By Jeff Nations
History in the making? The new gold standard for wretchedness? Unwatchable? Unmentionable?
Meet your 2012-2013 Washington Wizards -- feel free to name them, if you can. Off to a rousing 0-9 start, this squad could truly be a team of destiny. They already are, sort of -- Monday night's 96-89 nail-biter against the Indiana Pacers dropped the Wizards to a franchise-worst start, and penciling in a victory anytime soon could be the ultimate act of faith (or sarcasm). Last year's group started 0-8 before rattling off a one-game winning streak.
Count Wizards coach Randy Wittman among the true believers, as evidenced by this postgame nugget told to The Associated Press on Monday night: "This team's going to win games. I really believe that."
What evidence Wittman is basing that belief on, I have no clue, but I'll take him at his word.
It's not as if the Wizards were looking to hoist any banners in the Verizon Center rafters even before this season began. Owner Ted Leonsis took on a decidedly muted tone in describing expectations for this group before the season even began, and so far he's still looking overly optimistic. With the team's lone "star" -- point guard John Wall -- sidelined for at least the first month while nursing a knee injury, and starting center Nene is also on the shelf with an injury.
On the bright side -- such as it is -- the Wizards aren't getting blown out with regularity. The dropped three- and six-point decisions to the Boston Celtics, fell by four to those same Pacers on Nov. 10 and stayed within six points of the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 14. So chances are, Washington will win a game, or two, maybe even more (OK, probably more).
The outlook should brighten even more when Wall and Nene do return. That said, this franchise continues to go nowhere as it continues to wait for those lottery balls to hit in its favor once more. Even then, the Wizards will have to be in position to reap the benefits of a top-heavy draft -- without a true star at the top of the NBA lottery, that pick can actually be a drag on a franchise's fortunes. Thankfully, I guess, Washington fans can never count their team out as a real contender for that No. 1 overall pick. So chances are, if and when the Wizards' number comes up, change could be coming for this downtrodden franchise.
And really, the Wizards and their fans deserve better. It's not as if Leonsis is a penny-pinching spendthrift, or management is hopeless, losing an irreversible legacy. The facilities are fine, the fanbase is there for the building, the market if thriving. Everything is in place for a winning franchise, except the team that is.
Certainly, the Wizards have had their share of miscues leading up to this current sad state of affairs. Kwame Brown, the ill-fated No. 1 overall pick-turned-instant disaster from 2001, hamstrung the franchise for years. But Wall, despite the injuries and a sophomore slump, still looks like a keeper and a player to build a franchise around provided he continues to develop. This year's top rookie and the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft, shooting guard Bradley Beal, has also looked solid so far while playing significant minutes and scoring 11.7 points per game.
Beal appears more a nice complementary piece, which the Wizards are generally well stocked with from year to year. That's not the way to win in the NBA, though. Like it or not, the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics, and once more the Los Angeles Lakers -- probably -- prove that basketball's top league is all about star power. Washington maybe has one in Wall, needs desperately to draft another and then will be in position to recruit the free-agent pool hard for a third. Barring that, Washington could still go the trade route.
If and until Wall realizes all that talent he's shown in flashes, there seems little point in dreaming about "dream teams" in D.C. The Wizards still have a shaky foundation, and until Wall grows into the star he was destined to be that won't likely change -- unless, of course, those lottery balls finally fall in Washington's favor once more.
It's not an ideal, or particularly fair, way of building up a winning franchise. But in the NBA, that's the system for teams without the cache of Los Angeles or New York where mega markets serve as natural magnets to top-flight free agents.
In Washington, at least, winning is theoretically sustainable if the Wizards could ever start doing it. Big if, that, but this seemingly lost season could still play an important role in getting Washington back on the basketball map. It all starts with Wall -- getting him healthy and back on track is worth more than a few wins this season to the franchise's long-term health.
When Wall comes back, that's when I'll tune back into the Wizards. Otherwise, wake me up for the next NBA lottery.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>