Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What to Make of Eddie Jordan

I'm sure you're all aware by now, but the 1-10 Wizards fired coach Eddie Jordan yesterday. It came as a semi-surprise to me considering the team had made the playoffs the past four seasons, but I can't say I was altogether shocked. As soon as I saw the Seattle Super Thunder can P.J. Carlisimo the other day, I figured it could be only a matter of time before the only other one-win team in the league followed suit.

But the talk around DC today is that Eddie Jordan is being used as a scapegoat for a team that gets injured far too much and yet still dumped a ton of money on those injury-prone players. I mean seriously, where was this franchise before Jordan arrived. I'd say somewhere between a rock and a hard place ... or in NBA terms somewhere between the Clippers and irrelevance (or are those the same things?). Wilbon weighs in via The Washington Post:

Atlanta, Philly, New York, Miami, Toronto, Milwaukee -- they all got better over the summer. The Wizards gave Arenas $111 million and he hasn't played one second, and we don't know when he will or what he'll look like when he does. Every time the Wizards lose a game it looks like keeping Arenas, especially at that price, was an enormous mistake. Grunfeld made a very nice draft pick in JaVale McGee, but the kid needs a couple of years to become a consistent impact player.

Other than McGee, the Wizards sat at the table with pretty much the same hand, minus reserve ace Roger Mason, who is playing very well for San Antonio. How long can the same group hold the fort while waiting for reinforcements? That's not Jordan's fault, it's Grunfeld's. The GM acknowledged that when he said, "We're all responsible . . . myself, the players, the coaches." GMs, of course, don't fire themselves. They're the boss. Grunfeld was frank when he said, "This is an area we can control."

I agree with Wilbon ... sort of. I don't think this team regressed, I just think they weren't that good to begin with. Look at their point differential from a year ago, and it's pretty clear this group without Gilbert probably should have been a 30-35 win team, but somehow made the playoffs because of some luck late in games sand just plain old grit and determination. To me, that type of stuff points to coaching.

At the same time, I can understand Grunfeld's rationale here. While Eddie Jordan is a nice coach, not in a million years did I think he was ever going to lead this group to an NBA title. They don't play defense, and he doesn't coach it very well, either. Even when they had surprising success last year, the Wiz still gave up an NBA record amount of three-pointers. Part of that, though, is the fact that this team is supposed to be centered around one playmaking point guard who just so happens to have played 15 games the past year and a half. And not only has that star not played, he also doesn't give two shits about the defensive side of the game.

Frankly, I've come to grips with the notion that this will be a lost season for the Wiz kids. My biggest fear is that this team will slip back into that mold of perpetual mediocrity that plagued it back in the day during the forgettable Wes Unseld as GM/coach days. I can't take that.

What's ironic about all this is that if you've watched this team so far, they aren't that far off from being something relatively mediocre like 4-6 or 5-5. The Wiz just can't finish in the fourth quarter. See the thing about the NBA is that the first three quarters are about who runs the best sets and schemes, but then once teams actually decide to play defense in the fourth quarter it becomes all about the stars. If you can't break your man down one-on-one and instead have to rely on jump shooting, wins will be few and far between. That's exactly what has happened to the Wizards without Gilbert. Caron is a good player, but he's not great. Same with Antawn Jamison. When Arenas is healthy, the Wiz have that type of game-changing player.

Here's the catch, we won't know if they still do until Agent Zero hits the floor again — and of course that return seems to get pushed back farther and farther every time the guy speaks to the media. If he's the same player he was before the injury, the Wiz can be relevant again, playing that fast breaking style that will make them a perpetual six-seed in the East. If he's not (which is my guess coming off however many knee surgeries), then no coach is really going to matter. This team will blow chunks for awhile.

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