- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2013


Hope is alive and well at the Verizon Center.

It exists in the speed of John Wall. You can find it in the smart play of Nene, in the long range shooting of Martell Webster

It was alive and well at Ted Leonsis’ Pleasure Palace Tuesday night, even on the day Wizards fans heard the news that one of their young stars and leading scorer, Bradley Beal, would be out for at least two weeks with a stress injury to his right foot, as the Wizards defeated the mighty Los Angeles Lakers 116-111 for their second straight victory.

Sure, it was the Kobe-less Lakers, but hope doesn’t deal in facts or reason. And yes, it only brought the Wizards record up to 5-7 in his early NBA season. And there are those questions about Beal, who missed the final eight games last season and much of the offseason with a similar injury.

But hope is alive and well at Verizon Center because it’s a welcome change-of-pace from despair, which has been like oxygen at Wizards games for years.

Bless the basketball fans in this town. They can set aside decades of ineptitude by the historically bad franchise – a franchise that has not won 50 games in an NBA season since 1979 – and get excited about a losing team in November.

If you can master this amnesia, these Wizards are a fun bunch, seemingly with reason to hope.

Nene is the best big man in a Wizards uniform in decades. Wall has been playing like an elite point guard of late, and did so in stretches last year, perhaps justifying the five-year, $80 million contract this past summer. Webster can shoot the lights out of the basket on any given night. And then there is Beal, the 20-year-old second-year player from St. Louis who has appeared to be a star in the making.

Wall and Beal – a backcourt with a bright future in a league that is now dominated by backcourt play.

That’s hope.

Hope ignores the reality that Nene is 31, in his 13th NBA season, and because of a body that has been breaking down, hasn’t played a full season since 2009. Hope ignores the inconsistency of Wall, who, in his fourth NBA season, still shows a rookie basketball IQ some nights. Hope choses to embrace the win over the Lakers this week and glosses over the injury that plagued Beal in his rookie season and could still cost him more than two weeks this year.

Hope ignores this guy:

“This is the very early stages of it and we just want to make sure it doesn’t turn into anything serious. He’d been playing great. He hadn’t shown any signs of favoring it or anything like that. He’d been playing terrific basketball. … He began complaining about it, and as soon as he did we had it checked out. We want to be proactive with this and then be very cautious with it.”

That’s Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld talking about the Beal injury.

This is the greatest achievement of the hope that is filtering through the Verizon Center these days – to seemingly deny the existence of Ernie Grunfeld.

To forget that this is the architect of those Gilbert Arenas squads that eventually led to a group of embarrassing, dysfunctional basketball teams that embarrassed the city is a testament to the power of hope.

To forget that this is the general manager who drafted Jan Vesely and passed over Kawhi Leonard in the 2011 NBA draft – or, for that matter, gave Andray Blatche, when the world could see he was a dysfunctional player who represented everything that was wrong about the Washington Wizards, a $35 million contract extension – is evidence that hope can trump despair.

To ignore a general manager whose record in Washington is 317-497 after the win over the Lakers and believe that better days are ahead for the Wizards is perhaps hope’s greatest achievement.

This Wizards team is entertaining and, if it stays healthy, thanks to a lousy NBA Eastern Conference, has a good chance to make the playoffs.

If that happens, Ernie Grunfeld, whose contract is reportedly up at the end of this season, will stay on to continue his work.

We can only hope, right?

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com



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