When the Wizards traded a top-nine protected draft pick for Markieff Morris, I thought it seemed like a solid idea: immediate help (theoretically), without the risk of giving up a likely impact player in the draft. If Morris helped the Wizards make the playoffs, they’d have essentially traded a late first-round pick for a player good enough to help them get in. If they missed the playoffs despite Morris’ presence, in all likelihood they’d be picking high up enough in the draft to retain the pick. Everyone wins!
But this is D.C. sports, and this is the Wizards, so I should’ve known that “everyone wins” was never really an option. Things can still change, of course, but currently the odds favor the Wizards missing the playoffs and finishing with the likely 10th to 14th pick.
(They’d still have the chance of winning the NBA’s weird draft lottery and moving up to one of the top three picks, which they would then retain—but c’mon. This is a franchise whose Patronus is Eeyore.)
Plenty of people expected exactly this outcome, of course. These are, not coincidentally, the same people who think that head coach Randy Wittman should be fired and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld should be launched into orbit.
But I was hopeful, because I am stupid like that, and I was wrong.
This outcome was inevitable not because Grunfeld is a bad G.M. with a lifetime sinecure (although that appears to be the case) and not because the Wizards have struggled to hit free throws (although that is definitely the case) and not because Bradley Beal is made out of balsa wood and rotting ice (although that might as well be the case). The outcome was inevitable because this is what happens to the Wizards.
That’s not precisely true: Curses are not real, and there’s no hand of destiny blocking shots to ensure that a specific team loses. But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy where the three legit reasons above, plus a dozen others, all combine to create the persistent idea of #SoWizards.
Which is to say that Markieff Morris is the reason people are leery of the Capitals, under the transitive property of sports predestination.
The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy, have had a generally spectacular season, and will almost certainly skate into the Stanley Cup playoffs as the favorite to win it all. And yet no one seems to fully believe.
If anything, this regular season success has worked against the Caps, feeding straight into the narrative of them as regular season giants who are routinely humbled in the playoffs. (Reminder: You can’t choke if you aren’t expected to win.) It’s had a concrete effect, as well: It has limited their urgency. They’ve been leading the league for so long that they haven’t had that imperative to win; the playoffs have been a foregone conclusion for months.
You can point to dozens of reasons why this year’s Capitals playoff run will be different: goalie play, a balanced offense, a deeper bench, superior coaching. These are things that are supported by statistics. By metrics. By, you know, quantifiable facts. And I like facts! I deeply wish I were clever enough to be an analytics nerd who would never trust my gut or the ol’ eye test over what math says.
But I look at the way the Markieff Morris trade turned out, and I watch the Wizards stumble in every possible #SoWizards way through this season, and it just seems to cement history. And that same mindset carries through to the Caps for me: They’re so tightly clinging to their narrative that I can barely imagine things playing out in a better way.
Which, on the converse, gives a ray of hope for both teams: If the Capitals can put together a respectable playoff run and shake their narrative, maybe—just maybe—I’ll be able to believe that the Wizards can make some moves this offseason to change their story as well.
Because I’ll be honest: It gets harder and harder to view these moves with any optimism when every Markieff Morris trade turns out just as #SoWizards as everyone expects.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @matt_terl.
Photo by Keith Allison / Flickr 2.0