John Wall

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The Wizards did two reasonably ordinary, otherwise-unrelated things last week: a trade and an in-game promotion. For some reason, the reactions they both elicited struck me as totally bizarre.

First, the Wizards traded for Markieff Morris, giving up two role players and a top-nine protected draft pick. It’s clear what the Wizards are trying to do here: buy low on a potentially valuable asset (Morris has had issues both legal and motivational) and improve in the very short-term to make a late push for a playoff slot this year.

Reaction to the trade was mixed—very mixed, really—but one common refrain was that giving up the players was fine but that giving up the draft pick was mortgaging the future for a good-but-not-great player.

This always perplexes me. Morris, in fact, was the 12th overall pick back in 2011. He is quite literally the sort of player you are very likely to get in the draft spot the Wizards traded from—and that’s if you draft reasonably well. You could also draft a European guy who never plays, or an out-and-out bust, both of which Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards have done more than once.

But people love draft picks. They love the unknown, the potential of what could be, regardless of what is likely to be, and so the late-round draft pick you give up is always going to be imagined to be a hidden gem.

The trade that brought Robert Griffin III to town was similar; giving up three first- and one second-round draft picks for one guy was met with enormous scorn. Local fans who hated the trade with St. Louis felt sure the team was giving up the next Brian Orakpo, Trent Williams, and Ryan Kerrigan plus a second-round pick.

Instead, once the Rams finished trading and drafting the picks, they wound up with eight guys, some of whom are solid contributors. Griffin, despite his ultimately disappointing tenure here, has been to more Pro Bowls than all of them combined. Three of them are no longer with the Rams at all. That’s what happens with draft picks.

The Wizards gave up a mid-to-late first round pick that might have become something in a year or more for a mid-first-rounder who can at least contribute now. It might not work, but it’s far from indefensible.

But if that seems ridiculous, let’s talk chicken: If the opposing team misses two free throws in the fourth quarter of a Wizards home game, the fans in attendance win a free chicken sandwich.

People like free chicken—reasonable enough—and they cheer for it when the misses happen. It has been observed, however, that they often cheer for it even more enthusiastically than they cheer for the Wizards. This causes naysayers to intimate that, perhaps, Wizards fans are not very good at rooting for basketball games and instead are more interested in things like free food.

It’s a criticism that bubbles up, and the first game after the trade provided the latest excuse—this time with John Wall telling CSN Mid-Atlantic after the game that the fans are “more excited for a free chicken sandwich than a win. That’s what it looked like.”

Let’s first be very clear about this: If you watch the video, Wall is clearly not angry about it—he’s joking, maybe teasing a little.

But even so: Why wouldn’t fans be more excited about a free chicken sandwich than a win? This is the “win at fantasy or have your favorite team win” debate writ small, deep-fried, and put on a bun: a question of genuine personal gain (in this case free, delicious, poultry-based sustenance) versus the amorphous, intangible concept of a regular-season team victory. I think this also speaks to the bizarre nature of longer sports seasons (MLB, NBA, NHL).

It’s hard to think that one game matters out of so many; even at a potentially crucial moment of improvement in the middle of a disappointing season. But chicken—that’s calories. That’s a thing you can hold, and eat, and not pay for.

If this happens in the playoffs, or even a more crucial game, then I’ll complain. But in the meantime… man, I’ve got kids to feed. I’ll cheer more for a free sandwich than a win any day of the week. It might be the only thing Wizards fans get out of this season.

Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @matt_terl.

Photo by Keith Allison via Creative Commons 2.0 license