Sure, like the rest of Phone Booth Nation, I was left scratching my head following the KD sweepstakes. It kind of seemed the Wizards were the college kid that started studying for his philosophy exam the night before; just trying to get a passing grade so he could get back to the partying. Did they really think KD would care about a new practice facility? The hype of playing in front of his hometown crowd ironically ended up scaring him off; and it just seemed the front office was left up the creek without any semblance of a backup paddle (see Horford fail, see massively bloated Ian Mahinmi contract, see lack of any other exciting moves).
Having said all that, the Wiz are much better than their record might indicate. In reality, they are one key piece away from getting back to that golden boy “maybe they could be something” status in the Eastern Conference.
The first reason it’s not all bad can be summed up in two words: John Wall. It’s no secret that he’s having the best statistical year of his career. He looks like an absolute machine on the court. Suddenly, no one is knocking him for not having a midrange game because he has a midrange game. Suddenly, people aren't saying he looks like a racehorse that's out of control because he's picking his spots like the mature all-star that he is. Homer bias aside, if Westbrook wasn't stealing the point guard fire this season, Wall might be the most talked about PG in terms of all-around dominance. It's simple, the organization has their guy, has their face, has their cornerstone, which is not something a lot of other NBA organizations with better records can say.
The second beacon of hope is the consistently dominant play of the even younger Bradley Beal. We all know his ankles are like al-dente spaghetti ready to roll at any second (see Wednesday night), but his dominance on the offensive end has been nothing short of impressive. His range is what got him into the league, but his hesitation dribble coupled with strong finishes at the rim have really elevated his scoring prowess.
Now, the next layers of hope may require you to put on your hometown rose-colored glasses for a second, but bear with me: Gortat and Porter are solid support for the aforementioned core. Gortat is sixth in the league in rebounds per game and he’s filling a mature, almost father-like role to all the young faces around him. Otto is another source of real intrigue. He’s averaging career highs in almost every offensive category and is maturing into a great perimeter player.
I realize the talk in Chinatown is more about how the bench is letting us down; to that point, I agree that they are simply bad. Furthermore, it stings to watch former Wizards find productive roles around the league like Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker, dare I say our boy JaVale is looking pretty good for the Warriors. Having said that, our bench is serviceable for the goals the Wizards have as an organization. Getting to that next level is a process that starts with a solid core of starters that can win ball games in that last six minute stretch of the fourth. The bench has been good enough lately to get the Wiz to that final stretch in the game; now the starting core just needs a little jolt.
That last push could be solved with one player, one trade, one scorer in the starting lineup to get the Wiz back to that pony boy status in the heart of the East.
Choosing which position to address this last piece is more of a discussion. The KD hangover hurts so much because he fit so perfectly into the pieces that the Wizards already had in place. That’s kind of like saying a Ferrari looks good in any parking lot, but he really did seem like a good fit. Moving on hasn’t been easy, but the 2017 free agency market has some tantalizing names on the board if the Wizards can find a way to offload some money this season.
The front office could choose to fill the gap left by someone like Paul Pierce, a big 3 with the ability to make even bigger shots. Nene's ability to let Gortat really explore that pick and roll game with Wall was something that has also been sorely missed. Past players like Trevor Booker, Al Harrington, Trevor Ariza, even Kevin Seraphin, had a knack for having the hot hand every once in awhile, which is something that just didn't get replaced with role players like Oubre, Mahinmi, Thorton, Nicholas, Burke, (insert anyone else not named Wall/Beal). Markieff has certainly been a source of points, but somehow I'm not convinced he makes the team better (re: bring the brothers back together and we’ve got another story on our hands).
The front office set a five-year plan to acquire KD, missed and then failed to fill the gap that they planned on having him occupy. That gap is still there and shoring it up would bring the excitement back to a team that has one of the most dynamic point guards in the league. Light is there Wiz Nation, sometimes you just have to squint to see it.