Juvenile atmosphere explains Wizards' agony

Juvenile atmosphere explains Wizards' agony

Published Jan. 12, 2012 2:38 p.m. ET

In this age of constant information and unparalleled hype of young people, we are often led to believe that every NBA team has something going for it.

The Washington Wizards are proof that such is not the case, and really, never has been.

But that’s not what we were told. We were told that second-year point guard John Wall was going to be The Man to lead the Wizards to respectability.

We were told that big guys Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were extra long and ultra athletic and ready to put it together.

And we were told Flip Saunders was the coach who could finally make it all happen.

The Wizards sold us on these ideas. The media chipped in. The fans blindly believed. Isn’t that how it always works?

So when reality strikes in the form of the Wizards’ 1-9 start, everyone is up in arms. Especially when 1-9 is considerably better than the Wizards have actually performed.

Truth is, the Wizards seem to be little more than an extension of an AAU team.

The AAU is amateur basketball at its worst, a place where hogging the ball and high-flying dunks receive the highest of praise, teamwork and fundamentals be darned.

That’s all well and good until an individual gets paid to play and is expected to act like a professional. Too many guys on the Wizards’ roster are doing only the former.

Even Saunders hinted that five-on-five basketball in the summer can become a serious issue. Instead of players spending the offseason working on improving themselves individually, they too often opt for what is little more than pickup ball at the local YMCA.

Saunders referred specifically to Wall, but the coach could have been talking about the entire team.

“I’ve never been a proponent of all those things," Saunders told Washington reporters. “I think you pick up too many bad habits and a lot of things you think are going to be very easy (are not). I don’t think I saw a change all summer long.”

Saunders makes a valid point, as Wall still looks like a guy who is just fast, as opposed to one who knows how to make the right pass.

But Saunders also rightly took some of the blame, saying the Wizards’ struggles are “on the best player and the coach.”

That's dead-on, because this is hardly just the fault of Wall, or Blatche or McGee or shooting guard Nick Young. When it comes to chaos, this has truly been a collective effort.

Nor is it the entire fault of the system that has produced the players. Because, let’s face it, nearly every American in the NBA is a product of the AAU.

But this is an example of what can happen when the AAU goes wrong, when guys don’t really understand it’s time to grow up, when they think they can rest on past accomplishments and the butt-kissing of the uncles and cousins and money-grubbing scum who coached them at the lower levels.

Another thing to consider is the idea that perhaps expectations weren’t high to begin with. Or if they were, they sure shouldn’t have been. Not with a roster that features eight players younger than the age of 25, or one whose most-notable veteran is Rashard Lewis.

Lewis is 32 and owns perhaps the worst contract in NBA history — as only Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant will rake in more than Lewis’ $22 million this season. Worse, he’s due to make $23 million next year.

It’s a pretty nice payday for a guy who doesn’t really want to be there, has never really defended and apparently can’t really shoot anymore (38 percent through nine games). Other than that, he has been everything the Wizards had hoped.

Still, this is a team that does have a legitimate excuse. The Wizards are still somewhat new and getting used to one another, and any preseason promises made by marketing types and media and fans were unwarranted and downright unfair.

It’s one thing to be young, fun and determined on the court. It’s quite another to be just young and, in the Wizards’ case, mostly clueless.

In Washington, it truly is amateur hour. And you can thank, at least in part, amateur basketball for it.

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO