- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Somebody hacked the Wikipedia page for the Washington Wizards.

The entry says that the Wizards are a “member” of the NBA, which is debatable.

Spectator? That’s a better description.

Randy Wittman lost his front-row seat as the Wizards announced they were “parting ways” with the coach, which I have to say is a very civil way to describe a firing.

The coach with a historic career losing record — 278-406 over 10 seasons with Washington, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Minnesota Timberwolves — was fired by Ernie Grunfield, the general manager who has a record of 444-606 over 13 seasons with the Wizards.

I don’t think that qualifies as membership in the NBA.

It’s been a long time since the franchise has been a member of the NBA. Entire eras have come and gone since the Wizards, and before that, the Bullets, have advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs.

Kobe Bryant played his last game the same night Wittman coached his last Wizards game. The entire Kobe era — from 1996 until April 13, 2016 — came and went without the Wizards moving beyond the second round in the handful of times they made the playoffs.

The Wizards were spectators, not members, in the Bryant era.

Heck, the Wizards were spectators for half of the career of Kobe’s father, Joe.
How about the Michael Jordan era? It began in 1984, ended the first time in 1998 (in between, his 1993 retirement) and, insult of all insults, included the Wizards themselves in his 2001 comeback for two seasons.

The Jordan era? Spectators, not members.

How about the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird era, beginning in 1979 and ending in 1992, unless you include Magic’s 1995 comeback? Yet again, not one season in which Washington made it past the second round of the NBA playoffs.

We are in year 10 of the LeBron James era; LeBron’s mother, Gloria, was 12 years old the last time this franchise made it past the second round of the NBA playoffs. We are in year seven of the Stephen Curry era. Curry’s father, Dell, broke in while Washington was a spectator and ended his career with the Wizards still spectators.

Yet as each era comes and goes, the Wizards have been watching greatness from afar — and selling it to their own fans.

Why would owner Ted Leonsis hire a coach who had been a chronic loser? Why would Leonsis continue to employ a general manager who has buried this franchise through poor drafting and creating an atmosphere of tolerance that allowed a bomb named Gilbert Arenas to go off in that locker room?

How could anyone not see that this franchise needed a dramatic change the moment Leonsis took possession of the team following Abe Pollin’s death?

I understand that Leonsis was handed a team with financial hardships when he purchased the Wizards. I get that. But this NBA franchise had long been reduced to spectator status before he took over and desperately needed change no matter the costs — because now the costs have become much higher.

In a place that most people consider a basketball town, the franchise plays before catatonic fans in an arena that many nights feels like a mausoleum — unless, of course, one of those icons who identify an NBA era, like Kobe or LeBron or Curry, are playing at Verizon Center. Only then does it come alive.

The damage has only gotten worse since Leonsis bought the team in 2010. The hole has only grown deeper. Look no further than the latest so-called Wizards success — two previous playoff seasons before a 41-41 finish this year. Empty seats for playoff games. Atmosphere under criticism from NBA commentators. These were the best times for this franchise of late.

What happens if the Kevin Durant era, now in its ninth season, doesn’t shift from Oklahoma City to Washington next year? What is the Durant era comes and goes, bypassing Washington? More seasons with a basketball team that is a spectator instead of a member of the NBA?

What do Wizards fans have to look forward to — the Kelly Oubre Jr. era?


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