Is D.C. ready for a sports revival?
It’s not a bad gig being a sports fan in Washington, D.C. these days. With the Wizards winning the NBA draft lottery on Tuesday night in Secaucus, N.J., the Redskins overhauling their roster under new head coach Mike Shanahan, the Nationals playing competitive baseball for the first time ever and the Capitals still in the Stanley Cup…well, three out of four isn’t bad.
Despite Ovie and the Caps pulling a choke job against Les Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, positive vibes still permeate the air of the nation’s capital when it comes to its sports teams.
Let’s take inventory on what Washingtonians have to look forward to when they are not politicking and schmoozing at work functions, and when they actually have time to catch a ballgame.
NBA’s Wizards: Winning the right to pick No. 1 overall in the June 24 draft was a pleasant surprise for a franchise that up to Tuesday night just couldn’t seem to catch a break — or ever make a right decision. Either way, it was nice to see Irene Pollin, widow of longtime team owner Abe Pollin, represent the team at the festivities. I guess that 1978 Washington Bullets championship ring she was wearing for good luck really came in handy.
After finishing 12-70 in 2009-10, the New Jersey Nets had the best chance to secure the top pick but fell to third in the draft behind the Philadelphia 76ers, who could be in line to land Ohio State’s Evan Turner — assuming the Wizards grab Kentucky point guard John Wall.
“Obviously, we needed something like this,” Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld said.
Yeah, you think?
The Wizards are coming off a 26-56 campaign, have a franchise player in Gilbert Arenas who pleaded guilty to felony gun possession after a locker-room confrontation with a teammate, and traded away Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood during the season, giving fans very little reason to even show up for games anymore.
But after Tuesday night’s potential franchise-changing moment, there is now hope — yes, there really is hope Wizards Nation — that the future is bright for the franchise. Ted Leonsis is expected to be approved as the new owner soon, the team will have an estimated $21 million in salary-cap space, and the club also has the 30th and 35th picks in the draft. The roster will certainly be rebuilt.
Will it start with Wall? Perhaps the well-rounded Turner will be the play with the top pick. Or will it be Wall’s teammate at Kentucky, the beefy 6-11 DeMarcus Cousins?
Wall is generally regarded as the top player in the draft and should be able to play alongside Arenas because the gunslinger (sorry) is more of a scoring guard anyway. We have to forget about the team trading Agent Zero because it just doesn’t seem possible with that huge contract and the baggage (even though I think we all could agree that Arenas isn’t a bad guy; he’s just not the brightest).
Bottom line: no matter who is donning the Wizards jersey early on draft night in June, we can finally say that the franchise is finally going in the right direction.
NFL’s Redskins: I still can’t understand the additions of Larry Johnson and Willie Parker to the Redskins’ backfield because I don’t see how they fit into the type of rushing attack that Shanahan typically employs. With Clinton Portis still a question mark because of his health, the backfield situation in D.C. concerns me. But they do have Donovan McNabb as their new signal caller, and that gives the team instant credibility. If defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth can buy into new coordinator Jim Haslett’s defense, the NFC East will once again be the premiere conference in the entire league. Even if the Redskins flop this year, Shanahan won’t fail.
MLB’s Nationals: Don’t look now, but Tony Kornheiser’s favorite baseball team is playing at a .500 clip as we head into late May. The club is currently on a five-game skid, but it’s been a fun product to follow, mainly because Livan Hernandez continues to baffle hitters with a 55-mph curveball. All you could ask for is a competitive team, and the Nats are delivering — and without the savior, Stephen Strasburg. Just imagine when he arrives into town. Keep in mind that the Nats’ farm system is loaded, as well. Sleeping giant perhaps? The next Baby Rays?
NHL’s Capitals: I don’t care that the Canadiens went on to eliminate the Penguins, as well. The Pens weren’t as good as the Caps this year, so there should be no comparison. The bottom line is that Ovie, Backstrom, Semin and Co. failed to advance past the first round as a No. 1 seed. Enough said.
But the future is always bright with Ovie, so fans still should believe that a Stanley Cup will eventually be on its way. Just, perhaps, without head coach Bruce Boudreau leading the squad.
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