On Tuesday, we released our Wizards predictions on the 2016-17 NBA season. I gave one prediction saying that they will return to the second round of the playoffs after missing the postseason altogether last season.
I stand by everything I pointed out in that post. Scott Brooks, unlike Randy Wittman, has shown the willingness to play younger players over the years for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Wizards still have a good number of younger players on the roster and they still have room to grow.
Though that prediction was optimistic, many national pundits don’t agree. Some gave some pretty pessimistic projections to be honest.
For example, Zach Lowe of ESPN ranked the Wizards 9th in the Eastern Conference this season. The Wizards were 19th in ESPN’s NBA preseason power rankings. FiveThirtyEight gave Washington just a 52 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Some others, including SB Nation NBA’s Tom Ziller and Paul Flannery were a bit more optimistic in their assessments. So was NBA.com’s Sekou Smith. And NBA.com’s power rankings currently place the Wizards 14th in the league. Nevertheless, virtually everyone has echoed that the Wizards are in “do or die” mode now. If they don’t make the playoffs, they’re in big trouble.
Therefore, I wasn’t surprised to see some places ask out aloud when it’s time to move on from the John Wall Era. Chris Almeida of The Ringer wrote last week that the Wizards need to put Wall on the trade block and starting thinking about a future without him.
I get many Wizards fans will take issue with it, because they think that it’s too early to decide whether it is time to move on from the future.
However, the Wizards — whether we like it or not — are on the infamous “Treadmill of Mediocrity” for these reasons:
- They have limited salary cap flexibility and can’t sign any major players - Washington will have over $94 million committed in salaries through the 2018-19 season. Bradley Beal, John Wall, Marcin Gortat, and Ian Mahinmi will make at least $12 million a season each. Meanwhile, we haven’t figured in the larger salary Otto Porter will make next season, since he is almost definitely staying in Washington then.
- Washington hasn’t won 50 games in a regular season in the John Wall Era - In fact, they haven’t won 50 games in a regular season since 1978-79. This season, it is unlikely that they will win 50 games, though the games haven’t been played yet, as of the time of this post.
- With limited cap flexibility and mediocre win totals, the Wizards can’t make many big moves without trading Wall and/or Beal - Nothing much to add here. Any major trade scenario to potentially improve the Wizards for the long term tends to involve one of the two players who they don’t intend on moving.
- No one beside John Wall has been an All-Star - One of our preseason predictions was that Bradley Beal will join him this season. But generally speaking, a legit championship contender has more than one All-Star on the lineup.
- There are many “up and coming” teams in the East - The Boston Celtics dismantled the Paul Pierce - Kevin Garnett - Ray Allen trio not too long ago. But their young trio of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder held the fort quite nice last season, and they won the Al Horford sweepstakes. The Milwaukee Bucks have Giannis Antetokoumpo, who’s a European Kevin Durant. And despite the jokes about “The Process,” the Philadelphia 76ers’ have a large group of high draft picks who are primed for a massive improvement in the next few years.
- The Cavaliers look like they’re the Eastern Conference team to beat this year and possibly next according to the pundits - It does sound deflating when it’s possible that no matter what you do, you’re probably fighting for second place, at best.
Are there some characteristics the Wizards have that defy those of typical Treadmill teams? Yes. They include but aren’t limited to these:
- The Wizards’ key players aren’t past their prime - Wall is 26 and still has room to grow. Beal and Porter are 23. Other key Wizards players like Tomas Satoransky (25) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (20) are still on the “right side” of their careers.
- Scott Brooks and his coaching staff are known for player development - Whether it is because of “good timing” with the Oklahoma City Thunder, or because Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook clearly took steps forward they otherwise couldn’t without him, Brooks is known as a coach who brings out the best in his younger players. The Wizards still have many young players. If the younger players do take steps in the right direction, Washington should be able to get past the point of “mediocrity.”
I’m not exactly sure what the ceiling of the John Wall Era is because I don’t think we have seen it yet. However, Wall’s sophomore contract is up at the end of the 2018-19 season and the clock is ticking.
If the 2016-17 season is injury riddled, and we see another season of under-performance like last season, then the national pundits were right. We’ll have to seriously think about a future when Wall and Beal have to be traded for future assets, even if those moves aren’t made right away.
However, the Wizards have committed a lot of money toward new players and a coaching staff. We need to give them a chance to see what they can do in Washington before considering those drastic moves. Here’s hoping that our optimistic predictions prevail this season.