The Bulls' opponent Wednesday night at the United Center, the Wizards, share a few commonalities. The two franchises were the only team Michael Jordan ever played for and both feature explosive point guards who were former No. 1 overall draft picks after being coached in college for a season by John Calipari. That's where the similarities end.
Washington comes to Chicago with a 1-8 record, following Tuesday night's victory over the Raptors. An awful team last season, their performance was chalked up to youth and being a rebuilding year. But the Wizards have outdone themselves this season, as head coach Flip Saunders has basically accused the team of not playing hard or paying attention to scouting reports on opponents, while the players have admitted to playing too much one-on-one basketball.
John Wall, their second-year point guard, has been accused of regressing in his sophomore campaign. I've known Wall since he was an unknown high-school prospect, so I'm admittedly biased, but I know his work ethic (and witnessed it last summer, as he gallivanted across the country in search of competition and workouts to improve his game) and competitive spirit. Clearly, some of the blame has to fall upon his shoulders, as the organization's franchise player and starting point guard, but the Wizards' lack of veteran leadership (reserve swingmen Mo Evans and Roger Mason are quality role players and solid locker-room presences, but it's hard to make your opinion heard when you don't get the opportunity to impact the outcome of game's much) is severely lacking and with Andray Blatche and Nick Young, holdovers from a past, undisciplined and selfish era still aboard, Wall isn't exactly getting great mentoring on a daily basis.
Saunders appears to have lost his team already and will probably follow ouster Kings head coach Paul Westphal as the next NBA coach to be fired, but at least some of the fallout should affect the status of team general manager Ernie Grunfeld, who presided over the rise and fall of the organization in the wake of former All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas' fall from grace. While Grunfeld wasn't allowed to have contact with Wizards players during the lockout, it seems that he was wholly unprepared to make moves that could benefit the organization.
For example, it was well-known that Young, a restricted free agent, wanted out of Washington and one of the team's midseason acquisitions last year, fellow shooting guard Jordan Crawford, looked ready to fill the void, based on a solid end to his rookie campaign. But after other teams showed little to no interest in Young, the Wizards brought him back for his fourth season on a qualifying offer, a move that likely disappointed Young because of the financial ramifications and also won't help the team, as the noted gunner, in a second consecutive contract season, will likely stunt Crawford's development and focus on his individual success at the expense of a team he didn't want to return to.
Then, you have Blatche, who is certainly talented, but hasn't come close to living up to his multi-year contract extension, obtained after a breakout season and preceded by an offseason weight gain and injury. Another promising player, JaVale McGee -- Chicago fans might remember him from his late-game attempts to get a triple-double in the waning moments of a blowout loss against the Bulls last season -- is a rare true center and an athletic freak, whose pure athleticism rivals that of Dwight Howard's, hasn't developed much over his young career.
It isn't yet a lost cause for Wall or the Wizards -- rookies Chris Singleton and athletic Euro big man Jan Vesely both have potential, while second-year players Crawford and workhorse power forward Trevor Booker have excellent motors, if some limitations, and although it's hard to see a high-profile free agent signing with a team so down in the dumps, stranger things have happened to teams with cap space -- but with the direction the team is going in, they'll already have a great shot at the No. 1 overall pick in a loaded upcoming draft, so now is the time to clean house. Saunders is unlikely to finish the season in Washington, but Grunfeld should follow him out of the door and either the remaining personnel staff or whoever is hired to run their basketball operations needs to quickly evaluate who, besides Blatche and Young, doesn't deserve to stay.
But while hope springs eternal, it's unlikely to shine through for the Wizards at the United Center, as a focused Bulls team, even in the third game of their only back-to-back-to-back of the season, won't look to let up after seeing another young team in the Timberwolves, nearly shock them Tuesday night in Minnesota. One thing is for certain, though: when Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson talk about how miserable it was to be a .500 team and barely sneak into the playoffs as an eighth seed just a couple of years ago, all they have to do Wednesday is look at the visitors' bench to know the definition of real misery.