Well that wasn’t very fun. What should have been the best Wizards team in at least a decade was a total failure, and a failure in a way only the Wizards could pull off. Oh yes, it was some real Wizardry alright, tricking their fans into thinking a coach, (the since fired Randy Wittman) who statistically had been one of the worst in the league history based upon winning percentage (36.9% entering the season), had suddenly figured out which way to hold his clipboard and embraced a new way to coach basketball. If this piece was a season recap, it would be called “What the **** was that?”. But this is not about the past, this is about what the future holds for the unofficial NBA team at Head & Heart Sports, the Washington Wizards.
First things first, John Wall is really really good at basketball. He’s not a perfect player by any means, but he’s still one of the best all around players in the league and is only 25. These next three seasons are where the Wizards need to put the best team and coaching staff possible around their franchise player. Wall is on a very team friendly deal (he is even on the record speaking/complaining about how Pistons guard Reggie Jackson makes as much as he does) and having a player like Wall at a relative discount as the player salary market continues to skyrocket only adds to his value.
The rest of the roster is where this team needs to get things right. Nene’s contract is finally off the books (now that’s something fun), so the Wizards have the ability, in theory, to do some big things this offseason. Bradley Beal is a restricted free agent this summer and although there’s debate as to whether his career to this point has “earned” a max level contract, but they need to give him one this summer. Despite the nagging leg injuries Beal has suffered, there just are not many humans on this earth who can shoot the ball the way Beal can. Oh and did I mention that he doesn’t turn 23 until next month? I’m not the biggest Otto Porter fan, but I think between him and 2015 first rounder Kelly Oubre Jr., there is the potential to mix and match at the small forward spot and use both of their strengths. Marcin Gortat is heading towards the downside of his career, but he is still a solid big man and also does things like this that make you love the guy. Markieff Morris is an important piece for the future of this team. Partially because they gave up what will more than likely be a back end lottery pick for him, but mainly because at his best Morris offers a dynamic athlete the Wizards just do not have anywhere else on the roster. When Morris gets going he can score on the block, play in the pick and roll with Wall, defend the pick and roll with his size and athleticism, as well as help spread out the offense in the half court giving his team a size advantage against most opposing small ball power forwards. The problem with Markieff Morris is, well, he’s Markieff Morris, and to this point in his career he has not exactly shown the highest level of maturity.
So who is going to lead this mostly young and fun core? None other than former Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. I am not in love with the Brooks hiring. I, along with many other people, often felt while watching his Thunder teams from the past few seasons that there was no real structure or flow to the offense. He played rotting corpses like Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins huge playoff and Finals minutes, but when you have two of the league’s best players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, you can get away with doing a lot of dumb things. The one positive thing you can say about Brooks is his players seemed to generally love playing for the guy. That does count for something since never once while watching the Wizards over the past few seasons did it feel like the players generally enjoyed the tutelage of Randy Wittman. Brooks was also able to develop some non lottery picks like Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson into borderline All Stars–something that the entire Wizards organization, not just Wittman, has failed to do since they were the Bullets. Despite having concerns about Brooks, I do think this is an upgrade at head coach for a team that severely needed one. If Brooks does fail, the worst case is he is a guy who the players will like and, at a minimum, he knows which way to hold his dry erase board.
This upcoming summer in the NBA is expected to have a Wild West feel to it. With the rise in the salary cap to close to 90 million dollars, almost every team in the league will have room for at least one max contract player. Some teams can get creative and take on two max contracts and the few teams still with cap trouble will have enough space to drive up the price of mid tier players. The Wizards fall under the group that has room for one max contract (when? if?)they dive into free agency. They could go for someone like Harrison Barnes, who I think would fit very well with this team, or go the trade route for someone like Demarcus Cousins (we could do an entire blog post about how much we love Boogie). I have not even mentioned the ultimate pipe dream of #KD2DC, because it is going to hurt too much when he spurns his home town.
However the Wizards decide to spend their money, they need to do it and not worry all that much about if they overpay for a player. I’m not necessarily suggesting they throw a max offer at a player like Arron Afflalo, but they need to be aggressive this summer. Despite missing the playoffs, this team is not that far away from really competing and if the first two weeks of this current playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that you just never know how quickly things can change. Players get hurt (e.g. Curry, CP3, Blake) or teams grow to hate each other internally (Rockets, Clippers). Sometimes just being a really good team can be enough to break through to the Finals in a given year. You definitely do not want to be stuck in the “middle” tier of the NBA, but sometimes there is nothing wrong with being just below the top. The time is right for the Wizards to finally make a jump in Eastern Conference standings. The kind of jump that makes you say “Well that was fun”.
Photo Credit: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports