ESPN has been releasing its Summer Forecast pieces for the 2015-16 NBA season. From a Wizards fan standpoint, the most relevant forecast they released was in regard to predicted Eastern Conference standings. The brass ultimately projected that the Wizards would be fifth in the East and match last season's 46-36 regular season record. Here's the complete list:
|14||New York Knicks||25-57|
Overall, I'd say that this projection is fair even though I wish that Washington would be ranked higher for my own selfish interest.
The main reason why is because the Wizards didn't make any blockbuster acquisitions to really beef up the roster over the last couple months. And it is reasonable to assume that most of the teams ranked ahead of Washington -- meaning the Cavaliers, Bulls, Hawks, and Heat -- will finish with better regular season records even if the Wizards won the David West sweepstakes.
The Cavs will return the bulk of their core of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love though Tristan Thompson's still at an impasse in contract extension talks. The Bulls do have a new coach in Fred Hoiberg, but they too return the bulk of their core group. I do think the Hawks overachieved last season given their lack of a franchise superstar, but they return most of their players not named DeMarre Carroll too.
I'm a little surprised that the Heat were ranked ahead of Washington. But you can argue that their top four players: Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, and Luol Deng can win more games over the course of a season, if they can all remain relatively healthy that is.
Among the teams ranked below the Wizards, I could see Raptors win more games in the regular season, and they also get to play in a weak Atlantic Division. But barring something crazy, I don't see most of these teams winning more games than Washington.
I know that the 2015-16 Wizards season to at least some fans is more about treading water for Kevin Durant next summer. But if we're going to play the odds, Durant will re-sign in Oklahoma City since their team is poised to bounce back this season. If he is also set on a big payday, he can also sign with the Thunder for more money than he can by bolting for Washington or any other city. The ESPN Summer Forecast also projects that he will do just that.
But to me, the 2015-16 season shouldn't be about wondering if the Wizards can tread water in anticipation for Durant. Rather, it's about how John Wall will perform not only as the best player but also as the veteran locker room leader of the team.
To this point, past veterans like Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, and Paul Pierce helped lead the locker room when he was inexperienced in that regard. Now, several years have passed and all three have moved on from the Wizards organization. Meanwhile, Wall is now entering the second year of his sophomore contract and has some considerable playoff experience under his belt as one of the best point guards in the NBA.
As for wins, Wall is a master at kicking the ball out to open shooters for three point shots. The Wizards have also openly embraced the small ball movement that fits his game a bit better than it did during the regular season. And a number of players like Otto Porter and Kris Humphries are working to be stretch fours for that style of play. If the Wizards can play like they did during the playoffs last season, a 50-win season and a Top-3 finish in the East isn't out of reach.
Will this be easy to accomplish? Absolutely not. But I'm looking forward to seeing Wall and the rest of the Wizards tackle that challenge.
How many wins do you think the Wizards will win in 2015-16? Sound off in the comments below.