City Paper is not for tourists
It wasn’t missing out on Kevin Durant that seemed to have deflated Wizards fandom. The only thing that would’ve gotten Durant—DMV local, all-World player, and crown jewel of this NBA free agency period—to come to D.C. was if his desire to come home was greater than his desire to do something sensible with his basketball future. Everyone knew that, and so Durant’s announcement that the Wizards weren’t even getting a courtesy visit actually made sense.
What seemed to rankle was that there appeared to be no real Plan B for the club. The first 24 hours of free agency slipped by without anyone of note expressing even the slightest interest in the Wizards. They re-signed Bradley Beal to a max deal because they had no real choice, and the fanbase seemed to sigh and shrug in unison.
The malaise on #WizardsTwitter was palpable. I reached out to die-hard Wizards fans and media types asking how they’d characterize their morale.
“In a word: resigned,” wrote Kevin Broom, an analytics-focused Wizards blogger. “They’ve had many opportunities to add talent and build a terrific team, but they’ve consistently opted for short-term fixes.”
“The current mood is despondent,” wrote Bullets Forever’s Jake Whitacre, “but not much more despondent than it was for most of the season.”
And then, before anyone else could get back to me, something weird happened: The Wizards emerged as one of the front-runners to land Al Horford, a versatile big man who would’ve addressed a lot of needs. The decision narrowed, according to the top NBA free agency beat reporters, to a choice between D.C. and the Celtics.
Suddenly, Wizards fans dared to hope again. One of the top free agents, at a position of need, was considering the Wizards! This would get John Wall the big man he had openly been asking for, restore the team to relevancy, and wash away the bland mediocrity of last year’s .500 squad!
Except anyone following the Wizards in any capacity knew exactly how this was going to end. Saturday morning, while the Horford optimism was at its peak, Wizards blogger (and, full disclosure, a longtime friend of mine) Ben Becker set me a message: “This would be a massive game changer. Your column should be the emotional roller coaster between [the Horford news] dropping and the eventual soul crushing letdown of him choosing elsewhere.”
He nailed it. Horford picked the Celtics, and Wizards fans just kind of sank back down to the baseline level of general melancholy that’s their typical state. If it had been a roller coaster, it was less like “Top Thrill Dragster” and more like Ocean City’s “Sooper Jet” kiddie coaster.
With the top-line talent off the board, the team filled out their bench with journeymen, projects, and generally defensible-but-boring signings. The brightest spot was probably signing their own draft-and-stash 2012 second-round pick, Tomáš Satoranský, to come over from Barcelona to back up Wall. Which is, as bright spots go, not exactly a spotlight.
There’s a strange solace in the dullness, as there is with the local football team. Longtime Wizards fan Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated responded to my email after all the drama, with classic #WizFan equanimity. “Considering how dark this offseason got along the way—Durant snubs, owner subtweets, Horford heartbreak—the end result was a pleasant surprise,” he wrote. “Instead of overpaying for big name backup plans in a doomed attempt to save face, they went with solid role players and a good defender [in free agent signee Ian Mahinmi]. Now they have a young, potentially underrated core coming back next year. I can get into that.”
That’s what Wizards fans have become used to: All things considered, this was fine. It was boring and unsexy and very possibly just what this team needed to improve incrementally heading into the start of head coach Scott Brooks’ tenure and the back stretch of Wall’s current contract. The sensible thing to do would be to accept that this is who the Wizards are, this is what their offseason was, and move on.
But that’s not the true Wizards fan’s natural reaction to anything. “This free-agent weekend went how it was destined to go, presided over as it was by the GM with the .423 win-percentage,” Joe House, podcaster for The Ringer and general Wiz-fan-about-town, wrote me. “The mood and morale at the moment = that familiar dull disappointment, #SoWiz. But if we can figure out how to work a trade for [Atlanta Hawks All-Star power forward Paul] Millsap…”
That ellipsis right there is the sound of the Sooper Jet clicking back up its little hill, and that might be the most #SoWiz thing of all.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @Matt_Terl.