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SNYDER: Wizards show case of arrested development

Flashes of promise are followed by too many lapses

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Wizards are going as expected, starting to play more as a team, with more intensity and confidence. They're starting to get contributions from many players and should settle in now and start to become more productive.

Don't look at me like I'm crazy. That's what owner Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog when the Washington Wizards were merely 0-5. He said he knew the rebuilding process would be difficult, messy and painful, but he's patient.

He could use some tips from Job at this juncture.

"Obviously — no one is happy with the progress we are making as a team," Leonsis wrote after Washington fell to only 0-8. "It is important that we be measured and smart in how we move forward."

But the Wizards are stuck in reverse with the pedal floored, collectively unable to comprehend the words "measured" or "smart." That much is clear after Monday's loss dropped them to 1-12 and provided Exhibits X, Y and Z in the case against them.

Washington is guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt. The offense?

Flashes and lapses. Primarily the latter.

It's not as if the Wizards are totally devoid of talent. They have some nice pieces, including guard John Wall, center JaVale McGee and rookie forward Chris Singleton. But the sum is less than the parts, working together worse than a brain with two right sides.

For every flash of skill and athleticism, there's a lapse in judgment and decision-making. McGee, who has been one of the main culprits, presented the most damning evidence yet in the 114-106 loss to Houston on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

With Washington trailing by six points early in the third quarter, McGee found himself alone on a fast break and suddenly thought he was in the dunk contest. Or in a summer- league exhibition. Or playing a game of H-O-R-S-E in the driveway. He bounced an alley-oop to himself off the backboard and threw down a two-hander.

Never mind that the Wizards were stuck on one win while every other team entered the day with at least three. Never mind that McGee has no problem making flashy plays but remains befuddled by fundamentals. Never mind that a miscue on the streetball move would have made the Wizards — impossible as it might seem — even bigger laughingstocks.

The Rockets responded with a 19-4 run, but that's beside the point, too.

Such a play wouldn't occur on a winning, professional, championship-caliber team. I don't know what's worse about McGee, pulling the stunt in the first place or failing to recognize afterward that it was inappropriate. Coach Flip Saunders called the play "unacceptable." Boneheaded would've been more accurate, applicable to the dunk as well as the response.

"Apparently, if you get a fast break and throw it off the backboard in the third quarter, and you're 1-11, you're not supposed to do stuff like that," said McGee, still not getting it. "I felt like I was trying to get the team hype and trying to make a good play. I felt like I did that and went on a run from there."

The misguided dunk was just one bad play in one bad loss, in what's certain to be a season full of both. But it was a clear indication of the state of the franchise: The lapses are routing the flashes.

Unfortunately, Washington's culture of losing is regenerating, not retreating, in Year 2 of the rebuilding plan. The team isn't just losing, it's losing ugly. Bad habits are being reinforced, and mistakes are being repeated. The energy is lagging and body language is sagging. Defeat seems inevitable before each opening tip, with a sense of futility hanging in the air.

Leonsis likes to joke that fans and journalists have all the answers. He has a point, because it's easy to suggest solutions when you're not the one who's accountable, responsible and liable. He wants to stay the course of building around Wall and some current young players, augmented with some veteran free agents and another draft pick or two.

But there's been no evidence of progress this year, not even the limited improvement Leonsis said would be acceptable. The bright end to last season, when the Wizards went 6-4 in their final 10 games, including wins against playoff-bound Boston and Atlanta, appears to have been fools' gold.

The team has too much youth and too many players who would be complementary components on a contending team. This season was supposed to determine which players should be retained as the rebuilding process continues. But there's no need to wait until April 26, when the campaign mercifully comes to an end.

There's already enough evidence that the mix should be altered now, as the losing culture grows more entrenched.

Until the deck is shuffled, Washington will threaten the NBA's mark for all-time lowest winning percentage while mostly continuing the same, sad cycle:

Flash, lapse, loss. Repeat.

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