Washington Wizards head coach Flip Saunders has said repeatedly since the All-Star break that his team can't be concerned about where it's come from, only where it is heading. But it will be hard to resist looking back once the Wizards' bizarre and tragic NBA campaign mercifully comes to an end Wednesday night.
Asked recently if he contemplated all he's endured this season, Saunders joked, "If I did, I might not be here. No, I don't do that. We made a decision as an organization on the direction that we're going."
Pacers at Wizards
Where » Verizon Center
When » Wednesday, 8 p.m.
TV » Comcast SportsNet
Of course, the Wizards (25-56) are nowhere close to where they expected to be.
In September, Saunders opened his first Wizards training camp with a healthy Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, and talk of the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Seven months later, Jamison is still going to the postseason, albeit with archrival Cleveland, while Butler is preparing for the Western Conference playoffs with Dallas -- along with DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood. Arenas, meanwhile, will be at a halfway house in Montgomery County, serving a 30-day sentence for felony gun possession.
The Wizards were spiraling downward well before the locker room gun incident on Dec. 21 involving Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton, with a losing record and the off-court passing of team owner Abe Pollin just before Thanksgiving. But Arenas' handling of the incident -- and his ensuing season-long suspension -- pulled the rug out completely, leaving the franchise stunned and scarred yet unable to jettison its biggest star due to his overwhelming contract.
"Maybe he's going to have to win back that love from some of the fans," said Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld after Arenas was sentenced last month. "But that's going to be up to him and how he handles himself here going forward."
Grunfeld dismantled the rest of the roster with a flurry of trade deadline moves that yielded significant cap space, leaving Saunders to shepherd a core of talented but frustrating youngsters in Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young.
Shaun Livingston, who arrived via a 10-day contract, has been a promising addition, but even he's preparing to test the free agent market this summer, as will more than half of the Wizards roster.
Saunders also has warned throughout the year, "don't think it can't get any worse," but Grunfeld, whose future could also be impacted by the takeover of Ted Leonsis as owner, has maintained a positive outlook. If nothing else, that deserves credit.
"I think I'm pretty good at what I do," said Grunfeld. "I have a pretty good track record, and we'll see when new ownership takes over what happens."
A trip down the rabbit hole with the 2009-10 Washington Wizards:
Aug. 2009 » “People shouldn’t be scared of mentioning championship.” — Caron Butler, prior to a team-sponsored trip to China.
Sept. 28, 2009 » “I’m done being the entertainer. I just wanna play basketball.” — Gilbert Arenas, who promises no more Hibachi, no more Agent Zero, no blogging or antics. He then goes on a self-imposed media boycott that ends a couple weeks later.
Oct. 14, 2009 » Antawn Jamison suffers a shoulder injury in a preseason game against Cleveland that forces him to miss the first nine games of the regular season. By the time he returns, the Wizards are 2-7.
Nov. 23, 2009 » Arenas calls out Butler: “Most of us feel confident in each other on the floor, and there are a few that don’t.” Why is that? “I have no idea. But for the most part, we all get along. There are about 15 players on the team? 14 get along.”
Nov. 24, 2009 » Wizards owner Abe Pollin passes away hours before Washington takes on Philadelphia and former head coach Eddie Jordan. Jordan says after the Wizards 108-107 win that Pollin’s spirit made Lou Williams’ potential game-winner rim out.
Dec. 21, 2009 » Two days after returning from a four-game West Coast swing, Arenas and Javaris Crittenton have their infamous gun incident in the Wizards locker room before practice.
Dec. 22, 2009 » Flip Saunders pulls his entire starting lineup in the third quarter before eventually beating Philadelphia at home.
Jan. 2, 2010 » “If you know me, and you’ve been here, I’ve never did anything violent. Everything I do, it’s funny. Well, it’s funny to me.” — Arenas, speaking about the gun incident after a 97-86 loss to San Antonio.
Jan. 5, 2010 » In a pregame routine, Arenas pantomimes shooting his teammates with his fingers as guns.
Jan. 6, 2010 » NBA commissioner David Stern suspends Arenas indefinitely.
Jan. 7, 2010 » A massive Arenas banner outside Verizon Center comes down. The building is purged of nearly all mention of the player.
Jan. 10, 2010 » Andray Blatche takes zero shots and throws a fit on the Wizards bench, including the response to a trainer afterward, “Do I look like I care about my knee?” He is suspended the next game.
Jan. 15, 2010 » Arenas pleads guilty to one felony count of carrying a pistol without a license.
Jan. 25, 2010 » Crittenton pleads guilty to a misdemeanor count of possessing an unregistered firearm. Stern suspends Arenas and Crittenton for the remainder of the NBA season.
Feb. 15, 2010 » The Wizards trade Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson to Dallas for Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton and Quinton Ross. Gooden never plays in a game and is traded two days later.
Feb. 17, 2010 » One hour before a game against Minnesota, a three-way trade with the Clippers and Cavaliers sends Jamison to Cleveland and nets Al Thornton and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Big Z never plays in a game, eventually buying out of his contract.
Feb. 22, 2010 » Josh Howard suffers a season-ending left knee injury.
March 3-30, 2010 » The Wizards lose a franchise-record 16 games in a row.
March 23, 2010 » Andray Blatche, who averages 22.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists after the All-Star break, is benched after seven minutes vs. Charlotte and refuses to re-enter the game. Saunders threatens to suspend him the next night but does not.
Mar. 26, 2010 » Arenas is sentenced 30 days in a halfway house, two years probation, a $5,000 fine and 400 hours of community service.
April 9, 2010 » Arenas begins serving his sentence in Montgomery County.