CARPE DIEM was the brainchild of the Roman poet Horace, who may have been a sports fan but obviously wasn’t an advocate of “The Process” employed by the Philadelphia 76ers or the Houston Astros’ similarly patient path to a World Series title.
“Seize the day” is the translation of Horace’s advice, which the Washington Wizards and Capitals have taken to heart. That win-now approach is the only reason Dwight Howard is welcome in D.C.
After bucking the odds (and decades of futility) to win their first Stanley Cup, the Capitals have pulled off an equally impressive feat: keeping their title team almost completely intact in search of a repeat.
Yes, they low-balled coach Barry Trotz in contract negotiations, traded away backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer and watched key second-line center Jay Beagle leave via free agency. Aside from that, though, the 2018–19 Capitals will look almost exactly like the group that’s still lugging the Cup all over creation.
Washington managed to re-sign John Carlson, the top defenseman on the free agent market, and convinced playoff standout Devante Smith–Pelly to return for far less money than he might have gotten elsewhere. They may even bring back Brooks Orpik, whose $5.5 million contract they traded away to fit Carlson’s contract under the salary cap.
In short, general manager Brian MacLellan sees no reason why the team that won it all this year can’t do so again next spring, even with a first-time head coach in Todd Reirden.
That urgency is also shared by the Capitals’ co-tenants in Capital One Arena, the Wizards.
LeBron James’ decision to take his talents to Hollywood (L.A.-Bron?) opens up the Eastern Conference that has been in his grip for the past eight seasons, with Cleveland and Miami.
Yes, the loaded Boston Celtics (if they stay healthy) and the patient 76ers (if they continue to improve) look like the favorites in a diluted Eastern Conference. But Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld has to believe that if his team can’t make a push this year, it may never do so.
That’s why he’s rolling the dice on Howard, a former No. 1 overall pick whose reputation as a malcontent rivals his still-immense talent. (He had 30 points and 30 rebounds in the same game for Atlanta last season, a feat only Kevin Love has achieved since 1982).
But Howard will be joining his fifth team in the past four years, and his locker-room reputation is the reason the awful Brooklyn Nets wanted no part of him. They’re in rebuilding mode, unlike the Wizards, and don’t think Howard is worth the effort.
Grunfeld is hoping Howard can coexist with John Wall, something Marcin Gortat couldn’t do. Ironically, Wall and Gortat meshed well on pick-and-roll plays on the court, but feuded off it, which resulted in Gortat being traded to the L.A. Clippers for Austin Rivers.
If Gortat couldn’t get along with Wall, it’s unlikely Howard will. He got Stan Van Gundy fired in Orlando and jousted with Kobe Bryant in L.A.
Still, you don’t have to be best friends to make great music (ask Fleetwood Mac) or win NBA titles (ask Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal). And with the injury-prone Wall hitting his prime and the East lacking depth, Grunfeld is risking his reputation (and maybe his job) in a quest to break a 40-year title drought.
Such bold moves can pay off handsomely—or backfire. Tanking may be a dirty word among fans, but many teams (including the Astros and 76ers) have made it work. The Nationals used two horrendous seasons to draft Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper No. 1 in 2009 and 2010.
Speaking of the Nationals, they face a decision after the season on whether to invest hundreds of millions to try to keep Harper, even though his batting average has languished in two of the past three years—as have his team’s fortunes this season.
Although the Nationals have some fine young prospects, if they don’t win a title soon, it may not happen for a while. Going all in represents the fun (and frustrating) part of professional sports, where only one team is ultimately happy each year.
You don’t have
to be best friends
to make great music (ask Fleetwood Mac)
or win NBA titles
(ask Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal).