You want to know a major reason why sports are so much fun? Here’s one: You never, ever know.
That’s why they play the games and all that. The safest predictions sometimes aren’t that safe. Things change, quickly.
The perfect example lies right here in our fair metropolitan area. Look no further than the area’s entrants in the big four of professional sports.
You never know.
Let’s say a year or so ago, if someone had written the Wizards would be at the top of the heap among those teams, it would have triggered a good chuckle. The woeful Wizards, now looking down with grins at the Nationals, Capitals and Redskins.
The Nationals were coming off a season in which they won more regular season games than any team in baseball. They were set up to make the playoffs for years to come.
The Capitals were coming off a lockout-shortened season, their first under coach Adam Oates and one that saw Alex Ovechkin win his third MVP award. Ovi was rejuvenated and great things were going to happen.
The Redskins were coming off an NFC East championship and, despite a knee injury suffered by quarterback Robert Griffin III, looked ready to become consistent Super Bowl contenders.
The Wizards? They finished 29-53 and, as had become their habit, out of the playoffs.
Let’s fast-forward to now and take another snapshot.
The Nationals missed the playoffs in 2013. A couple of injuries combined with some bad baseball led to a deficit that a very strong finish could not overcome.
Though the 2014 season is only two weeks old, the Nats have more injury problems and still can’t figure out how to beat the Braves.
The Capitals are a bit of a train wreck, despite the fact that Ovechkin led the league in goals. They missed the playoffs and no one seems to know if George McPhee will return as general manager or Oates will return as coach. The team needs to figure out a lot of things before anyone considers it a Stanley Cup contender again.
As for the Redskins, RG3 rarely looked right on that surgically repaired knee and the 2013 season was 100 times as disappointing as the previous season was exciting. They finished 3-13, coach Mike Shanahan got fired and Jay Gruden was brought in to oversee the overhaul. For some salt in the wound, that first-round pick sent to St. Louis to get in position to draft RG3 is now the second pick in next month’s NFL Draft.
And the Wizards are going to the NBA playoffs after a six-year absence. We’re hesitant to say it, given how quickly things do change, but the team looks like it is set up to become a regular postseason participant.
John Wall has become what the team wanted him to become when it drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010 — a force, a guy the team revolves around, an All-Star and a leader. He’s still a work in progress and still only 23. If you did an individual ranking of the “superstars” on all the area teams right now, you could make a very strong case that Wall is No. 1.
Bradley Beal is also developing into a standout. In a few more years when people talk about the NBA’s best backcourts, Wall and Beal could be at the top of that list.
It’s hard to argue that Marcin Gortat is not the best offseason acquisition made by any of the area’s teams. For all the deserved grief Ernie Grunfeld takes about the direction of the Wizards, for all the head-scratcher moves he’s made (Jan Vesely?), this one was a winner. Gortat averages 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds.
Gortat is an unrestricted free agent after this season. So is Trevor Ariza, who has had a monster year for the Wizards with averages of 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. He’s also shooting 41.2 percent from 3-point range. The Wizards are the seventh team the 28-year-old Ariza has played for and it looks as if he’s finally developed into a guy you’d want to keep.
Will they re-sign Gortat? Will they re-sign Ariza? That’s one way things change so quickly in sports, you lose key pieces to free agency without adequate replacements on hand.
Surely the Wizards realize their value and won’t let that happen here, right? Right?
Those questions will be answered soon enough, For now, the Wizards are headed to the playoffs while other members of the area’s Big Four are figuring out how to get back. For now, the Wizards are at the head of the class.