Saturday, January 16, 2010

Happy New Year From Wizards & ‘Skins

By Mark F. Gray
Glad to see that as the new year brings in a new decade the same old stuff remains on the D.C. sports scene. For the last 10 years the leadership at the top of the two most storied franchises in the nation’s capital has reduced fan loyalty to abject embarrassment. You can change coaches and front office executives but until ownership stops operating the franchise like Karinne Stephens trying to become the next housewife of name your big city in America failure is the only option.

Daniel Snyder and the late Wizard patriarch Abe Pollin have been committed to their franchises with unfettered resolve since the turn of the century. They have spent money and rolled the dice on what they thought were difference making players, coaches, and executives that have led to zero (as in Agent Zero) championships. The public can complain their teams have underperformed but in fairness it has not been for the lack of effort by ownership.

If the owners are to be held accountable, however, it should be for the open door policy that has allowed players to usurp the authority of their immediate supervisors (head coaches) which has led to their underachievement. Whether it’s the license that Clinton Portis has to not show up at OTA’s with the Burgundy and Gold or Gilbert Arenas manipulating the firing of Eddie Jordan (in conjunction with Ernie Grunfeld), the loyalty of ownership to players of this generation in the district is now approaching groupie status.

For two franchises in desperate need of makeovers the time has come for their ownerships to firm up the matter of loyalty to the right people. The Burgundy and Gold is banking on a second generation architect and the championship pedigree of a head coach who also wears the title of team president. Meanwhile, the Wizards are still in limbo as the cession of their day to day power waits for the NBA to assist with the selection of a new ownership group.

Six weeks ago - despite the underachievement of both teams - there was a sense of more stability in Chinatown. The biggest concern was about roster decisions and whether to the trio of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antwan Jamison would be together for the remainder of the season. Now with Arenas suspended,, the team languishing 20 games below .500, and a black eye on the character of the organization, rebuilding the image of the franchise has replaced rebuilding the roster into that of a contender.
Now with the overhaul of the Burgundy and Gold front office and the hiring of a proven championship winner, they have taken two giant steps toward regaining credibility in town and throughout the NFL.

Mercifully, at the top of the football organization there appears to be more character that will give reason for the community to connect with them so that fans can re-commit to that beloved franchise.

We learned last season that despite several prima donnas in the locker room that there is more integrity in Ashburn than there is in Chinatown. With the exception of Butler, Jamison, Brendan Haywood, and Randy Foye “Ernie’s Guys” are a roster of underperforming, embarrassing characters who have succeeded sinking the Wizards back into the abyss that was the mid 80’s through mid 90’s. Hopefully, Ted Leonsis will be able to implement the same business model that has worked for the Capitals and clean house.

This time Michael Jordan is not walking through the door though.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

No Joke: Arenas Suspended


Finally, Gilbert Arenas’ quirky practical joking side is no longer a laughing matter. The NBA slapped agent less than zero with an indefinite suspension to police a fugitive of authority who is on the verge of ruining an organization.

The Washington Wizards face of the franchise has been a train wreck waiting to happen since he came to the nation’s capital. In his rookie season he was late to the season finale and brushed it off by saying a chicken truck turned over and he couldn’t get to the arena on time. He inserted himself into the lineup without consulting his previous coach on several occasions. Arenas also created a distraction during the playoffs by instigating a beef between LeBron James and DeShawn Stevenson at Love nightclub after injuring his knee during the 2007 season. He would later tell the Washington Post you know you have arrived when you make a Michael Jackson, Prince, or Jay-Z record.

Never once did the organization wield a firm hand of justice to reign in their all star. In fact, they have been complicit in creating the Arenas monster that is so out of control he felt he could store guns in the Verizon Center. If the organization - Vice President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld in particular - had stepped in and suspended him for a series of belligerent acts in the past this fiasco may have never gotten to the point of becoming a civic embarrassment.

When Eddie Jordan hired Randy Ayers as his defensive guru the in house rumors started when Arenas supposedly asked him, “Are you an Ernie [Grunfeld] guy or an Eddie [Jordan] guy?” as he drew a battle line in the sand for commanding presence in the locker room. A former executive tells the story of how Arenas embarrassed former assistant coach Harvey Grant for not paying back a loan which ultimately cost him his job.

That’s Arenas - a immature millionaire child - who was not mature enough to handle his all star success and the responsibility that goes along with it. He never wanted to embrace being a constructive leader and seems to have taken pride leading younger impressionable players like Stevenson and Nick Young to the tattoo parlor and barber shop. At least next year at media day he won’t be a catalyst for the rebirth of the gumby hairdo.

But nothing compares to the arrogance or outright stupidity of Arenas before Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia. Barely 24 hours after giving a statement to federal and district law enforcement officials to point his fingers in a gesture where he mocks firing hand guns was the last straw for the NBA. Commissioner David Stern took the suspension power away from the Wizards and slapped him with an unpaid vacation that could be terminal.

When Arenas signed his $116 million dollar deal two summers ago - after opting out of deal with a bad knee - I remember a thought provoking sports talk host on WOL-AM in D.C. saying, “this is like giving the keys of your new Bentley to a kid who just got his learner’s permit and turning him loose on New York Ave”. This just in…he crashed and there are casualties.

If you don’t reign in a petulant child he becomes a contemptuous adult. Arenas has been giving given a pass on his defiance for too long and been able to laugh off his disruptive behavior.

This time, however, it appears the joke is on him.