This is an image that all of us hope to see sometime in June 2010. How we get there is a whole different story. The key to any dreams of championships or deep playoff runs lies with the man who got us to dream of these things in the first place after being the laughing stock of the NBA for years and years. For those who don't remember, prior to the arrival of the man formerly known as Agent Zero, the Black President and Hibachi, this franchise was coming off the embarrassment that was the Michael Jordan era and if you want to go back far enough we can talk of miserable seasons for quite a while, so let's stay fresh and simply go back to the late 90s.
The summer after being praised by none other than Michael Jordan as an up and coming team, the Bullets who would close out the Cap Centre (US Air Arena) with a three game sweep at the hands of the Bulls would never be the same. The following year they moved into their current home, and changed the name of the team from the Bullets to the Wizards. They missed the playoffs the following year with a 42-40 record and then came one of the worst personnel moves we have witnessed around these parts when we traded young and big for old and small (Webber for Richmond and Thorpe). As quickly as we ended what was close to an 8 year drought of playoff basketball, the franchise was about to embark on another with caretakers such as Jim Brovelli, Gar Heard, Darrell Walker, Leonard Hamilton and Doug Collins. Enter Eddie Jordan, Ernie Grunfeld and Gilbert Arenas.
A year later add Antawn Jamison to the mix, and both were named to the 2005 Eastern Conference All-Star team, marking the first time Washington had two players in the All-Star game since Jeff Malone and Moses Malone represented the Bullets in the 1987 All-Star Game. That season, the 2004-2005 season, we got our first glimpse of what could be possible and all of the sudden, the 2nd playoff appearance in 16 years would change not only the perception of the franchise, but the expectations of them by us. The Wizards had managed to get further in the playoffs than they had been in over two decades. Now, with our young nucleus, led by our statesman Captain and the quirky, off the wall guard in Arenas, the fans of the Wizards were thinking playoffs again the following year. Imagine this, after having been to two playoff appearances in 16 years, separated by 8 years in between, the city was abuzz with the new found hope of a perennial playoff contender.
Why you may ask am I bringing all of this up? Well, in order to understand or respect where you are now, you gotta go back and look at the past and realize where you came from. So, quick recap, since our NBA Finals days and prior to the arrival of Gilbert Arenas, this franchise had been to 8 playoff appearances in 26 years. With Gilbert being the catalyst, and I will be the first to admit, it was not all because of him, but he was a huge factor, we missed the playoffs for the first time in......wait for it.....1 year. Now all of the sudden we want to run a guy out of town, tell him he's too selfish, he's overrated, can't change, won't change, but more so isn't worth the money? So now we have become so obsessed with the belief that this franchise is a yearly playoff contender but we should be able to do it without the guy who was mainly responsible for getting us to think that way?
Now he is part of the problem as opposed to the solution? A lot has been made about Gilbert's contract and whether he is worth the money or as I've seen countless writers pen across the country, they just don't believe he is the key you build a team around. There are others who disagree, mainly, Ernie Grunfeld, Flip Saunders, Eddie Jordan, his own teammates, Tim Grover, and countless others who actually play and coach the game. So who's side do you fall on? I believe in Gil and here is why. Back in 2003, when he flipped a coin to come to Washington, Gilbert was a young, emotional, cocky and flamboyant basketball player.
Today I believe that he is a more mature, controlled, still cocky but smarter basketball player. For those who think that Gilbert has spent the last two years simply playing video games and showing up for games in a suit, you are ignorant. Anybody who loves sports, who is passionate to win when they play understands that in order to get better you must watch and learn from others. I find it extremely difficult to believe that in the past two years, the same guy who made this...
Is all of the sudden this...
I believe one of the best things Gil could have done was to seek out Tim Grover. I don't really know all that happens at that gym in Chicago and I can only go by what I read and hear, but let me tell you what I do know. Tim Grover is not some random trainer and his accomplishments have a lot more to do with work than luck. You do not just luckily fall into a 65,000 sq ft training facility. I was going to list the names of the athletes that have been trained by Grover, but you can look for yourself http://www.attackathletics.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=89&Itemid=58. Obviously when you have the endorsement of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade, you can probably safely assume the training methods work. My optimism for Gilbert comes from not only him working with Tim Grover, but everything we've ever read or heard about Gilbert.
This is when he shines brightest. This is the story of his life. Left for dead, whole world against him. Nobody remembers the game winners, the shot against the Bulls, the 60 point night at Staples Center, the follow up performance against the Suns. We only remember the knee surgery, the failed comeback, the back and forth with management about who should have done what. The fact remains, Gilbert got hurt while he was lighting the league on fire. He tried everything in his power to come back, and to a fault he pushed himself too much. Why again are we bashing a guy for this type of effort? It's not like he was sitting down saying, the hell with it, why should I rush back, I'm still being paid. He didn't take the Latrell Sprewell approach, where 17 million dollars was not enough money to feed his family.
Yes Gilbert got paid, and guess what, he was going to make the money somewhere. In a city that is dying for a championship, we get too caught up in the wow that other teams have. Why not embrace our own, live through the trials and tribulations, understand that he just wants us to love him like we did when he was healthy. Why not give the guy who our trusted GM thought was worth the money the chance to show what he has done all of his life - beat the odds? He is after all a big part of the reason we have these dreams of grandeur in the first place. Without him who knows if we would have ever beaten the Bulls, if we would have even been in the playoffs, or if somebody would have come along to give us countless buzzer beaters and franchise scoring records. After all we had seen so many in the previous two decades right?
I sometimes think it is amazing that one man has the power to be the biggest scapegoat in the city he plays in and at the same time, with just 1 NBA Championship they could arguably be one the greatest players in franchise history? If we are to see the picture above come true, confetti raining down sometime in June for the Washington Wizards, it is definitely not going to all fall on Gilbert's plate. The rest of the team is going to have to step up there level of play. So far, and we can only take them at their word and from what we've seen, but you have to be encouraged by the off season. We brought in a coach with a proven winning track record. Caron is in the best shape of his life after apparently swearing off the Dew. Blatche has changed his number and attitude and hopes to continue building upon the already good numbers for where he was drafted (remember expectations). Nick Young is focused and listening to the coach. Antawn obviously injured himself, but the injury is not as bad a originally feared. For what we lost in the offseason (Songaila, Oily, and Etan) compared with what we gained in the return of Gil, Brendan and Stevenson, and the additions of Randy Foye, Ferocious Fabricio and the absolutely sick shooting of..
I don't know how anybody can say that the Washington Wizards don't stack up well against every team in the league. The key is health, but even more so, the key is the health of Gilbert and since he's not worried about it, and the guy who trained him back into shape is not worried about it, I think it's time for us to stop worrying about it too. Like I said, his GM believes, his coach believes, his teammates believe, it's time for the city he represents to believe as well. It's time to embrace Gilbert and the Wizards like we have with our Capitals, it's time to give them 1/10th of the rope to hang themselves that this city affords the Redskins. After all if we are going to talk about success, there is no athlete in DC that is playing right now that has elevated their team to higher success than Gilbert has with the Wizards with the exception of Alex Ovechkin and he is considered by most as the greatest player in his sport right now. The city is on Gilbert's shoulders but we should make it a little easier and give him the support until he proves he can't do it. Let's give him the chance to prove once again that.. Impossible is Nothing.