to pull it off) but also lost Kelly Oubre, Jr. to a suspension in game five back in Boston for being sick and tired of taking elbows from Kelly Olynyk and not getting foul calls. Game five in Boston was no contest. Avery Bradley killed the Wiz. John Wall's game six dagger at the end of regulation followed by a leap up onto the scorers' table that I completely missed because I was celebrating tied it up at three apiece.

So after a six game back and forth series despite losing every game in Boston I had to think the Wizards had a chance on the road in game seven. If there were two games the road team might have won, the Wiz were the visitor in both in games one and two.

Wasn't to be. Know why? Kelly Olynyk.

Let me say that Kelly Olynyk has absolutely no business being on one of these cards. But he is because the Wizards, as they have often done with this guy, refused to take him seriously as a scoring threat. In each of Olynyk's first four seasons in the league, he's scored at least 19 once in a game against the Wizards. His best scoring game of those four years? Game 7 when he went for 26 points. This game was close...until it wasn't. The Wiz were down three with less than a minute to go in the third. Then Olynyk hit five field goals and two free throws in the fourth. How the Wiz let this guy do this is beyond me. Playoffs over. Better luck next year. Or maybe not. I'm just hoping for three rounds of cards next year.