The dust is settling as we realize that the Wizards' 2014-15 season is now history. There's a lot to be proud of, and this team took many steps forward in their path toward being a perennial Eastern Conference contender. Here are just some of the accomplishments we saw this group achieve over the past seven months:
- The Wizards were 46-36, which was their best regular season record since 1978-79 season when they went to the NBA Finals.
- The Wizards avoided a poor start, which is something that has plagued them in recent years. In fact, they won 19 of their first 25 games that tied a franchise-best start.
- John Wall was a 2015 All-Star starter, the first one since Gilbert Arenas in 2007.
- The Wizards advanced to the second round of the NBA Playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since ... 1979!
- Washington swept an opponent in a best-of-seven series for the first time in franchise history, that team being the Toronto Raptors.
- Otto Porter showed clear signs that he could be a franchise cornerstone in the future with his strong performance in the playoffs. He averaged 10 points and 8 rebounds during the playoffs, both career-highs, but his defensive performance on DeMar DeRozan was nothing short of outstanding.
- Bradley Beal played at a very high level in John Wall's three-game absence from Game 2 to Game 4 of the Hawks series. He averaged 23.7 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.7 rebounds in those three games while shooting 44.4 percent from the three-point line. It's a limited sample size, but it is a very promising glimpse to what Beal could be when he is in his prime.
I expect to see this team take more steps forward in the 2015-16 season. But to do so, the Wizards have to address these questions during their offseason, and even when the season starts.
1. Can the Wizards acquire a stretch post this summer?
In their second-round series against the Hawks, the Wizards didn't have an answer for the likes of Paul Millsap, Mike Muscala, or even Al Horford, who are capable of making threes at respectable rates. The Wizards don't have a shortage of rotation-level posts, but players like Marcin Gortat, Nene, and Kris Humphries aren't stretch posts.
Even though unrestricted free agent Kevin Seraphin has his best basketball ahead of him, it's unlikely that he returns to D.C. this fall, according to J. Michael of CSN Washington. Drew Gooden III -- who is also an unrestricted free agent this season -- can fill in this role as a stretch post, he is best used as a role player off the bench at this point in his career.
Ultimately, the Wizards will have to get a stretch post in free agency or by trade. It's going to be tough to find a starter-level player as a free agent unless they can, at a minimum, trade Nene and his $13 million annual contract before the summer. If they do, however, this could put them in consideration for stretch posts like Kevin Love, Josh Smith, or the aforementioned Millsap, but it's more likely that they will have to broker a major trade to bring in a starting-caliber player in that role.
2. Can the Wizards acquire a younger group of players, regardless of position to complement Wall, Beal, and Porter?
Since Randy Wittman assumed the Wizards' head coaching position in 2012, their team building strategy centered around bringing in veterans who can complement John Wall's, Bradley Beal's, and now, Otto Porter's strengths. Part of the reason behind that was that the young stars, while talented, still needed proven veterans to lead and mentor them. To this point, that strategy has worked for the most part.
But now, we have to realize that Wall and Beal are not simply young players anymore. They are young veteran stars who have significant playoff experience under their belts. While it doesn't hurt to have former NBA Finals MVP players like Paul Pierce or consistent professional locker room presences like Andre Miller and Rasual Butler -- who is also an unrestricted free agent this season -- it is a concern that the Wizards don't have a young rotation player off the bench besides Porter, since it's unlikely that Seraphin comes back. The 19th overall draft pick in this year's draft could help, but I do think that the Wizards will likely need some more first round draft picks in order to add some more youth to their aging roster.
If the House of Guards and Otto Porter are truly going to be the successful franchise cornerstone trio for the Wizards over the next several years, the Wizards need to put more younger players around them sooner rather than later. This isn't going to happen overnight, but this needs to happen over the next couple seasons.
3. Regardless of whatever Paul Pierce does in the offseason, can Wall and Beal become consistent go-to scorers in clutch situations?
Pierce came to D.C. to be a player who could take and make big shots when called on. It was great to see that he made his fair share of them in the postseason. However, even though Pierce took potential game-tying or game-winning shots in each of the last four games in the Hawks series, it still implies that Wall and Beal can't be called upon to make clutch shots with big games on the line, whether it's true or not. Therefore, are they ready to be consistent scorers in these situations?
Beal has certainly made a couple of game-winning shots for the Wizards in his three-year career, including a shot against the Thunder in 2013, or the layup he made off an Andre Miller pass against the Magic this past season. But can Beal make these types of shots more consistently next season in big regular season and playoff games which made Pierce the legend he is today? Wall has shown that he can make clutch passes and blocks in game-winning or saving situations. But can Wall also be a reliable scorer in crunch time? If Washington's starting backcourt can be equally deadly in the clutch as scorers, they would be unstoppable.
4. Should the Wizards renew the contract of Ernie Grunfeld as their President of Basketball Operations?
We could dedicate an entire post or two about Grunfeld, who is the most polarizing figure within the Wizards fanbase over the past several years. As you may be aware, his contract expires this season, and there will definitely be some who will ask that Ted Leonsis not renew him for many reasons, including the fact that the Wizards still haven't won 50 games in a regular season, they don't appear to be committed toward building with more homegrown draft picks, and for some bad contract decisions made before Leonsis became majority owner.
I'm still trying to figure out whether Grunfeld is the best President of Basketball Operations moving forward. But like Mike Prada said last year, we shouldn't judge him based on this season. We should see if he is the right fit who can utilize the players and other draft picks he has to maximize the Wizards' long-term future.
Ultimately, I think the Wizards will renew Grunfeld. Even if you want to hound him for Ted Leonsis-era blunders like drafting Jan Vesely -- or not putting most of the Wizards' 2010 first round picks not named John Wall in a position to succeed -- I think that the Wizards' easiest path to contend and get younger is through trades. That's an area where he's been good at.
5. Should the Wizards retain Randy Wittman for the 2015-16 season?
Randy Wittman has done a lot of good things for the Wizards during his nearly four-year reign as head coach, especially on defense, and for getting the players to want to work hard for him.
However, despite the fact that he led Washington to two consecutive second round playoff appearances, the Wizards could have realistically been a Top-3 seed in the Eastern Conference this season, and the team's February performance was poor to say the least. That and his stagnant offense during the regular season are reasons why a significant number of Wizards fans want him terminated in the coming days or weeks. Based on the terms of his extension, his contract ends after the 2015-16 season, but the Wizards can renew him for the 2016-17 season.
At this time, I feel that the Wizards will need to find their "Steve Kerr" sometime in the near future, but I wouldn't replace him right now, unless:
- the Wizards already have a replacement head coach in mind, OR
- the Wizards regress significantly in the 2015-16 season and have a stretch like what we saw last February
There are certainly a number of names who could be good fits for the Wizards. Many of those names have been mentioned in the comments in recent months. However, the Wizards have developed some stability over the last several years with the front office, which has helped develop the team that we saw the last couple of seasons.
Also, Wittman never had the chance to be the head coach of a team as good as the Wizards over a long period of time, and he could still learn some new tricks. If he can, then Wittman may very well be the head coach the Wizards need long term, and I'll gladly eat crow about my opinion on him last February.
Again, the Wizards had a great 2014-15 season and they made progress in a number of key areas. However, there is still a lot of work to do in order to keep the positive momentum going. How would you address these key questions? Let us know in the comments below.