Wizards give a hint that long-held hope can fi­nally turn into re­al­ity

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather - THOM LOVERRO

Hope is alive and well at the Ver­i­zon Center. It ex­ists in the speed of John Wall. You can find it in the smart play of Nene, in the long range shoot­ing of Martell Web­ster

It was alive and well at Ted Leon­sis’ Plea­sure Palace on Tues­day night, even on the day Wizards fans heard the news that one of their young stars and lead­ing scorer, Bradley Beal, would be out for at least two weeks with a stress in­jury to his right foot, as the Wizards de­feated the mighty Los An­ge­les Lak­ers 116-111 for their sec­ond straight vic­tory.

Sure, it was the Kobe-less Lak­ers, but hope doesn’t deal in facts or rea­son. And yes, it only brought the Wizards’ record up to 5-7 in this early NBA sea­son. And there are those ques­tions about Beal, who missed the fi­nal eight games last sea­son and much of the off­sea­son with a sim­i­lar in­jury.

But hope is alive and well at Ver­i­zon Center be­cause it’s a wel­come change of pace from de­spair, which has been like oxy­gen at Wizards games for years.

Bless the bas­ket­ball fans in this town. They can set aside decades of in­ep­ti­tude by the his­tor­i­cally bad fran­chise — a fran­chise that has not won 50 games in an NBA sea­son since 1979 — and get ex­cited about a los­ing team in Novem­ber.

If you can mas­ter this am­ne­sia, th­ese Wizards are a fun bunch, seem­ingly with rea­son to hope.

Nene is the best big man in a Wizards uni­form in decades. Wall has been play­ing like an elite point guard of late, and did so in stretches last year, per­haps jus­ti­fy­ing the five-year, $80 mil­lion con­tract this past sum­mer. Web­ster can shoot the lights out of the bas­ket on any given night. And then there is Beal, the 20-year-old sec­ond-year player who has ap­peared to be a star in the mak­ing.

Wall and Beal — a back­court with a bright fu­ture in a league that is now dom­i­nated by back­court play.

That’s hope. Hope ig­nores the re­al­ity that Nene is 31, in his 13th NBA sea­son and, be­cause of a body that has been break­ing down, hasn’t played a full sea­son since 2009. Hope ig­nores the in­con­sis­tency of Wall, who, in his fourth NBA sea­son, still shows a rookie bas­ket­ball IQ some nights. Hope chooses to em­brace the win over the Lak­ers this week and glosses over the in­jury that plagued Beal in his rookie sea­son and could still cost him more than two weeks this year. Hope ig­nores this guy: “This is the very early stages of it, and we just want to make sure it doesn’t turn into any­thing se­ri­ous. He’d been play­ing great. He hadn’t shown any signs of fa­vor­ing it or any­thing like that. He’d been play­ing ter­rific bas­ket­ball. … He be­gan com­plain­ing about it, and as soon as he did we had it checked out. We want to be proac­tive with this and then be very cau­tious with it.”

That’s Wizards gen­eral man­ager Ernie Grun­feld talk­ing about the Beal in­jury.

This is the great­est achieve­ment of the hope that is fil­ter­ing through the Ver­i­zon Center th­ese days — to seem­ingly deny the ex­is­tence of Ernie Grun­feld.

To for­get that this is the ar­chi­tect of those Gil­bert Are­nas squads that even­tu­ally led to a group of em­bar­rass­ing, dys­func­tional bas­ket­ball teams that em­bar­rassed the city is a tes­ta­ment to the power of hope.

To for­get that this is the gen­eral man­ager who drafted Jan Ve­sely and passed over Kawhi Leonard in the 2011 NBA draft — or, for that mat­ter, gave An­dray Blatche, when the world could see he was a dys­func­tional player who rep­re­sented ev­ery­thing that was wrong about the Wash­ing­ton Wizards, a $35 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion — is ev­i­dence that hope can trump de­spair.

To ig­nore a gen­eral man­ager whose record in Wash­ing­ton is 317-497 af­ter the win over the Lak­ers and be­lieve that bet­ter days are ahead for the Wizards is per­haps hope’s great­est achieve­ment.

This Wizards team is en­ter­tain­ing and, if it stays healthy, thanks to a lousy NBA East­ern Con­fer­ence, has a good chance to make the play­offs.

If that hap­pens, Ernie Grun­feld, whose con­tract is re­port­edly up at the end of this sea­son, will stay on to con­tinue his work.

We can only hope, right?

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