If you were at the Washington Wizards NBA Draft party last then you could probably feel it: that old teal tide starting to turn. The Wizards fan base has forever been embattled, and often embarrassed. But if you were standing among the hundreds at the Verizon Center on June 23 then you probably felt something unfamiliar. It was just something different about the buzz around the team that night from the newly minted red, white and blue jerseys hanging on the wall, to the new logo, to the masses of John Wall mentions. It was almost like there was some new franchise in town…an expansion team or something. Surely, this wasn’t the Washington Wizards I grew up on.

The Wizards haven’t even stepped foot into next season yet, but the buzz is already building. The cement was already being mixed last year once Wall was shipped to the city, but another sweet draft has the makings of an actual structure starting to form. Three more rookies: Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack formed a haul that scored Washington high marks across several draft reviews. For Wizards watchers, we’re just hoping they form a solid nucleus on a steadily improving team.

In a relative “weak” draft, Washington played the hand it was dealt and came away with a Vegas-style cleanup.

All three rookies will likely be contributors on next year’s club, a goal that owner Ted Leonsis and general manager Ernie Grunfield have been formulating since they decided to remodel the team early last year. The jury is definitely out on Vesely but the highlight tape made believers out of the attendees last Thursday. Watching the draft live on the Verizon Center’s Jumbotron, when Vesely was announced as the Wizards’ pick, a collection of “boo-birds” decided to sing. But once his European highlight reel starting rolling, those birds quickly flew south. Seeing the 6-foot-11-inch swing forward run the break and finish fashionably on defenders, visions of Wall-to-Vesely quickly started filling the arena. It was—dare I say—exciting.

For a team that hasn’t been exactly fun to watch lately, just the very thought of anything close to actual mediocrity gets the fans feeling all warm inside. This year’s draft was another step in the right direction for a team still punching the keys on its championship-destined GPS. It’s taking baby steps but it’s a process that fans can appreciate. When there was a certified NBA star available in 2010, Washington grabbed him with the first pick. When there wasn’t a certified NBA star available in 2011, Washington grabbed a supporting cast with several picks.

Next year’s draft should be the final piece to the puzzle. Draftniks say the 2012 crop is supposed to be deep and talented and unless you’re pegging the Wizards for the Eastern Conference Finals next season, expect Washington to be somewhere around the lottery again next year. Only in D.C. does the average get us so excited but we’ll take it for now. The journey back to justification is half the fun.
 

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO