A framed photo of the Larry O'Brien Trophy hangs in John Wall's locker. It was left there by its previous occupant, Antawn Jamison. The Wizards are a long way from being championship contenders, but Wall said he never considered taking the picture down.
Washington closed out the 2011-12 season Thursday night against the Miami Heat, the odds-on favorite to win the NBA championship. But for the Wizards, it was another disappointing campaign, highlighted by a coaching change, trades and injuries, which culminated in their fourth straight losing season.
While frustrating for some, rookie point guard Shelvin Mack found a silver lining in the dark clouds that have hovered over this team since it last qualified for the playoffs, the 2007-08 season.
"It's been a great year for me, personally," Mack said. "The biggest thing is getting some experience out there on the court. I've been able to learn a lot. I know we've had a lot of ups and downs, but I look at it as a success."
Wall also is also looking on the bright side, much more than he was earlier this year. Going into Thursday's game, the Wizards had won five straight, something they hadn't done since the week of Nov. 11-21, 2007.
"It feels good to win," Wall said. "You can tell the whole group is having a lot more fun. It's just something you want to end the season with, so you can remember how you ended last year."
The Wizards were 23-59 last year, but played well in the final month, going 5-3 in April. Wall knows that playoff teams are resting their stars in these last few games but said he'll take the wins regardless of who's on the court.
"Playing their best guys or not, every team is still good," said Wall, who plans to take in a few playoff games. Just like last year, he'll watch from the stands and dream of the day when he can participate.
"It's a rebuilding process," Wall said. "We just have to trust each other."
Team president Ernie Grunfeld, who agreed to a contract extension Tuesday that is expected to take him through the 2013-14 season, called this "Year 2 of a three-year rebuild."
It seems to be the watchword when describing the Wizards.
"When I bought the Wizards, I told you that we would be rebuilding and that it was a process that would take time," owner Ted Leonsis wrote in his blog, "Ted's Take," on Tuesday.
"I believe we have completed the first segment of that process and are poised to be a competitive team going forward."
Taking Grunfeld and Leonsis at their word is a weary fan base that will be expecting measurable improvement by this time next year.
"Like you," Leonsis wrote, "I now expect the Wizards to transition from a work-in-progress to a team that competes for a playoff spot."
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