City Paper is not for tourists
A few weeks ago, I wrote that the Wizards have some reasons to be confident heading into the season. They had unloaded malcontent center Marcin Gortat in the offseason and brought in Dwight Howard, the athletic, all-star big man that John Wall had personally recruited. The core of Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter Jr. have returned and with LeBron James moving to the West, the Eastern Conference looked like a wide-open race.
Well, forget about feeling confident. Seven games into the season, the 1-6 Wizards sit at the bottom of their conference and appear to be as dysfunctional as ever. Howard has yet to play. (He’s reportedly set to return Friday.) Beal and Wall have both talked about how players have their own “agendas.”And The Ringer‘s John Gonzalez recently published a piece listing the ways Porter’s teammates have called him out without saying his name.
Scroll through Twitter during a Wizards game, and you’ll find plenty of despair from fans and general amusement with the NBA’s best soap opera.
One of the most active voices on Wizards Twitter is Washington Post‘s deputy features editorDavid Malitz, a “pretty die-hard” fan since the 1980s, when he would attend Washington Bullets games at the Capital Centre with his father.
Malitz, 38, tweets during games, which he watches at home, sometimes with music on in the background. This season has provided no shortage of meme-able moments. In one tweet, after the Wizards lost to the Memphis Grizzlies, 107-95, Malitz posted a series of photos that perfectly capture the mood of the franchise and its fans.
There’s Beal with his arms on his head, looking like he would rather be anywhere else in the world. There’s Wall, staring ahead with a dead look in his eyes. Steve Buckhantz, the team’s play-by-play announcer, appears speechless, and downright depressed. Kelly Oubre Jr. doesn’t know what to do with himself.
“I always feel bad for Buckhantz,” says Malitz. “His voice sounds very sad and dejected, and I do worry about his well-being. Phil Chenier [the team’s former color analyst] was always such a happy guy. I think Buck goes to a dark place. He goes silent for 20 seconds, and I get a little worried.”
Every time Malitz pauses the television, his wife sighs in the background and turns off the lights. She knows he’s trying to get the perfect shot for Twitter.
“It’s a very, very pathetic ritual,” he says, “but you got to get it right.”
For Malitz, Gilbert Arenas represents the team’s happy days. That’s when his “super fandom kicked into high gear,” he says. And for all of Arenas’ personal faults—the gun-in-the-locker-room incident, the terrible and hurtful things he’s said about black women and the WNBA—Wizards fans fondly remember the fun atmosphere he brought to D.C. during his playing days.
“This year’s team is a good example of why I’m an apologist for the Gilbert years, not for him personally, but it was fun to watch the team play,” says Malitz. “They were goofy, likeable, and winning games in exciting ways.”
In Malitz’s mind, the beginning of the end for the current core began in the summer of 2016. He emphasizes that he’s simply offering his opinion as a fan and not as a Washington Post journalist. Malitz says he leaves actual analysis to The Post‘s Wizards beat reporter Candace Buckner or “the Mike Pradas of the world.”
That’s the summer when the Wizards and fans of the team hoped against hope that Kevin Durant would be coming home. Washington’s Plan B was Al Horford, who expressed some interest in signing with the Wizards but ultimately joined the Boston Celtics.
Instead, Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld signed center Ian Mahinmi to a four-year, $64 million contract. The Wizards quietly gave Grunfeld a contract extension months before the end of last season, despite the team’s subpar performances under his watch. Grunfeld is the fifth-longest tenured NBA president or general manager in the league. The four above him on the list have all won at least one NBA championship.
“At this point, I’ve come to accept they’re not going to win a championship anytime in the next 10 years. That’s pretty clear,” says Malitz. “I think you just have to go for the existential dread of it. … I think that once you accept that as your fate, you can kind of deal with it.”
But with all that said, the season is still young. Howard is set to return soon and could turn around the team’s season. Right?
“They’re one Bradley Beal three-pointer away from being 0-7. They got destroyed by [the Sacramento Kings],” Malitz says. “And they’re counting on Dwight Howard to save the season? That’s amazing to think about. Dwight Howard is the savior, while everyone is sniping at each other. It is funny, though. You got to give them credit.”