Ernie Grunfeld goes all-in one last time

Washington Wizards

Wizards fans fall into two categories these days: The fans who want to blow the team up and rebuild, and the fans who want to ride it out with a core of John Wall and Bradley Beal. 

I fall into the category of fan that isn’t ready to start over. I believe there’s a way out of this cap-strapped predicament that doesn’t involve dealing two of the best players in franchise history. Team president Ernie Grunfeld is clearly not the man to lead Washington to the light, but until this season is a wash, he needs to do everything in his power to win now.

Other minds buy into the thinking that Wall and Beal have already showed us they aren’t good enough to get it done together, and the hole Grunfeld has dug is already too deep to get out of and call for help. When looking at it that way, it’s easy to convince yourself the team should start over as soon as possible. That’s a tad contradictory, however.

The one unifying thought the two groups of fans have is that Grunfeld’s stay in the capital is long overdue. If we all agree Grunfeld has done a poor job of building the team, then we can’t possibly draw the conclusion that Wall and Beal aren’t good enough. While it may prove to be true that the two can’t be your best championship pieces, the team around them hasn’t yet been optimized the point where we know their real value. Whether they’re good enough remains unknown.

After including Kelly Oubre Jr., along with Austin Rivers, in a deal for Trevor Ariza, the Wizards are left with five players they selected themselves in the NBA Draft. Two are Wall and Beal. Another is Otto Porter Jr., a relatively good pick at number three considering some of the other lottery picks taken in 2013 (although Washington and 13 other teams passed on Giannis Antetokounmpo). The other two draft picks still on the roster are Tomas Satoransky and rookie Troy Brown Jr.

You would certainly like to have filled out the roster a little more through the draft, and there have been some noticeable misses like Jan Vesley in 2011, but Washington’s biggest draft issue more than misses has been a lack of picks. Before selecting Brown with the 15th pick this past summer, Washington had just one first-round pick from 2014 to 2017 – a problem caused by Grunfeld’s constant flipping of draft picks into veteran rentals, chasing current success in expense of future assets to no avail.

It’s an understandable plan of attack from a man in Grunfeld’s position. He drafted a core duo he thought was ready to win now and pushed all his chips into the middle of the table. But when you go all-in and lose, it’s over for you. The last time Grunfeld went for broke is when he traded the 2017 first-round pick for one year of Bojan Bogdanovic. That year, the Wizards pushed Boston to seven games before falling in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Grunfeld didn’t hit the jackpot, but he earned enough of his chips back to keep playing.

I consider this latest move, the trade with Phoenix to bring Ariza back to DC, Grunfeld’s last all-in moment. It was a move necessary for him to make, but one that won’t get him the same return as the last. This Wizards team looks uninspired, and while LeBron was the only real force in the East over the past few years of failed decisions, the conference has blossomed into a garden full of contenders. Maybe the Wizards can play themselves back into that conversation but if not, Grunfeld’s time in the District should be over as soon as the season ends. The next GM will have some pretty damn good players to build around.

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Washington, NFL continue to show signs of colluding against Kaepernick

SKINS, SPORTS

Add Washington to the ever-increasing list of NFL teams to lose a quarterback the past two seasons yet opt against signing Colin Kaepernick, instead bringing in a less-talented quarterback to fill the role of starter or backup.

First, after losing Alex Smith for the season, Washington brought in Mark Sanchez to serve as Colt McCoy’s backup. Then, after McCoy broke his leg in Monday’s game, the team signed Josh Johnson to back up Sanchez.

Colin Kaepernick’s career stats are wildly impressive next to Washington QBs, Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson.
His 2.4-1 TD-Int ratio dwarfs Sanchez’s (1-1) and Johnson’s (0.5-1).

If Johnson’s name sounds familiar, it’s only because this is the ninth team to have employed him over the course of his 10-year career, even if he only threw an actual pass in a game for one of those teams – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The latest of Johnson’s career passes was thrown in 2011, Kaepernick’s rookie season.

Not ironically, it was Washington president Bruce Allen who was the Buccaneers GM at the time Johnson was drafted in 2008. Jay Gruden was an offensive assistant with that team and was later Johnson’s OC in 2013 with the Bengals. So when Gruden says Washington discussed the possibility of bringing in Kaepernick but went in a different direction based on familiarity with the offense, there’s merit on the surface. But ultimately it’s a cop out.

Washington doesn’t expect Johnson, or any of the other career backups it worked out, to actually have to play. The team signed a guy who provided it with a built-in excuse for why it didn’t sign Kaepernick, because Washington surely knew the questions would come. If knowing the offensive scheme was truly of concern, Johnson would’ve been called prior to Sanchez, who surely couldn’t be as familiar with the offense as Johnson, right? Gruden said the team signed Sanchez due to his “experience in a pro-style offense,” but the real reason is because Sanchez was the best available outside of Kaepernick, regardless of scheme fit.

If teams actually cared about winning more than the rightist-tempering agenda they have against Kaepernick, none of these silly excuses would carry any weight. What good is having a quarterback familiar with your system if he’s not good enough to execute it? Why not throw a more talented quarterback out there and see what happens? Or at least implement some stuff into your offense that works in favor of the more talented QB. But one week after claiming Reuben Foster on waivers, Washington proved once again that winning football games is more important to NFL teams than the issue of domestic abuse, but not more important than police brutality against black people.

So, at 6-6, 1 game out of the division race and 1/2 game out of a Wild Card spot, Washington is essentially punting on the season. Not because the team won’t still make the playoffs (though seeming less likely at this point), and not because it definitely would’ve made the postseason with Kaepernick, but because it didn’t employ the person who would’ve provided the best chance. It’s a bad decision in isolation, but now that we have multiple cases of the same bad decision, collusion should be clear now, even for the people who didn’t want to believe it before.

Beats carry the Swizz project from start to finish

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If producer albums were rated on the production alone, Swizz Beatz’ Poison would get a 5 out of 5. The producer combination of himself, AraabMUZIK, Gian Bravo and Bink!, not to mention co-EP J. Cole, crafted a series of beats that play well off of each other to seemingly produce separate elements of one cohesive vibe. The playlist goes from one neck breaker to the next and while each song has its own sound and feel, the transitions feel right.

Unfortunately, more elements go into producing a great album than the actual production, and the lyrical highs of this project make the lows jump out like a red stain on a crisp white tee. On its own, “Come Again” with UK’s Giggs is a fine track, but following the fire, Lil Wayne-assisted single, “Pistol On My Side (P.O.M.S.),” Giggs’ limitations as a rapper are exposed. It’s much more enjoyable hearing Weezy repeat “pistol on my side, trigger finger on the job” than it is to hear Giggs say “man” every line.

The same juxtaposition is presented when Jim Jones’ “Preach” attempts to follow “Something Dirty/Pic Got Us” with Jadakiss, Styles P and Kendrick Lamar. Swizz pulls prime Capo out of Jimmy on an enjoyable track, but classic Kiss and Ghost back-and-forth bars are unparalleled. Young Thug has to try, and ultimately fails, to follow consecutive tracks by Nas and Pusha T with “25 Soldiers.” The lyrical shortcomings aren’t knocks against any of those artists, as the aforementioned are all tough acts to follow for even some of the greatest rappers. It is, however, a knock against an otherwise solid body of work composed by Swizz.

Overall, Poison is an enjoyable listen and the highs are good enough to carry listeners through the duration of a short 10-track, 33-minute whirlwind. You might be too busy trying to process something from a previous track to even notice the sub-par lyrics and lazy hooks on a few songs. If not, the beats are also a nice distraction to keep your head nodding. And ultimately, that’s what you listen to a Swizz Beatz project for.

Love Me Now? sets Tory Lanez up for big 2019

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Tory Lanez, the singer-rapper whose real name (Daystar) is more of a stage name than his made-up stage name, dropped his third studio album on Oct. 26.

Love Me Now? is Lanez’s second album release of the year, serving as the turn-up to the wind-down of his March project Memories Don’t Die. His second studio effort drew criticisms of being unoriginal and attempting to imitate the styles of other popular acts, including his personal hometown rival Drake. It’s no surprise, then, that on the press run for Love Me Now?, Lanez explains he took a mixtape approach to this project, which is how he believes he produces his best music.

The differences between the two projects are stark in a way that the two sides of Drake’s Scorpion are different. The proximity of the releases, however, wouldn’t make it a surprise if Love Me Now? and Memories Don’t Die were also supposed to serve as a double-disc album. If that were the plan, the reason to evacuate it would obviously be to avoid further comparisons to the 6 god. The mistake was releasing Memories Don’t Die prior to Love Me Now?, which is a more enjoyable project and displays more of Lanez’s own original sound. Unfortunately, the prior project may have dimmed anticipation and subsequently the overall reach of the latter.

If LMN? was actually recorded as a separate album, it shows great growth within a short period of time and should serve as a springboard for Lanez to catapult himself back into the conversation of top hip-hop singer-song makers going into 2019. In order to do that, however, Lanez will need to dive deeper on future efforts. As far as content, LMN? doesn’t offer much for people who don’t plan to skip cuffing season and thot all winter. But if that’s your plan, relate away. As Tory said on “ThE RUn oFF,” “Baby Ima/smoke this marijuana/and do what I wanna … I be all up in the streets/doing my thing and fucking these freaks.”

The album’s lack of subject matter depth is saved by a star studded feature list, including Chris Brown, Trey Songz and 2 Chainz, and banging production. It’s far from a classic, but LMN? should keep Tory in rotation for a little while.