I agree with common opinion that the Wizards had a great offseason, though mostly for big-picture reasons. The Wizards did not chase a big fish, but they correctly realized they would hamstring themselves by bringing back the exact same team as last year and managed to land a meaningful fish of a different kind while maintaining flexibility for 2016. They could be better next year even while remaining in the picture for Kevin Durant in 2016, a huge accomplishment.
That said, I do have a concern: are the 2014-15 Wizards too unbalanced?
It's an odd thing to worry about having too much frontcourt depth when it was such a big problem heading into the summer, but I wonder if the Wizards went overboard. I can't complain at all about the contracts Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair and Drew Gooden got in isolation. They are all going to be underpaid for their contributions and all come off the books by 2016.
But do the Wizards need all of those guys? Will they pay for a lack of depth elsewhere?
Acquiring all of those guys (not to mention using a roster spot on Kevin Seraphin) sends two obvious signals. One: the Wizards want to limit Nene's minutes. Marcin Gortat hinted at this strategy in an interview with NBATV prior to the signings when he suggested the Wizards didn't want to "overload" Nene. With Humphries, Blair, Gooden and even Seraphin all capable of playing big minutes, Nene definitely won't be overloaded.
I do agree this is a worthy goal, because Nene's at the point in his career where he should rest often. Putting him on the Dwyane Wade Plan is long overdue.
Still, there are only so many minutes to go around. When Nene's healthy, someone -- Humphries, Gooden or Blair -- will be out of the rotation. Thirty-two minutes for Gortat and 28 for Nene leaves 36 for everyone else between all the frontcourt spots. One would think Humphries gobbles up 20 of those, leaving just 16 to fit between Blair and Gooden. Things clear up a bit more if Nene is not playing, but teams still don't often play more than four big men in a game.
Is there enough diversity in that frontcourt rotation? Perhaps, but I'm not totally certain. Humphries, Gooden and Blair all were better as smaller 5s in second units than as traditional 4s last year. Humphries started often for Boston and was able to get more open mid-range looks from not playing with another obvious big man. (He played often with Jared Sullinger, who also was out on the perimeter). Blair rarely played with another traditional big man, logging just 106 minutes with Brandan Wright, 22 with Bernard James and zero (ZERO) full ones with Samuel Dalembert. Gooden's best contribution was with Al Harrington as shooters on the AARP Unit. None of the three are especially mobile defenders, though Randy Wittman can surely coach them up.
As it stands, someone is going to have to shift down to the 4 to play, and that will require an adjustment. And that leads us to the second point: it seems the Wizards see Pierce as a 3, not as a hybrid 3/4.
If so, that'd run counter to Pierce's success in Brooklyn last year. The Nets used him as a 3 to start the year, but he, along with the rest of the team, struggled mightily. Pierce shot just 35 percent from the field in November and was exposed for being too slow in a traditional lineup with Kevin Garnett at power forward and Brook Lopez at center. Things improved slightly in December when Pierce was briefly turned into a sixth man, but he was still struggling to find himself.
That changed once Lopez was injured and he started at power forward in a "small" lineup with Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston. That four-man combination outscored opponents by 9.4 points per 100 possessions last year, succeeding no matter who played the 5. Pierce shot nearly 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from three in February and March, rediscovering his scoring touch and playing passable defense even against bigger players. His declining foot speed was much less of an issue against slower 4s than quicker 3s. Ultimately, Pierce was a valuable asset for Brooklyn, even though it fell in the second round of the playoffs.
Nevertheless, the Wizards must see Pierce primarily as a 3 because there's likely going to be little room for him to play up front. Can Pierce still be an effective 3, or was last season a sign that he should play out his twilight years as a Stretch 4?
We'll see. It's possible Pierce's issues had more to do with the Nets' awkward roster than any decline in his game, in which case he should be fine alongside Nene and Gortat. Data at NBAWowy supports this: Pierce was still efficient playing with Garnett/Lopez and Andray Blatche/Lopez combinations last year, and it was actually when Lopez sat that Pierce's efficiency took a tumble (49.5 true shooting percentage) in those first two months. Maybe the issue wasn't Pierce at the 3, it was Pierce with that incarnation of the Nets.
But it's also possible that while Pierce's scoring was fine, the pieces don't fit for the team unless he's in a small lineup, particularly defensively. If true, this increases the pressure even more on Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. to build on their strong Summer League performances. They'll need to play regardless, and they'll really need to play if Pierce isn't 100 percent effective on the wing.
The obvious cliche is that these are good problems to have, and there's some truth to that. Given the way the Wizards play, having a surplus of bigs is better than having a surplus of wings. And again: it's WEIRD to complain about having too many big men.
But they are also thorny issues that could prevent this team from reaching its full potential. Hopefully my concerns prove to be unfounded.