WASHINGTON, D.C. - Training camp narratives are nice, but the correlation to the season is flimsy. Understand that the Wizards 2011-12 season starts now, but it won't be defined on a practice court in December.
Need a reminder? In 2009, head coach Flip Saunders created "Our Time" to motivate a veteran squad for a campaign that ended in disaster. In 2010, the youth movement necessitated "Back to Basics," a simple reminder that the Wizards often did not or could not follow.
But after the abrupt end to the lockout, Saunders didn't have time to conceive an official theme for the Wizards training camp for the first time since he arrived in Washington. The Wizards are just playing basketball, and it's a nice change.
"I feel like we just came in this camp like forget all the hype, the motto and all that stuff and just get to work," center JaVale McGee said. Then he couldn't help himself, smiling, "and last year's camp we didn't have back to back two-a-days."
And that's the Wizards right now, this season. Ready to mature. Serious about growth and development. Still very much themselves.
Right now, Saunders appreciates the focus from the team. Past incarnations of the Wizards -- even the most successful teams of the '00s -- had been light, fun. Gilbert Arenas won playoff games, but he also pooped in his teammate's shoe.
That didn't work last season, and everyone here knows it.
"Anyone who comes in there knows it's a very, very, very, very serious, going about our business," Saunders said. "We have our fun times and everything else but our approach is very serious."
The emblem of this mindset is the Hard Hat.
If you haven't been paying attention, the Wizards new hard hat is handed out at the end of each training camp session to the player who has worked the hardest. It's a little corny -- McGee said Sunday that he felt like it was staged when Blatche handed him the hat after practice -- but it has meaning. When John Wall was handed the hard hat after the first day of training camp, he kept the damn thing for himself.
Chris Singleton and Ronny Turiaf have also claimed the hat. It's funny, a bright white hard hat to to represent and reward the tenets of the Wizards chuck-the-cliches rebuild, maturity and effort.
"This camp, our main thing right now is defense, " Blatche said.
"That's going to be our main focus this year," he reemphasized. "Defense and rebounding, that's it."
And so the Wizards ended the first day of camp with a defensive shuffling drill that was straight out a middle school gymnasium. Saunders had Blatche lead the group after Wall, which the forward called "probably just a lucky call." Did he feel lucky? "To be honest with you, no -- you think I wanted to do that?"
"The biggest thing with young players," Saunders said. "When they start really making a development is when they learn to play with a purpose and not just to play."
Saunders has seen that, so far.
"I feel ahead of where I thought we’d be at this point," he said.
For more from training camp, visit our Wizards blog, Bullets Forever.