This marks the second of a series of interviews Hoops Addict will conduct with writers who covered the Washington Wizards during the 2009-2010 season. We will get their opinions on what went wrong, what went right, what the future holds, and what were the biggest stories of a season that saw the Wizards finish 26-56, and out of the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Today, we will talk to Kyle Weidie, who runs the site “Truth About It”, which is a part of ESPN’s True Hoop Network. This was Kyle’s first season covering the Wizards, and he had the unique distinction of being one of the few writers or bloggers, to attend every home game. In this interview, Kyle will discuss his feelings about covering the Wizards for the first time, his top five Wizards-related stories this year, his experiences with Andray Blatche, and much much more.
Rashad Mobley: This was your first year covering the Wizards with credentials? Did the experience meet, fall short or exceed the expectations you had going in? And how much did going to training camp last summer help you during the regular season
Kyle Weidie: Yep, my first year covering the Wizards … and what a year it was. From a basketball standpoint, the season fell way below expectations. I predicted this team to win more than 50 games. But I don’t think that’s the kind of expectations you’re asking about. In terms of covering the team, gaining full access as a “blogger”, I had no idea what to expect.
I was able to get some ideas because you were gracious enough to, with a year of credentials covering the Wiz already under your belt, meet beforehand for beers with myself and Mike Prada of Bullets Forever and SB Nation to give us some tips, etc.. He and I were subsequently granted interim access to media day, training camp, the preseason game in Richmond and the preseason game at the Verizon Center, which obviously gave the closest feel to covering home contests on a nightly basis. The team media & PR staff seemed amicable to our presence and things just happened from there. I ended up going to all 41 home games.
Looking back, if these Wizards had to be bad, thank god they were interesting. They were the anti-expectations. By the end, we could only expect the unexpected. Or … it got worse when Flip Saunders told us not the think it couldn’t.
RM: Who was your favorite Wizard to talk to before and after the game? Who was your least favorite?
KW: It would have to be Gilbert Arenas. I don’t think any other member of the media would tell you otherwise. Brendan Haywood wasn’t bad either, albeit more guarded than Gil, but candidly above average in his own way.
After all the suspensions, trades, etc., I found that Shaun Livingston gave well-thought, professional answers and that James Singleton had a pleasurable interview demeanor.
On the other hand, JaVale McGee is young and still learning the ropes, but he was probably the hardest to prod answers out of. Most of the time, I couldn’t tell if he was heavily guarded or if he just didn’t have a personality.
RM: What was your initial reaction when you heard that Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson had been traded to the Mavericks? What about when Jamison was traded to the Cavs? And which of the two teams were you rooting for, since the Wizards are not in the playoffs?
KW: I was initially irked when I heard about the Dallas trade. I simply didn’t believe Ernie Grunfeld got full value, or even 70% value in return. I’ve heard some in the organization felt the same way, but that Grunfeld was anxious to get something done lest he squander the opportunity. Since, I’ve come down from that stance. Now I just shrug my shoulders and look to the future. It’s kinda nice to know that Caron Butler was just as crappy for the Mavericks as he was with the Wizards … if you’re the type who cares about vindication.
My initial reaction to the Jamison trade was one of disappointment. Not so much because he was going to the rival Cavaliers, but because it happened right before a game against the Timberwolves and I didn’t get a chance to see him play one last time in a Wizards uniform. I was also disappointed that I decided to head up to my perch above section 104 before the game instead of lurking around the arena hallways to catch Jamison departing the Verizon Center like other members of the media … but mostly to observe the actions of the television camera/reporter combos chasing him. One thing I enjoyed doing this season was watching the at times peculiar mannerisms of the media.
Sad to see the whole thing with the Big Three come to an end, but that’s the cycle of life sometimes.
But yea, the Mavericks have now been bounced from the playoffs. I wasn’t rooting for them, but that’s more because I’ve kinda liked the Spurs as a secondary team since they drafted David Robinson. And the Cavs? I’d root for any other team in the NBA against them … even the Lakers and the Celtics, which is very hard for me to do. Sorry, Antawn.
RM: There were several games when I felt like I did not ask the right question or follow up properly with a question I had asked earlier. Do you have a story involving a question you wanted to ask but didn’t? Or a player you wanted to interview, but you just didn’t get the opportunity?
KW: Oh, definitely …. there were several occasions where I thought of a follow-up I should’ve asked hours later, but no specific instances. Forgetting a follow-up is certainly worse than missing a player I wanted to talk to, which happens when they leave early or while someone else is answering questions from the media.
Missed follow-ups probably happen to even the most experienced of reporters. The key is having a direct “in” to a player (mobile phone number) in case it’s really important. Otherwise, they will become further and fewer in between with experience.
RM: What were your Top 5 Wizards related stories this year and why?
KW: 1) Gilbert Arenas, the whole ordeal — because that’s one of the top five stories in the NBA.
2) The death of Abe Pollin — because of all he did for the franchise, for the D.C. area, and because it happened unexpectedly right before Eddie Jordan’s return to Washington on the very day he was fired a year ago while handing out Thanksgiving turkeys to the needy. It was the most whirlwind game night all season.
3) The death of the Big Three (Arenas/Butler/Jamison) — because they were re-packaged and sold to fans so much. Having to break them up is one of the most significant player personnel stories in this franchise’s history.
4) Shaun Livingston — because of his seemingly impossible comeback from a devastating knee injury to not only making significant contributions (although on a bad team), but getting to the position where he’s going to be an attractive free-agent this summer. As you and I experienced, we couldn’t write about the guy enough.
5) All things Andray Blatche — which, although negative, brought me a ton of hits on the site … Ha! — (speaking specifically of his benching/ignoring of Flip Saunders and his failed triple-double attempt). All I can saw about Andray is, “Bless his heart.”
RM: Assess the jobs that both Ernie Grunfeld and Flip Saunders did this year as coach and GM respectively. What grades would you give to them and why?
KW: I give them both a C and tell them that they better get their GPA up else they’ll lose their scholarship.
RM: You’re the GM of the Wizards. You have tons of cap room, a lottery pick and an All-Star possibly returning to your roster. What moves would you make? Who would you get rid of, who would you keep, etc
KW: Keep Arenas, Blatche, McGee, Thornton & Quinton Ross (only because he’s probably going to take his player option). Nick Young is the only other guy under contract going into next season and is probably the most expendable, albeit with little market. And this plan obviously involves not extending a qualifying offer to Randy Foye, thus wishing him the best at his next stop.
But say the team keeps Young …. They should try to resign Shaun Livingston and get Josh Howard at a bargain. Then the Wizards would have three draft picks in the top 35. Keeping all them would make 11 players. After that, there’s not a lot of attainable free-agents out that who I’d want. Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson and Amare’ Stoudemire are all semi-attainable and I wouldn’t want any of them. If the market is there, I wouldn’t mind bringing Brendan Haywood back. The team needs to have much more of a post presence on both ends to compete.
But as GM, I slow-play this summer, see if any reasonable young talent is left desperate for a contract, or if a juicy BOYD (Bring Out Your Dead) presents itself (via Mike Prada of Bullets Forever). Otherwise, I save most of cap room for the summer of 2011 (or the 2011 trade deadline). No need to rush into any unreasonable contracts.
RM: Talk about the experience of watching Shaun Livingston develop from a bench player to the starting point guard of this team in March and April.
KW: Watching Shaun develop really made the ending to such a crappy season bearable, and that’s probably why I wound up writing about him so much. The fascinating story of his comeback was only compounded by his great play (I never really had a chance to watch him as a player before).
But almost even more impressive was how he handled himself off the court. His interactions with the media showed maturity while remaining interesting. No, he wasn’t goofy and quote-ably candid like a Gilbert Arenas (or even Haywood), but he also didn’t give the boring/mundane/cliche answers that you see from most athletes.
As a player, Livingston seems to have that natural “it” that can’t be explained by stats — although, the numbers I used in a recent post about him tell the story of how affective he was at running Flip Saunders’ offense. Guess the smoothness we saw out of him is what made him the fourth overall pick in the first place (and recruited by Coach K to Duke).
Livingston needs to get much stronger, physically and on the defensive end. But if he’s made it this far, I trust he can be a dedicated player and a solid contributor worth the price it will cost to keep him.
RM: You spent a great deal of time talking to Andray Blatche this season. You saw him in training camp when he seemed to be dedicated, you saw him fade a bit during the season, you saw him sulk on the end of the bench, and you saw him play at an All-Star level. Do you think he’s a player the Wizards can build around? And do you agree with Tony Kornheiser’s assessment that he’s a “loser”?
KW: Tony Kornheiser is filled with more irresponsible rhetoric than Blatche will ever be a loser.
One thing I can say about being around him in person is that he’s a likable guy. He’s not a malcontent. He’s not a jerk. Andray’s just misguided, a large affect of his age/maturity, which one can somewhat look past with his improvement.
However, there’s a more frustrating aspect of him … he doesn’t always try hard. This is mostly evident with his work on the glass. Maybe once dubbing him as the Tin Man, as in he plays with no heart, was a little harsh. But I’ve also observed countless times where he pays little attention to detail and just lacks the moxie to be physical.
That being said, Blatche is a keeper. Some of that has to do with his affordability, but he’s clearly a unique talent whose maturity will get better with time (hopefully). As far as someone to “build” around — I don’t think so. At best he will be a complimentary player like Lamar Odom or Cliff Robinson.
RM: There’s been plenty of talk about Gilbert Arenas this year, whether it was his comeback, his guard play, his silence, his gun play, his contract, etc? Give us your Top 3 Gilbert interactions from this past season. And from your vantage point, what do you expect from him next year?
KW: The first interaction happened early in the season after a November 23rd practice. Arenas conspicuously said, “There’s about 15 players on the team … 14 get along.” Since he was fined $25,000 by the NBA for not talking to the media in mid-October, Arenas readily did so with his usual demeanor, but not always on practice days. On this day, to the surprise of many media members, he volunteered his speaking services.
At the time, the Wizards had sputtered out of the gate with a 3-9 record, and Arenas was asked about the team’s trust level in each other when he made the 14/15 remark. Toward the end of his interview, I asked Arenas whose responsibility it was to get everyone on the same page instead of 14 out of 15 as he alluded to. He said it was his and Antawn’s … and this is were I was on my toes for a follow-up question, I suppose … but I guess Gil was also setting it up like ducks on a pond – so I followed up, asking Arenas, “Is Caron in the picture since he’s one of the three captains of the team?”
“Come again?,” he said with a boyish smile on his face, seemingly purposely making me repeat the question. I did.
Gil responded with a simply meek, “Yea,” but while cracking a deviously coy smile, leaving the media to their analytic devices to translate that there was a rift between Arenas and Butler.
Of course, the usual team beat reporters were able to follow up with both Gil and Caron via cell phone and the supposed beef was thus supposedly squashed.
By the way, I wrote an in-depth post of the whole scene, including a video of the Arenas interview.
2) The second instance game in early December when I asked Arenas about his frustration from not getting calls when he was seemingly determined to drive to the basket. I certainly didn’t mean to bait him into talking about NBA referees, which as all league fans are aware, can quickly get a player fined. On the court, Arenas was visibly frustrated and it seemed like a valid question as to if the non-calls affected his game.
Well, Arenas kinda went off on the refs. He said they were profiling him as a player and said that referees needed to change the way they call games. Arenas actually said a decent bit more, but those were the most flagrant comments … and they are certainly on par with the comments Dwight Howard recently blogged which got him a $35,000 fine.
A player claiming the refs are profiling him is certainly a bloggable offense, and I did so, promptly … but still with somewhat of a guilty conscious in mind. I didn’t want to be the blogger who got an NBA player fined. But ultimately, any worry on my part quickly subsided. I didn’t put those words in Arenas’ mouth. Turns out he didn’t get fined … much to my surprise. I guess you could say it all caught up to him in the end though.
3) The third noteworthy Arenas incident came way back in the innocent days of 2009, when we thought he brought guns to the Verizon Center to get them away from his children — that turned out to be a lie.
After the Wizards got their butts kicked by the Oklahoma Thunder on December 29th, dropping their record to 10-20, and after Antawn Jamison went through his Groundhog Day routine, after Arenas said, “Right now, we stink,” an out-of-town reporter from the New York Post, who looked exactly what I thought a NY Post reporter would look like, short of wearing a fedora with a card saying “Press” tucked in the band, began to stalk Arenas.
I couldn’t hear all that was said/asked, as the locker room media scrum had died down and dispersed significantly at that point, but I did observe a member of the Wizards’ PR staff attempt to stop Arenas from saying anything. Gilbert didn’t really stop to talk to the reporter, clearly irked by his opening line of questioning (which I could tell was about guns in the locker room, but not to the extent we would later come to find out).
As he made a beeline for the exit, Arenas said something to the effect of, “I’m going to go rob banks, be a bank robber on the weekends.”
And that was it. A couple days later, we would all wake up on the first day of 2010 and learn that the gun incident was much different. I wish I had my Flip Cam running that night.
Expectations for next year: Well, as a player, I expect Arenas to be pretty much the same we saw this season — a guy who can still play but who is trying to find himself like the puppy who lost his way (any Billy Madison fans out there?).
The most captivating story about Arenas’ return, and one which we really have no idea of what to expect, is how will his personality and interactions with the media be … at least early on. In any case, get ready for a media circus.
RM: From a personal standpoint, what do you plan on doing differently next year if you obtain media credentials once again?
KW: I’m sure I’ll get more ideas as the next season approaches, but I want to try to show the more personal side of players (for example, the interviews I started doing toward the end of the season, asking them about nicknames, basketball scenarios, opinion of losing building character, etc.). I’d also like to continue showing the fan/game night experience and other interactions the franchise and its players have the DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia) area.
RM: Let’s say JaVale McGee and Nick Young came to you and said, “Kyle, what should we do to improve our game this summer?” What would you say to them?
KW: Last summer, via some Tweets, McGee bragged about how nobody was doing what he was doing (in terms of working out) …. or something like that. I’d tell him that it’s time to think that was nothing. He needs to hit the weight room, weight room, weight room …. take muscle milk and whatever else within the allowed rules and regulations of the NBA. Dude needs to get bigger first and foremost. And that should be the easy/evident task for JaVale to accomplish. The other part, gaining maturity and being a smarter basketball player, are improvements that Wizards fans can only hope come with time.
Nick Young … basically the same thing. He’s gotta get stronger. And with both of these players, it must be visibly evident. I could go on to outline how Young needs to work on his passing and JaVale needs to work on post moves, but you gotta figure they will be working on basketball skills anyway — well, and this applies to both, how do you tell someone to go out and become a better passer in the summer, especially when the summer leagues in which they play are nothing but slightly more organized And1 games?
Neither McGee or Young are close to being solid mentally. So, the only thing I can really say is work hard. Entering his third year, one in which NBA players usually show the most improvement, a lot of eyes will be on McGee. But Young’s entering his fourth year. This is make-or-break time for him. The pressure is on in a major way.
RM: Explain to Hoops Addict, why you chose to call your site, “Truth About It”? How do you get your start in covering this team?
KW: Well, I’ve had a passion for writing for a long time now (my dad was a syndicated columnist/small-town newspaper editor when I was growing up, before my family moved to D.C. when I was 10). I used to start these long email chains with friends, writing about this and that, mostly sports … and it wasn’t always a reciprocal conversation, usually just some dude (me) typing out his thoughts and sharing them.
Eventually, in late 2007, I thought, “why not start a blog?” The first step was to decide what to call it and get a URL. I wanted to be candid … tell the “truth about it” — and there you go. At first posting was infrequent, as I didn’t exactly know what direction I wanted the blog to go in … but conveniently, the Wizards’ 07-08 season was about to start up. I already was a visitor to Bullets Forever, but otherwise, there weren’t many blogs covering the team. And since basketball is my favorite sport and the Wizards are my favorite team, it just felt right to write about them.
With hard work and countless hours spent on a hobby, which I take very seriously and am passionate about, things just took off from there.