It hasn’t been easy being a Wizards fan for the past 5-ish seasons. Draft swing and misses, injuries, locker room problems and underperforming players compounded into routine exclusions from the playoffs. Since January, all those years of disappointment seem an age away as we’ve seen the Wizards playing with a renewed vigour and intensity that I haven’t seen in my experience as a Wizards fan. I am definitely pumped for 2013-2014. That being said, there are definitely areas that need to be addressed if this team is hopeful of a playoff berth next season. These are just some rough notes on the state of the Wizards going forward.
Firstly, I’ve only been a Wizards fan since 2007. The only reason I even became a Wizards fan was because Gilbert Arenas was on the cover of NBA Live 08 and he seemed like a ‘cool guy’ (haha). Being Australian, supporting this team from abroad isn’t the easiest thing to do. I’ve spent the past six odd years following losing box scores on my phone, watching highlights every night and the occasional game on NBA League Pass. During that time, I’ve certainly never been as excited about a Wizards team as I am now. I had the privilege of being in Washington D.C. earlier in the year, in the week where we had the Clippers, Knicks and Nets at home and won all three. Being able to go to the Knicks and Nets games was one of the more enjoyable nights of my life. Add to that watching the Wizards-Lakers game last night. What a game. I never count the Wizards out of any game these days, but being down by as many as 18 in the second half I didn’t hold out much hope. Seeing John Wall and the Wizards completely dominate the Lakers in that second half was heart warming. Never before have I seen such grit and determination from a Wizards team. Which brings me to my first point…
Randy Wittman is not a spectacular coach. His rotations and late-game play calling arguably lost us a few games at the start of the season. However, he has obviously had an effect on this Wizards team to lead to such hard nosed basketball. I actually didn’t mind when Wittman was promoted from interim head coach and given an extension. When he took over from Flip Saunders I thought immediately that the intensity was improved. I doubt he is the right man for the job going forward, but I think he has at least earned the right to coach until his contract is up at the end of next season. He deserves a full-season with John Wall to utilize and we will be able to tell whether this defensive prowess and competitiveness is more than just a flash in the pan.
Barring the Jamison/Butler/Arenas years, when they were all healthy, this is by far the best Wizards team I’ve seen. The Wizards are 20-15 since John got back which is definitely impressive. 35 games is no longer a small sample size in my opinion. Curse the injury bug. I seriously think this team is good enough to compete for the sixth seed next season. Assuming we get no injuries to key guys. Clearly, with Wall and Bradley Beal, we’re set in the backcourt. Some think that Emeka Okafor and Nene are overpaid and overrated, personally, I’m a fan.
Emeka’s influence on defense this season has obviously been huge. Nene has never been known as a defensive stalwart, however this year his pairing with Okafor has been on one of the better defensive PF-C combos in the league. With a (hopefully) fully healthy Nene next season, expect a little more offense to come out of the frontcourt as well. At the 3 at the moment we have the double-headed monster of Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza. Nothing needs to be said about Martell. I would be a proponent of resigning him even if he was a terrible player, he’s just that good of a guy. Ariza has been fairly inconsistent this year. I’m a fan of his though, I like his ability to hit the three and play lockdown D. Could be getting ahead of myself, but you need a guy like Trevor Ariza in the playoffs. If the Wizards are in the 6th-8th seed next year, we’re looking at guys like LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Luol Deng as weapons at the SF position. We need a player like Trevor Ariza to lock these blokes down if we’re serious about this playoff thing. Personally, I don’t remember the last time that either Webster OR Ariza had didn’t have a good game. If one if off, the other is on.
As for the bench guys, I’m not sure that anybody outside of Kevin Seraphin and perhaps Jan Vesely are worth retaining at this point. Maybe Chris Singleton. We haven’t seen enough out of these sorts of players recently and at this point in the season I’m asking myself why Jason Colllins is starting considering that he won’t be a part of the team next season (hopefully). We can keep a few of these guys hanging around on potential, but lets be honest, players like Cartier Martin and Garrett Temple are easily replaceable. Though I do like Temple’s contributions over the past month or so. We really need a go-to sixth man, maybe the Wizards can make a bit of noise in free agency this offseason but who knows.
Essentially, I’m content to try our hand with what we’ve got. I think this is a playoff team. If its not, hopefully Wall and Beal make it a reasonably enticing spot for free agents that if we miss the playoffs we can still get someone worthwhile in 2014.
Ernie Grunfeld is as big of an enigma as Jordan Crawford. One minute he’s signing Martell Webster for ultra bang-for-your-buck production, next he’s drafting Oleksey Petrov and extending Blatche. Sort of like Wittman, Grunfeld barely garners a pass mark from me. A C------. Basically, the Martell Webster signing keeps him his job here. He’s made too many mistakes in the past to be considered a worthwhile GM. Also he has essentially completely alienated the Wizards fanbase which is never a good thing. I’ll admit I know nothing about being an executive in this league, however, and I therefore have absolutely no idea who would be an effective replacement. Either way, I doubt that Ted gets rid of him before his contract is up.
One month ago, I wanted the Wizards to start tanking ASAP. I detest tanking, but at that point it seemed like the only way for the Wizards to become relevant in the future would be to get a third piece to go with Wall and Beal in the upcoming draft. At this point, we could be picking anywhere from #5-#12, depending on some lucky or unlucky bounces. I was extremely hopeful of getting Otto Porter as a complimentary piece, however I think he will be gone by about pick 6. At this point, I think we should just take the best player available. Apart from the backcourt, we have no difference-makers and no young guns. If we can get a guy like Anthony Bennett or Nerlens Noel, we need to take him. At this point, if we can afford projects like Vesely, we can afford a project in the late lottery. With the backcourt set, we might even be past the point of looking to the draft for our next star player. I think we have gems with Wall and Beal. If this team can start winning and make the playoffs next year, then I don’t see why we don’t just take a Bennett or a Noel or a Gobert and look to free agency to fill the gaps. A young, winning team in Washington D.C. with a backcourt of John Wall/Bradley Beal should be an enticing prospect for free agents. I’m still hopeful of John getting his buddy Demarcus Cousins to head east in 2014.
Essentially, I’m happy to just keep trucking with the team we’ve got. 20-15 is a respectable record whichever way you cut it. Maybe we’re looking at a 46-36 record next season, who knows? We have one of the most promising backcourts in the league. Despite the aging frontcourt if we can hang tight with the guys we’ve got at the moment maybe we can resign them for good deals when they’re contracts are up. I think we have something special here if our younger guys can keep on developing.
Sorry if this is long and mixed up, just got so much positive energy after this Lakers game.