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What are the Wizards' chances of running on the "Treadmill of Mediocrity" in the future?

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The Wizards had a very good free agency period during this offseason. But because other NBA teams had good offseasons themselves, we also need to look at their risk of being perennially mediocre.

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The Wizards' free agency by most accounts, appears to have been a success. Marcin Gortat has been re-signed to a multi-year contract to man the center position. And even though Trevor Ariza decided to sign a new contract with the Houston Rockets, they signed Paul Pierce at a lower salary. On top of all that, there are two more solid big men coming to the nation's capital in Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair, while Drew Gooden and Garrett Temple will return this fall.

For the most part, we have taken the positive angle toward all of their signings. The Wizards have a decent chance to be a Top-3 team in the East next year. But at the same time, other teams in the NBA and the Eastern Conference have made adjustments, and you can make an argument that some of them will probably be better than the Wizards over each of the next couple of seasons, if not more.

If all of this happens, then it is possible that the Wizards may start running on the "Treadmill of Mediocrity."

What is the Treadmill of Mediocrity?

In qualitative terms, a team that is on the "Treadmill of Mediocrity" or "the treadmill" for short would have these characteristics:

  • A treadmill team is not the best in the league and has little, if any chance of being a championship contender.
  • A treadmill team is also not one of the worst in the league. If this team is in the playoffs, the first round pick for the subsequent year would not be in the lottery, or Top-14. If the team misses the playoffs and is 9th or 10th in the conference, then that team has very little chance of getting a Top-3 pick in the NBA Draft.
  • A treadmill team has a core group of players who have collectively have peaked, and are likely declining in chemistry and talent level.
  • A treadmill team often does not have the assets to sign a marquee free agent or acquire an impact player. This is because the team often does not have the salary cap space needed to sign such free agents, and/or does not have the collection of assets desired by a team that has an impact player.
  • A team that gets on the treadmill finds itself in this state after mediocre performance over a period of multiple seasons. So a team that has one or two straight 35 to 40-win seasons is not on the treadmill just yet. But a team that wins 35 to 40 games for five or six consecutive years definitely is.

There are also quantitative metrics to define what treadmill teams are. In August 2013, Matthew Gordon of RealGM wrote a piece where treadmill teams are considered as such after a three year period. He listed three types of treadmill teams, dependent only on a team's lower and upper limits of regular season wins:

  • Strict Treadmill: 30-40 wins a season in three or more consecutive seasons
  • Moderate Treadmill: 30-45 wins a season in three or more consecutive seasons
  • Expanded Treadmill: 30-49 wins a season in three or more consecutive seasons

Gordon's research and analysis examined teams from the 1984-85 season, and it doesn't look good for the Wizards when it comes to being on this undesirable piece of exercise equipment.

He noted that the Wizards have spent 15 out of the last 29 years (ending in 2013) on the moderate treadmill. The best season they had in that entire stretch was in 2004-2005 when they won 45 games.

Then the Wizards (then as the Bullets) were also on the moderate treadmill from 1980 to 1991. Yikes! That's over a decade of mediocrity!

The Wizards' 44-38 season in 2013-14 certainly came with a lot of promise. But if you are really skeptical on how far this team can go, last year season could kick off another run on the treadmill, even though you can't say that the Wizards are officially on it already. After all, they had a five year stretch where they couldn't win one third of their games from 2008-13.

Why could the Wizards end up on the Treadmill?

For the Wizards to be on at least the Expanded Treadmill based on Gordon's definition, they're going to have to win between 30 to 49 games for each of the next two seasons, considering that they Wizards have already won 44 games in 2013-14. Should the Wizards end up on this treadmill over each of the next two seasons, here are some possible reasons why:

  • Despite the Wizards' improvements, other Eastern Conference teams have made significant moves of their own. The Cleveland Cavaliers have signed LeBron James and could also get Kevin Love in free agency. The Chicago Bulls have acquired Pau Gasol. The Miami Heat will still have Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Luol Deng has replaced James. The Charlotte Hornets signed Lance Stephenson to the young roster there. And the Indiana Pacers don't appear to be headed toward the Draft Lottery anytime soon. If the Wizards finish worse than most of these teams, then they are almost definitely a treadmill team.
  • To this point in the John Wall Era, the Wizards' locker room has been in really, really good hands. The new veterans on this team are probably eager to make an impact right away, but there are only so minutes to go around, especially in the frontcourt. If one of the new additions isn't happy, that sentiment could spread around the locker room.
  • Injury woes are an obvious concern for any team. The Wizards were able to advance to the second round of the playoffs last season because nearly the entire team was healthy enough to play toward the end of the regular season. Already, we have seen Martell Webster and Kevin Seraphin nurse injuries during the summer, but if there are more players who do so once the season begins, that could hurt them.

Are there reasons why the Wizards are not headed for the Treadmill?

Here are some other reasons to consider as to why they are not positioned for a treadmill run:

  • The core of the Wizards team isn't in its prime yet, let alone past it. So, who are the core players? At a bare minimum, the core is the "House of Guards" backcourt of Wall and Beal. Both of them are under 25 years old as of today. So, as long as they're healthy, they will keep improving over the next several seasons. In addition, Otto Porter could also be part of this core if his strong play in Summer League carries over to the regular season. Let's also not count him out of the core just yet.
  • In the 2016 offseason, the Wizards will have cap flexibility to sign major free agents. According to Hoopshype, only Wall's, Gortat's, Humphries' and Blair's contracts are on the books for the 2016-17 season. Even after adding Porter's fourth year option, Beal's big contract extension, and perhaps Webster's team option, the Wizards still may have the room and flexiblity to go after a big-name free agent, like ... Kevin Durant.

So, are the Wizards truly destined for mediocrity?

We don't know for sure right now, largely because we haven't seen Wall, Beal, and Porter hit their primes just yet. But at the same time, the Wizards' performance is also interdependent on what happens with other playoff-caliber teams in the East. Therefore, there's a chance that they may end up being a treadmill team over the next several seasons.

So how do the Wizards prevent themselves from being perennially mediocre? Without taking Durant's free agency into account, the young core of Wall, Beal, and Porter need to continue improving. We need to see them lead this team to 50 wins in the regular season, win division titles, and go deep in the playoffs. Hopefully, that is what we end up seeing.

Do you fear that the Wizards could end up being just perennially mediocre? If so, why? And how would you prevent this kind of a situation from happening? Share your thoughts in the comments below.