Don't take the 2013-14 Wizards for granted

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

They weren't perfect and there are many questions ahead, but the 2013-14 Wizards accomplished a hell of a lot.

I spent too much of my final one and a half years of college looking ahead.  It was around this time that I decided I really wanted to pursue journalism, whatever it turned out to be, as a profession. There were lots of late nights in the back of the newspaper office editing stories about some useless club that was doing something VERY IMPORTANT and was VERY EXCITED to tell us about it. Other time was spent looking at what passed for advanced basketball stats those days and updating a fledging site that few people read.

This was a productive life, mind you. My experiences on the college newspaper and running this site were fulfilling. But I was also single-minded, trying to work out my next step even if it cost me chances to soak in my current one.

That's worked out well, all told. I have a great job at a great company that's allowed me to grow with them. I'm doing something I love, which is something many people can't say. I've learned more about this industry in five years than some folks learn in 15.

But there are times when I wish I spent more time living in the moment. There were college rites of passage I never experienced. I didn't spend a semester in Europe or Asia or South America learning a different culture when I still had few cares in the world. I didn't spend enough of the few beautiful days Boston had exploring the city that so many others love. I didn't go on as many drunk adventures as before. I didn't really take those long road trips to the beach that get brought up in friend reunions for years to come. I lost touch with some friends that I suddenly didn't find enough time to see.

I enjoyed the college experience, sure, but I often think I could have enjoyed it more. Cliche as it sounds, I'm never getting that time in my life back. I worry I didn't balance preparing for the future with soaking in the present.

***

The Washington Wizards have to worry about the future. They have two great young guards they must build around properly. They have a roster full of veteran free agents coming off great years. They have decisions to make with management and coaching. They must convert those playoff bandwagoners into new fans.

They have to think of 2013-14 as the first step toward an ultimate destination, not as the destination. John Wall and Bradley Beal are 23 and 20, respectively. If this proves to be their most notable postseason run, the Wizards will have failed them.

They know this -- and it's increasingly clear that "they" will include Ernie Grunfeld -- but there is surely disagreement on the means of getting to that destination. Is it more productive to re-sign Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat, hoping they duplicate their efforts? Is it best to keep Gortat, but rely on Martell Webster and Otto Porter to replace Ariza? Should they try to woo a big name this summer instead of waiting? Should they assume Ariza and Gortat will decline, let them go and take a step back this season to take a step forward in the future? Independent of all that, do they have the right coach, or is there someone else that would do better at raising the team from good to great?

Concerns about the future consume us because of the past. The Chris Webber/Juwan Howard Bullets were supposed to be the league's rising power, according to Michael Jordan himself. There was much optimism when an older His Airness led the Wizards to a surprising 37-win season in 2001-02. Gilbert Arenas and his band of miscast brothers rallied the city and advanced to the second round for the first time in 23 years. All of those teams washed out before they could even match that first moment.

We know damn well that success is fleeting. The Wizards, the 44-win Wizards that alternated stretches of brilliance and frustrating ineptitude, are still a ways away from contention. The playoff run was thrilling, but it doesn't change that fact.

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

That's what 21-year-old me thinks of the 2013-14 Wizards. Twenty-one-year-old me is not wrong.

There's the other perspective, though, the one that nags at our hearts as life flies by. The one that creeps into our conscience during a quiet moment. Maybe you have a beer in hand. Maybe you're just lying down to go to sleep. Maybe you're channel-surfing and finding nothing. Maybe it's a weekend night and your plans have fallen through.

A tinge of regret washes through your brain. You don't know why, but soon, you start thinking about your life. The responsibilities. The errands you have to run each day. The many hours you sit at your desk wishing you could break out of your routine. The decision you made X years ago that put you on this path. The worry that something about your life would be better if you didn't make that decision.

You know you can't live with any regrets. You know you're pretty lucky, all things considering. You know that there are unintended consequences to making a different choice. But dammit, that feeling just won't go away.

***

The Wizards haven't trotted out a team this good since 1979. They're supposed to enter the year with high hopes, only to crush even our more modest expectations with barrages of injury, stalled player development and in-fighting. They're supposed to mismanage their best assets. They're supposed to be invisible to ESPN unless they are doing something stupid. Their offseason acquisitions are supposed to fail spectacularly.

And yet, none of these things happened in 2013-14. Wall progressed, learning how to change speeds, developing his jumper and emerging as one of the league's best point guards. Beal rebounded from injury and wowed playoff observers with his maturity, sweet stroke and tricky floor game at such a young age. Nene mostly stayed healthy and gave leadership at just the right moments. Ariza bounced back from a lost season to become the best 3/D player in the league. Gortat fit in seamlessly as a rim protector and coaxed incredible pick and roll development out of Wall. Unlikely sources saved games during in this thrilling playoff run. There was the Andre Miller Game, the Trevor Booker Game, the Drew Gooden Game, the Al Harrington Game.

They accomplished more than any Washington team in most of our lifetimes

There were bumps in the road, but they were never too large. A 2-7 start was turned around by a team meeting; veteran leadership, finally, at work. Frustrating home losses were followed by gut-check road wins. A much-maligned coach often frustrated us with his tactics, but kept his troops believing with a consistent, gruff attitude developed by two failed coaching experiences elsewhere. And yes, the even more maligned general manager saw his heavily-criticized moves work out as his team advanced further than almost anyone expected.

The Washington Wizards team accomplished a hell of a lot this season. They accomplished more than any Washington team in most of our lifetimes. They did so led by a 23-year-old point guard and a 20-year-old shooting guard. They thrilled us in ways none of us have ever experienced as fans. Their end came far later than many of us expected. They perished with honor, losing to a better team rediscovering its game.

***

The preparation for the future will begin today inside Verizon Center. Exit interviews, internal evaluation, discussion with agents, the draft, free agency and summer league are on the horizon. This pleases College Me and is necessary for future growth.

But here is my message to myself, to you, to everyone reading: Don't make the mistake College Me did. Savor this moment. In 15 years, you might be watching a horrible team embarrass itself on its home court, with the crowd booing them off the stage. You'll change the channel is disgust and find nothing else worth watching. You'll be compelled to drink a beer, for some reason.

And you'll stop and think to yourself about that 2013-14 season, the one where you spent more time hand-wringing about the future than appreciating the present. You'll suddenly wish the current Wizards displayed half the professionalism and growth that 2013-14 club did. You'll vividly recall those FREE NENE chants at the end of Game 4 against the Bulls, that 27-point performance the star point guard had against the Pacers when he and his team was in its most dire state and the one final comeback in the fourth quarter of Game 6 when they appeared buried. And you'll wish you spent more time appreciating all of that.

Don't let that happen to you. Don't let it happen to me.

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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