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Analysis: Wizards looked like they had already given up

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst
Posted Nov 24 2008 7:17PM

There is 1-10, and there is 1-10.

Losing streaks happen in the NBA, and especially to teams that have lost their superstar, their starting center and, essentially, their top two guys off the bench from a season ago. But less than a month into the season, the Washington Wizards also looked like a team that had already given up. And that's why Eddie Jordan got fired Monday, two days after the equally woebegone Oklahoma City Thunder dismissed P.J. Carlesimo.

The Wizards knew they would play the first two months of the season without Gilbert Arenas, who is recovering from a third knee surgery in the last two years. But Washington's lackadaisical, error-filled losses set the table for Jordan's dismissal, and a loss Saturday to the Knicks--who only had seven players in uniform after their whirlwind trading day Friday, yet rang up 122 points against Washington--was the last straw.

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"It was unacceptable," a Wizards man said Monday morning. "I mean, look at the statistics. We're near the bottom in almost everything."

That's undeniably true: Washington is currently 24th in the league in scoring (94.6 points per game), 27th in points allowed (103.4 per game), 28th in point differential (losing games by an average of 8.81 points per game), 21st in field goal percentage (.435), 28th in field goal percentage allowed (.475), last in the league in three-point shooting percentage (.282), 20th in three-point percentage allowed (.363), 25th in assists per game (18.2), 26th in rebounds per game (39) and 25th in rebounds allowed per game (44.09). (The only team category that Washington places in the top 10 so far this season is steals.)

Even worse than the numbers was the attitude that too many people saw around Washington players. One head coach who's played against them this season told a confidant that it looked like the Wizards were already mailing it in. There was concern about the output of All-Star Caron Butler, who didn't seem to have the defensive intensity he exhibited last season. Sentiment was growing that Washington's players were tuning out Jordan's Princeton philosophy and becoming more selfish by the day.

The Wizards also saw other teams that had lost star players--most notably, Utah and San Antonio--yet managed not only to compete without them, but win more than their share of games. Utah is 9-5 despite not having Deron Williams for most of the season, and missing Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur for long stretches. And while no one on the Wizards' roster is as good as Tim Duncan, the Spurs still are winning with a rookie point guard (George Hill) and newly signed shooting guard Roger Mason.

Ironically, Mason came from Washington, where he was a key member of last season's team that made the playoffs despite not having Arenas for most of the season. But with Mason in the Lone Star state, and point guard Antonio Daniels mostly ineffective all season with a knee problem, the Wizards have lost almost all of their backcourt depth. They're starting Dee Brown, who was playing in Europe last season, at the point, with rookie JaVale McGee starting at center. McGee's backup is Etan Thomas, who's coming back this season after undergoing open-heart surgery last year.

Casting A Losing Spell
The Wizards are only in the top 10 in one category (steals) and their ineptitude likely played a role in the firing of coach Eddie Jordan.
Category Stat Rank
Scoring 94.6 ppg 24th
Points Allowed 103.4 ppg 27th
Point Differential -8.81 28th
FG pct. .435 21st
FG pct. allowed .475 28th
3-pt FG pct. .282 30th
3-pt FG pct. allowed .363 20th
Assists per game 18.2 25th
Rebounds per game 39.0 26th
Rebounds allowed per game 44.09 25th

All of that was accepted by Washington's brass. But the energy level was not.

And when Arenas intimated last week that it wouldn't be such a bad thing if Washington continued being awful this season so that it could have a better chance at a high draft pick next year, management worried that other players might begin agreeing with him and write off the last 70 or so games of the season. (Arenas' comments were "dealt with" internally, an insider said Monday.)

Despite the record, Washington's brass still thinks it can get back in the Eastern Conference playoff race behind Butler and Antawn Jamison, one of the few Wizards who have performed at both ends of the floor this season.

Team president Ernie Grunfeld chose assistant coach Ed Tapscott to be interim head coach for the rest of the season. Tapscott has been with Grunfeld since their days together in New York, when Grunfeld hired Tapscott to be the Knicks' director of administration. After Grunfeld lost a power struggle with Jeff Van Gundy in 1999 (which is one reason anyone who floats JVG's name as a possible successor to Jordan doesn't know what the heck they're talking about), Tapscott had a brief stint as the Knicks' GM.

But after he passed on Ron Artest to take European center Frederic Weis with the 15th pick in the first round, and Weis' only claim to fame was getting dunked on (more accurately, dunked over) by Vince Carter in the 2000 Olympics, Tapscott didn't have much of a managerial future in Gotham.

Still, Tapscott is probably one of the smartest, most versatile people ever to coach in the NBA. An undergrad at Tufts in possession of a law degree, Tapscott could have made millions as a litigator. Instead, he became a college coach at American University (full disclosure: the author was an undergrad at AU at the time, and considers Tapscott a friend to this day), then did a stint as an agent, then moved to the management side with the Knicks, just as agent Jason Levien apparently is about to do in Sacramento.

It's not likely Tapscott will be the permanent answer in Washington. As mentioned, Van Gundy is not going to be considered even if interested, and a source said Monday that Washington will probably not be interested in Avery Johnson. That leaves retreads and assistants like Boston's Tom Thibodeau--ironically, Van Gundy's long-time assistant in New York and Houston--who had accepted an assistant's job with the Wizards last summer before changing his mind and going to Boston, where he helped build the Celtics' championship defense.

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