The 2014 calendar year ended the same way it began for the Washington Wizards, with a loss to the Dallas Mavericks. In between those bookends, the Wizards had a year quite unlike anything most fans under the age of 30 have ever seen in their lives, with the Wizards reaching the second round of the playoffs, John Wall rising to stardom and the team reaping the benefits that come with success. Here is our modest attempt to sum up what happened last year.
The Wizards entered 2014 with one clear New Year's Resolution: Get over .500. After trying and failing to get a winning record in early December against the Bucks, the Wizards finally had another chance to get over the hump at home against the Mavericks on New Year's Day. Unfortunately, that bid fell short as the Wizards began a three game slide to start 2014.
They would slowly piece things back together for another shot, but had to figure out a way around the Miami Heat in order to make it happen. In the fist real sign that things were changing in Washington, the Wizards not only figured out a way to get past the Heat, but they did it in resounding fashion, beating the Heat by 17.
At the same time the Wizards were starting to show signs they could be a contender, two subplots began emerging. First, Bradley Beal told reporters that he was encouraged to take long twos by Randy Wittman, which set those who value efficient shots into a furor that's never subsided. Later that week, the Wizards were reported to be interested in Greg Monroe, which set those who value Georgetown products and those who like traditional big men into a trade machine frenzy that's never subsided.
After their signature win against the Heat, the Wizards beat the Bulls to once again climb to .500. They had a chance to finally get a winning record at home against the lowly Pistons. The Wizards walked out of the arena with a losing record. Four days later, they'd get another shot at home against the lowly Celtics, but a 39 point game from Jeff Green ensured the Wizards would stay under .500 again. Three days later, after a win against the Suns, they had another chance to get over the hump against the lowly Utah Jazz, but a 24 point outburst off the bench from Enes Kanter help the Wizards down once more.
Frustration was boiling over for the Wizards by this point, but they found the right way to channel it in a big road win over the Warriors. John Wall forced Stephen Curry into a dreadful performance, going 8-23 from the field and only picking up four assists. Once again, the Wizards had a shot to get that elusive winning record, but as it turned out, they were just too spent from beating Golden State, and would up losing the next night to the Clippers.
The day after the Wizards' latest failed attempt to get over .500, the Wizards got some good news, when it was announced John Wall had been named to play in the All-Star Game. Perhaps that vote of confidence was what the Wizards needed to get over the hump, as they went on to beat the Thunder the following night, and then take down the Blazers to finally get over .500 for the first time in the John Wall era.
Whlie the Wizards were starting to enjoy the accolades that come with success, two issues needed to be addressed. The Wizards began a search for a new point guard to back up John Wall as it became clear they needed an immediate fix for the ineffective Eric Maynor. Early rumors suggested the Wizards' first targets would be Beno Udrih and Andre Miller. At the same time, John Wall was helping the Wizards on some long-term recruiting initiatives.
As the Wizards entered the All-Star break, they were back under .500 thanks to a rough schedule right before the break, but things were starting to go the right way for the Wizards, and it showed on Saturday night during All-Star weekend. John Wall and Bradley Beal both put together dazzling performances at the NBA's biggest showcase, with the 20 year old Beal finishing second in the three point contest and John Wall claiming the title at the Slam Dunk Contest. After decades where the only highlight Wizard fans could claim from All-Star weekend was Tim Legler winning the three point contest and JaVale McGee getting robbed by Blake Griffin, fans finally had a moment all their own.
After the All-Star weekend, it was back to business, and the Wizards got some business done right before the trade deadline, acquiring Andre Miller in a three-way trade that send Jan Vesely to Denver and Eric Maynor to Philadelphia. In one move, the Wizards made a key upgrade at a position of need and said goodbye to the underperforming Vesely, who just wasn't able to make it work in the NBA.
The trade created an open roster spot that the Wizards had to utilize sooner than they anticipated after Nene got injured the week after the trade. Initially, the team feared the injury would lead to surgery that would knock Nene out for the rest of the season, but miraculously (#Pray4Nene?) it turned out Nene wouldn't need surgery and would be back within six weeks. The Wizards wound up using that open roster spot to sign Drew Gooden.
Nene's injury seemed like it would be a major setback, given their prior record without him, but the Wizards kept winning. They got back over .500 with a win over the Orlando Magic and had a chance to go two games over for the first time, but they'd have to do it without Nene in Toronto, against a team the Wizards had struggled against all season. Somehow, the Wizards pulled off the upset, winning a thriller in triple overtime in Toronto thanks to some clutch play from John Wall.
Once they got two games over .500, they wouldn't go back under .500 for the rest of the season. Drew Gooden, who many thought would struggle to get playing time, scored 20 points to help the Wizards beat the Nets in a game that proved to be a critical one as the season wound down.
The day after April Fool's Day, the Wizards proved their season wasn't a joke by clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2008.
Soon after, the Wizards clinched a winning record.
When the season was all said and done, the Wizards wound up with the fifth seed, pairing them against the Bulls. That outburst Drew Gooden had to beat the Nets turned out to be the win the Wizards needed to get Chicago instead of Toronto in the first round. At the time, it didn't really seem like it would matter much who the Wizards were playing. Most experts had the Bulls taking care of the lower seeded Wizards, with most expecting Chicago to close in six games.
Unfortunately, what people forgot to account for in their predictions was the presence of Nene, who was returning to form after his injury. Paired with Marcin Gortat, the Wizards exposed Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah's one weakness: He's not two people. Against Gortat or Nene, Noah probably could have slowed either one down, but the Bulls didn't have enough muscle around him to shut down both, and as a result, Nene went on to destroy the Bulls at almost every opportunity. The only thing that slowed him down was getting suspended for headbutting Jimmy Butler. But even without his presence in Game 4, the Wizards still took care of business in five games.
The Wizards were riding high. They marched into Indiana and stole Game 1 against the Pacers, and for the first time, it looked like things were starting to sour between Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City. But as we all know, good things can't last forever. The Pacers found their footing, the Wizards came back down to earth again, and before you knew it, the Wizards had been knocked out of the playoffs.
After the Wizards' best season in decades, the organization went about trying to figure out how to keep the squad together. All the signs pointed to the Wizards wanting to keep Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza, who were set to become free agents, and they wasted no time locking Randy Wittman into a new three year contract.
While the Wizards were figuring out how to keep their core pieces together, things were not going well elsewhere. Martell Webster had to undergo surgery to deal with a herniated disc in his back. Tomas Satoransky, the Wizards' second round pick in 2012, announced he would not participate with the Wizards in Summer League. Perhaps scared by this, or possibly because they just didn't think they could find anyone worth a draft pick with the 46th pick, the Wizards traded their second round pick for cash considerations.
The roster moves made it clear if there was going to be a youth infusion, it would have to come internally. Early signs were promising as Otto Porter had a solid showing in the Vegas Summer League, but Glen Rice Jr. stole the show, earning MVP honors for his performance.
Still, while the youngsters were beginning to show signs of life, all eyes were focused on what the Wizards would do with their free agents. The Wizards moved quickly to keep Marcin Gortat, locking him up with a 5 year, $60 million deal. From the get-go, it seemed clear that Gortat would return, but Ariza was more of a mystery, wiht more teams able to get in on the bidding for his talents.
In the end, the Rockets won the Ariza sweepstakes by matching the Wizards' offer and having the advantage of no state taxes on their side. Some questioned why the Wizards didn't try to up their offer to fend off Houston, but they got their answer rather quickly when word broke quickly that the Wizards were signing Paul Pierce to take Ariza's place, in a move no one could have seen back in January, when the Wizards were struggling to get over .500.
After the Wizards acquired Pierce, they added more veteran depth by acquiring Kris Humphries and signing DeJuan Blair to bolster their frontcourt depth, while saying goodbye to Trevor Booker. The Wizards also brought back Garrett Temple and Drew Gooden and suddenly, the Wizards had evolved into a veteran team that had shored up most of their depth issues.
From there, most of the rest of the summer focused on rumors that were started by LeBron James. When he made the decision to walk away from a contender in Miami so he could join the fledgling Cavaliers, it got people questioning whether or not other stars would consider returning to their hometown. Kevin Durant didn't do anything to squash those rumors when he was asked about it while practicing with Team USA, and then Stephen A. Smith chimed in that if Durant ever left Oklahoma City, it would be to return home to Washington.
Even those who may have dismissed the Wizards' playoff run as a fluke couldn't ignore how they were part of the national conversation now. As a result, they were rewarded with ten games on national TV for the 2014-15 season, after not getting any games the season before.
Clearly, these weren't the same old Wizards, and they were intent on making a statement about it in their first preseason game. In Chicago, where they made a name for themselves as the scrappy, lovable underdog in the spring, they rebranded themselves as the new bully on the block, ready to pound anyone who tries to question their place.
As the season began, the Wizards stayed true to that image, beating lesser teams convincingly, but their November schedule did them no favors when it came to establishing their place among the NBA's best, other than a win over Cavaliers.
In December, the Wizards finally got to flex their muscles a little bit more. John Wall emerged as the best defender at point guard in the NBA. The Wizards put together a string of impressive wins at home, including a win over the Chris Paul and the Clippers and a dramatic double-overtime win over the Celtics where John Wall went for 26 & 17 and showed true heart in how he played after a young friend passed away. Bradley Beal gave the Wizards a dramatic win on the road in Orlando and the Wizards finally got a win against an elite team on the road when they took down the Rockets in Houston.
Though 2014 was a year truly unlike any other in Wizards history. But as we look back, we can't help but think back to 2006, where a failed playoff run fueled the growth of the Wizards' dynamic point guard to a new level of stardom, that increased his exposure to diehard and casual fans alike. In both cases, the star point guards blossomed thanks to spectacular performances in December and the growth of a wing player with the last name of Butler. While that might sound nice at first you have to realize if the analogy holds, John Wall will be clutching his knee this April as the Wizards fall to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the playoffs.
Is time a flat circle? If we learned anything from TV this year, the answer is probably yes. But if we learned anything from the Wizards, it's that this team has a way of going against your expectations.