Is All Hope Lost?

Only the most eternal optimist can look at the Washington Wizards' 4-21 record and still believe that the playoffs are a possibility. With the Wizards matching the 1966-67 Baltimore Bullets for the worst start in franchise history (with the help of a six-game losing streak), DeShawn Stevenson benching himself, Caron Butler having sideline rants and no timetable for Gilbert Arenas's return, the NBA draft lottery is the more realistic expectation for this team.

The Wizards' chances of recovering are faint, at best. In order to finish with a .500 record, they would have to go 37-20 the rest of the season. Not likely. Last season, the Hawks got the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference with 37 wins, which would require an impressive 33-24 finish. Possible. But again, not likely.

Being down 17 games in the win-loss department usually leads to visions of ping pong balls dancing in your head, but the Wizards may actually be able to find some hope in the Cleveland Cavaliers. Huh? You ask. How can the Wizards find hope in the team that eliminated them from the playoffs the past three seasons; the Christmas Day opponent that currently has the second-best record in the NBA? Let's go back in time a bit.


Mr. Free, this team will inspire others in the future. Maybe. (nba.com/cavaliers/File Photo)

Back in 1984-85, George Karl was a 33-year-old rookie coach and he couldn't have asked for a more difficult start to his coaching career. The Cavaliers lost their first nine games, and after 21 games, they were 2-19 (17 games below .500, just like the current local five). Karl also feuded with the team's star, World B. Free, who wanted to be free to jack up any and every shot he wanted. Free once said that he and Karl butted heads like two rams. Karl, now head coach with the Denver Nuggets, once described the rough start as "misery."

That season, though, the Cavaliers rallied from the gutter to finish the season on a 34-27 tear and make the playoffs with a 36-46 record. Cleveland then played a tightly contested four-game playoff series against the defending champion Boston Celtics in which they led in the final two minutes of each game before losing the best-of-five playoff series, 3-1. Current Wizards assistant Phil Hubbard was a member of that team, which also featured Roy Hinson and Johnny Davis.

"It was a little bit, we had some injuries, we got some guys back," Karl said recently, explaining how the team made something out of a seemingly nothing season. But the turning point for the season, Karl said, came when his 21-37 team left for a six-game road trip in late February and won the first five games in a row against Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers.

"And that got us into a position where we weren't that far from the last spot," Karl said, adding that the Cavaliers "hadn't made it nine years, so the karma of the season, got to be, 'Hey we can do this.' Everybody got into it."

The Cavaliers went on another six-game winning streak to push their record to 34-43, making the playoffs even more of a probability. After failing to clinch a playoff spot in their next game against the Washington Bullets, the Cavaliers completed their improbable climb in their next game against the New Jersey Nets.

Cleveland fell behind by 13 points early in that game, but Hubbard, who was having a career year with the Cavaliers that season, scored eight points during a decisive 10-0 fourth-quarter run that helped his team secure the eighth and final playoff berth with a 114-100 victory.

Then - in a move that is rarely, if ever, seen in the NBA - Free and Hinson celebrated by lifting Karl on their shoulders and carrying him off the floor. Karl said he can't imagine that ever happening again. "I was a little skinnier," Karl said, with a laugh. "I've never seen it happen before."

At the time Karl said making the playoffs was a "miracle." Free said the team "had help from God." Karl actually wept after the series against the Celtics. "It was probably one of the best years that I've ever enjoyed coaching," Karl said.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the Wizards will make the same dramatic turnaround, or that Butler and Antawn Jamison will be carrying Ed Tapscott on their shoulders come April. It's just a little something to give you some hope, or better yet, pause before ramming your heads through a wall with this miserable season.

By Michael Lee |  December 23, 2008; 11:05 AM ET
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Wiz suck...

Posted by: jimmydeanroundsausages | December 23, 2008 11:42 AM

We're STILL making fabrications of playoff possibilities? Just let it go, man...

Posted by: sargeantmofo | December 23, 2008 11:44 AM

At this point we should be trying to get experience, not reaching the playoffs. No chance in heck we get in. This is exactly why a lot of us are exasperated. We're wearing out our two best players and playing average veterans for what?

There are a bunch of guys on this team who will never get any better and should subsequently play less minutes. Songaila, Etan and DS are three obvious choices.

Even if we could possibly win 10 more games by playing vets, what's the upside? If we play young guys and lose 60 games, we get a better lottery pick and the youngs get experience. If we play the vets and lose 50, we get a worse lottery pick and the young guys are still frightened deer in headlights next year when we need them.
The best scenario is that the youngs start doing well and playing better and we start to put some decent wins together later in the season in March when Gil comes back. Win/win.

Posted by: original_mark | December 23, 2008 11:44 AM

Yes. Yes it is.

Posted by: pondaz | December 23, 2008 12:04 PM

No way the Wiz will get in the playoffs. The team should be preparing for next season. Hopefully with a healthy Arenas and Haywood and a good draft pick, the team can compete again next year. With NY and AB you have two promising young players who should be a solid (note: not all-stars) caliber player and a bunch of veterans DSS, DS, MJ to compliment the big 3.

Posted by: Dave381 | December 23, 2008 12:20 PM

TL;DR

Let's go Caps.

Posted by: bryc3 | December 23, 2008 12:24 PM

who cares really?

why is Stevenson STILL on this team?

get rid of DeGarbage.

Posted by: RedDMV | December 23, 2008 12:38 PM

Michael, lets be clear, Yes it can happen to this team. They can do it, but will they. ETaps is at least making a baby step here and there and I thought Caron should have been a lot more demonstrative. Maybe he did. I hope so.

In this league this team can go 10 - 0 easy. A good blow up like Caron almost did, that turns the light bulb on for everybody, where they all have to defend themselves, and play for their own self respect, and demands the right style of play for their talents and not NBA ideals, can turn this team around.

Mike, thanks for the NBA tidbit. Storys like that happen all the time in the NBA.

Why Not The Wizards?

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | December 23, 2008 12:49 PM

JD at point, CB at two, AJ at three, AB at four, and JM at the five, JD pushes up the court to the hoop to score first or pass. If nothing there, then reset to halfcourt offense.

We'll beat your granddaddys and your grandmommas. Lets go back.

JD at point because of the fact that he is offense first mentality, but he pushes to the hoop first to score or pass to his breakers. It would put the defense at a extreme disadvantage. Thats the first 5-8 secs' of the shotclock and if nothing there, then we go to offensive set.

2nd Team. DOM in first to relieve either AB or JM, but he plays 4. NY & James 2. JC at the 1. DSon at the 4. IF AB and JM are both out of the game, then we must always Uptempo. PECH in at the 3; shoot first.i.e.DStev in at 2 shoot first.

You must define specific limited roles. DSTev is bad cause he is doing to much. PECH can shoot the ball, so thats what he should do. DSon is slow but even worse at center defense. Keep him out the five, but utilize his assets in the 2nd wave offense.

Always push for the first 5-8 secs for easy shot, if not there, go to set.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | December 23, 2008 1:15 PM

Dominic is starting tonight.

Posted by: LooseCannon1 | December 23, 2008 1:17 PM

^ from SportzWiz......again beats Ivan to the news.

Posted by: LooseCannon1 | December 23, 2008 1:18 PM

"probable, but not likely" - huh? that makes no sense.

anyway, the season's over. it's been over for at least a month. consider the rest of the season extended training camp for 2009/10. it's time to find out whether young, blatche, mcguire, crittenton and pecherov are worth keeping.

Posted by: PindarPushkin | December 23, 2008 1:21 PM

Hey Michael and Ivan, are our players in shape the way they should be? Before I moved to DC, I was a Knicks fan in the mid-90's when Pat Riley was running the show there and that team was the best conditioned team in the league and it showed every night. Opponents would just fade in the fourth (except for Jordan's bulls). Is there any chance the exact opposite is going on here with the Wiz given the number of fourth quarter collapses?

Posted by: jonathan30033 | December 23, 2008 1:21 PM

I'm sure he meant to write "possible. But not likely."

Posted by: bford1kb | December 23, 2008 1:24 PM

1. James 2. Caron 3. jamison 4. Blatche 5. mcgee

Posted by: bford1kb | December 23, 2008 1:26 PM

Yes, yes we can.

I truly believe we can reach double-digit victories.

Posted by: farstriker | December 23, 2008 1:32 PM

jonathan30033 has a very valid point - conditioning. While they may not be in as bad shape as Mel Turpin, "Hot Plate" Williams, or Stanley Roberts I suspect they're pretty bad.
Run Marine Corps basic training for 2 hours before each regular practice. There is no reason why AB or OP should be pushed around, unless they are just fraile. (I remember a Knicks player - Kenny Sears from many years ago.) Get a conditioning coach and push them.
What's Nolan Richardson doing these days? Perhaps he could come in and install "48 minutes of hell".

Posted by: lrmc623 | December 23, 2008 1:47 PM

Dang! I rammed my head through a wall at around 11:02 this morning...if only you had posted this sooner Ivan.

Posted by: WaPoLiveFan16 | December 23, 2008 2:16 PM

My bad, I said Ivan, but meant Michael.

Posted by: WaPoLiveFan16 | December 23, 2008 2:36 PM

Who gives a damnn about the playoffs. That's what's wrong with this franchise. The object,I thought is to winn championships. To build to win championships, to play to win championships, to manage to win championships. As long as getting to the playoffs is the goal, the franchise is doomed. Why watch, or as a city care about a team that's willing to be mired in mediocrity? Abe needs to speak up! Where is Gilbert, who's been quiet since the trade, now that's not a bad thing! Somehting major has to happen. Bringing in Ed Tapscott obviously is not the answer to this perennial malaise. This is a town that cares about sports, and this team is not representing the spirit of competitive endeavor!

Posted by: zbopjazz | December 23, 2008 2:36 PM

PindarPushkin makes a great point! Use the rest of this season as a "training camp." Experiment with different lineups. Give the young guys more minutes. Stop running Antawn into the ground with all those minutes,especially when we have him under contract until he is 37!! (Ridiculous by the way) Save some for next year. But anyway, work on fundamentals each game like defense, and rebounding. Learn how to ignore the coach when he tries to run the Princeton offense (i.e. Community College offense). No more three-man weaves above the three-point line, please!! Dedicate 20 minutes each practice to picking ping-pong balls out of the hopper. Plan now for next year.

Posted by: hamptonpirates89 | December 23, 2008 2:42 PM

This season is over from a competitive standpoint for the playoffs, but there is much to learn about the younger players on this roster.

Unfortunately, Tapscott and the front office seem more interested in winning a few more games with 33 year old Mike James and the rest of the veterans on the floor rather than seeing what the 5-6 younger players on the roster can do in extended action, and more importantly what they will learn to be contributors in 2009.

Part of the problem is that Pollin is 85 years old and like Dan Snyder is impatient to win in the extreme.

These guys don't want to hear that a season is basically done in by injuries and the poor play of some vets.

They want quick fixes and patches rather than a top to bottom approach to re-casting the team and making it into a true contender.

If Arenas comes back in January, he needs time to get back into game action. You aren't going to see the same player from 2-3 years ago until 2009 in all likelihood.

Someone needs to tell Pollin that so he can let go and allow Grunfeld and the coaches work the younger guys and make their evaluations heading into what is going to be an important decision come the draft lottery in the offseason.

Posted by: leopard09 | December 23, 2008 3:34 PM

Everybody must be really bored at work b/c the Wiz are doomed to suck for a while. There is no need to pontificate on it.
Just face it, they're LOSERS.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. What kind of team would have a SG starting while only shooting 31 percent?
2. What kind of team year in and year would never improve their defense?
3. What kind of team has an assortment of gimmicks like Singles Night, Watch your Favorite Players from Other Teams Play, Tallest/Shortest Players, etc?
I'll tell you who. A Loser.

Here is the major indictment of the Franchise:
The moment EG decided to give Gil and AJ big money they lost all possibility of building a contender.
When somebody is injured you don't give them max and thats what EG did. EG and the rest of the Wiz front office needs to be treated like a pinata by the fans...

Posted by: jimmydeanroundsausages | December 23, 2008 4:09 PM

Yeah let's get the youngs some experience...

Experience losing. That's all they're gonna get.

How many ways Tim Duncan can score on you. What AI's dust tastes like. What Shaq's forearm tastes like. That's what they'll experience.

Half of veteran experience is knowing where to be and what to do. The other half is having the confidence of prior success being there and doing it.

Posted by: jones-y | December 23, 2008 4:33 PM

You people are the worst fans in sports. Seriously, it was more pleasant following this team back when they were reliably awful. This is a very well constructed team with two major injuries. Please turn your bitterness and hate against yourselves this holiday season.

Posted by: IrenePollin | December 23, 2008 5:06 PM

I'm just glad DeShawn's not in the lineup. I'm sure Steve Buckhantz is with me. Instead of using his trademark "Dagger!" late in the 4th, he was always calling "Stevenson...way short!"

Posted by: MBUSA | December 23, 2008 5:09 PM

Here's how I look at it:

If Jesus can come back from the dead, then anything's possible...

Posted by: Samson151 | December 23, 2008 5:32 PM

You people are the worst fans in sports. Seriously, it was more pleasant following this team back when they were reliably awful. This is a very well constructed team with two major injuries. Please turn your bitterness and hate against yourselves this holiday season.

Posted by: IrenePollin | December 23, 2008 5:06 PM

Tell ABE to quit being so cheap, spend some money, go over the luxury cap and build a winner. This current team sucks and if you think they are a well constructed team, then you are crazy. They have 4 wins, that equals sucks and I do not care how many injuries they have. You are right on one point, it was more pleasant following this team back when they were reliably awful, at least the fans had hope that a good draft pick could turn things around. After the signing of AJ and Gilbert and with ABE being so cheap there is no hope at all. It is not bitterness and hate, it is what fans call passion, and it is something ABE does not have.

Posted by: bulletsfan78 | December 23, 2008 6:36 PM

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