Washington Wizards fans tend to be a pretty hardcore bunch, for obvious reasons. The only bandwagon fans in DC wear RG3 jerseys. Hardcore basketball fans know better than to get too high or too low over summer league results, yet the tone of fan reaction is decidedly uneasy. Why?
Over the last few years, fans have expected relatively-stacked Wizards summer league teams to run the table or at least routinely flash dominance and that ever-tantalizing upside. Problem is, sloppy fundamental play often predominates, which shouldn't be all that concerning ... #summerleague, yeah? Yet that often seems to cross over into exhibition games, and before you know it, the A-team is getting its clock cleaned on the glass and blowing defensive rotations when games count.
Worrying about summer league play feels irrational, but it's more logical than you think. Still, there's an underlying anxiety greater than those nebulous fears. After all, it's hard to imagine the suddenly stalwart locker room coming out anything but laser focused this year. So what is it?
Quite a number of things are coming to a head: John Wall's max contract, OkAriza's contract's achieving expiring status, both Ernie Grunfeld's and Randy Wittman's contracts following suit, playoff expectations and whether or not Martell Webster will add hype man to the considerable number of hats he wears for the Wiz. We saw what happened last season when Wall was injured and the first half of the season was lost. One or more critical injuries could always sink the ship, but this season is different because the stakes are so much higher.
As clearly flawed as the Big 3 of an age past were, they had all proven their chops. Even if the Wizards of that time were the name-that-iteration of the Bucks with offense instead of defense (the humorists among you will note Grunfeld himself oversaw one of those squads ... also, many Bothans died to bring you that information). On paper, it isn't much of a stretch to suggest that this roster has the potential to become the best basketball squad DC has fielded in 35 years.
But while there have been flashes of excellence and outright dominance, the fans and even the front office must continue to rely on something other than on-the-court results when they project the future. I stand by my late-March prediction: John Wall will get the five-year max. Consider this angle on a five-year max as well: Grunfeld needs Wall to burn up the league this year while becoming the epicenter of the locker room, and a five-year deal gives him every possible motivation to become the Wizards face of the franchise to the NBA world. I don't think playing chicken with Wall over the optional fifth year is something EG can stomach with his job on the line.
According to Martell Webster, the Wizards are aiming at the fifth seed in next year's playoffs. Drawing a straight line from last year's results? 46 wins and the franchise's best regular season result since 78/79. So when we pose the question: are the Wizards as constructed ready to surpass the Big 3 era in DC, it's not really an academic question at all. John Wall will (I believe) have his five year extension in hand, Ernie Grunfeld and Randy Wittman should know which way the watershed takes them, the fates of Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor should be clear (or resolved), the forward brigade should have stepped up (or not) in something approaching a final referendum and the (nominal) new Big 3 should be dominating, making noise and justifying their draft position, respectively.
There's a lot on the plate this season, and the Wizards are aiming at the whole enchilada. You yearned for a hungry team, Wiz fans? You got one.
More from Bullets Forever:
- Q&A: Nick Nurse discusses Glen Rice Jr's game, demeanor and more
- NBA Summer League, Wizards unable to keep Memphis off the boards in 90-83 loss
- Randy Wittman dishes on Otto Porter, Jan Vesely, Glen Rice Jr. and more
- NBA Summer League: Otto Porter's struggles are more expected than startling
- Washington Wizards begin talks on John Wall extension, according to report