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A Call For Realism: Why D.C. Sports Fans Should Be Careful To Anoint New Stars Too Quickly

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We all want John Wall, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to succeed. We all expect them to succeed. But let's also be realistic, because in sports, there are no guarantees.

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In the last year, D.C. has welcomed three of the brightest young stars in sports. The Nationals have two players that are "50-year players" in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper -- at least according to baseball Super Agent Scott Boras. 

"Mr. Lerner," the agent said, "there is a thing called a 50-year player—a player so extraordinary that he comes along once every 50 years. This year there is a 50-year pitcher and next year there is a 50-year player. And they both may be available to you."

Meanwhile, the Wizards got the consensus franchise player in this year’s NBA draft in John Wall.

BIGGEST WINNER: There was no suspense in taking John Wall, but he is the type of player who can inject some life into what has been floundering franchise. Of all the players in the draft, he is the one who projects as a future All-Star. There could be other All-Stars out of this class, but none with the can’t-miss tag like Wall. He can run a team, defend and has NBA quickness and athleticism.

We will buy their jerseys, live and die with each win and loss and of course follow them on Twitter. Not surprisingly, these supremely talented young stars are seen as franchise "saviors" and expected to be centerpieces of championships yet to be won. But are we expecting too much?

Sure, D.C. sports fans are starving for a championship, and you can't blame us for that. We have not seen a title since the Redskins Super Bowl XXVI Championship in 1992. (Oh wait, D.C. United won a few titles, but ... nice try ... it does not really count the same way. I'm talking about in the Big Four pro sports).

At the same time, I'll say it again. Are we expecting too much of these young stars?


We have already seen what Stephen Strasburg can do the on the mound (anything he wants). However, the Nats' record in those games is just .500 at 3-3 and he only pitches every five days. Then, there is Harper. (Now, before we get too far, let’s mention there is the matter of signing Harper before the Aug. 15 deadline. All signs point to him signing (why leave high school early to get a jump on your career if you are going to sit out a year?) but you never know. Did I mention his agent is Boras?)

Anyway let’s assume Harper signs and comes up in three years and lives up to the Ken Griffey Jr./ Alex Rodriguez comparisons:

Says one G.M. when asked to assess Harper's major league potential, "He has plus-plus power. He's not going to hit for a high average, but he's going to hit 35 home runs or more a year consistently. As a catcher you would have to invest four years in the minors with him. He's a number five hitter who will hit .260, .270 with a [boat] load of bombs."

He will still need help around him. He will still need protection in the order. The team will need to solidify their rotation besides Strasburg and their defense will need to actually catch the ball and make the right throws, a tall order considering the Nats are last in baseball defensively with the worst fielding percentage and the most errors right now. 

We will also have to hope Harper handles the money and fame that will come with it. He still is just 17 years  young old, and really that is the factor that should scare the hell out of the fans. I remember how I was at 17, and that was without fortune, fame and first-time freedom. (OK, bad comparison, because clearly I do not have Harper's DNA or athletic ability). Everyone says Harper has great character and values thanks to parents that have raised him right. Well, so did Josh Hamilton. Nothing is guaranteed in sports,  especially in the baseball draft:

The draft includes 50 rounds, so hitting .040 in the draft is an achievement—a testimony to the difficulty of projecting how amateur talent will pan out in the big leagues. Even the top of the draft is fraught with misses. Of the top 30 picks each year from 2000 to '05, 31% have never reached the big leagues (55 of 180).

Hopefully Harper will handle it half as well as Strasburg has to this point. But even with Strasburg, there have to be concerns. Sure, he is already married and seems really grounded. However, the distraction and pressure has to get him a little, right? He's not a droid, after all.

Then, there's this sobering truth. There is a chance Strasburg could be the greatest pitcher and Harper the greatest slugger of his generation, and the Nats still might never win a World Series. And even that assumes the flippin’ Yankees don’t swoop in and buy them in their free agency years before we really get to enjoy them. 


Basketball "saviors," on the other hand, are different. In a sport with just five guys in the lineup at one time, a franchise player can be a franchise changer on his own. That is why 19-year-old John Wall got and deserved the red carpet treatment.

But a word of caution: It will not happen overnight. Sure he could be as good if not better this season than Chicago's Derrick Rose and Sacramento's Tyreke Evans, who both played for Wall's college coach, John Calipari. But that's a tall order, and even if he is as good or better, that doesn't alone change a franchise. In Rose's rookie year, the Bulls went 41-41 and lost in the first round of the playoffs, but they were in the playoffs three straight years before having a BAD year and winning the lottery. Remember, the Wizards have been gutted, so that might not be realistic. Last year, the Sacramento Kings were 25-57.  It is hard to guess how well the Wizards will perform with so much of the offseason remaining.

We do know everyone will expect Wall to make them better no matter who is on the roster. Can Wall handle that kind of pressure? On the one hand, yeah, it sure seems like it:

"My biggest concern? Going there and being a bum. You don't want to be a draft pick that should have did something but never did nothing."

But on the other hand ... well ... I will not bother to bring up old Kwame Brown quotes that were said to Doug Collins and Michael Jordan before and after the draft. OK, I'll bring up one: "If you draft me, you'll never regret it." OMG! 

Certainly Wall is different, for many reasons. First of all, the NBA is set up for point guards to succeed with the lack of contact allowed on the perimeter. Secondly, he actually showed something in college, and if he was a bum he would have been exposed at Kentucky. Finally, no one is confusing Jordan with Jerry West when it comes to personnel decisions.

However, one quick note of caution before we start thinking about the Larry O'Brien Trophy returning to D.C: Since 1980, the only No. 1 overall picks to win an NBA Title with the team they were drafted by are James Worthy, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Going No. 1 guarantees nothing, even in the NBA.


I'm not trying to pour cold water on the expectations for these exciting young players. I will not even bother talking about the chance of career-changing injuries. I just wonder whether we'll actually look back in 10 years and say, "Wow sucking was worth it because it got us franchise changing players?" Or, will we say these guys did not live up to our lofty expectations? Remember, this is not tennis or golf. Baseball and basketball are team sports. Ask LeBron James if teammates are important. 

Strasburg, Harper and Wall will need help and some breaks along the way. Instead of putting all the pressure and expectations on these young players, let's remember the organizations, owners and decision makers need to give these guys a big assist.

Mike Rizzo and Ernie Grunfeld have done the easy part taking the "franchise players." Now, their ability to fill in the pieces will be the biggest factor into whether or not these "saviors" can meet our expectations.