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Wizards cautiously moving into new era with optimism

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NBA: Washington Wizards-Media Day Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON - Seasons are long in the NBA. There are 82 games that stretch out over just about six months. And within those six months, different narratives manifest themselves inside and outside a team’s locker room — both good and bad.

But last season for the Wizards, it was almost all bad. From Alan Anderson not being able to play until way too late in 2016 to Bradley Beal continuously getting hurt to John Wall having to finish the season on the bench after knee issues, there weren’t many positive notes for Washington to finish the season.

A year ago around this time, the team was talking about having the goal of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals after making it to the conference semifinals two seasons in a row. This season, the approach is a lot different.

“I don’t want to talk about all the playoffs and stuff, all we want to do is go out there and play,” John Wall said after asserting this team may be the most complete one he has been on after six seasons.

The Wizards missed out on big name free agents, but signed lots of depth using the cap space that another superstar was supposed to occupy. Because of that, the roster is eerily similar to last year’s, even with different players.

There are lots of pieces that, when put together in the right ways, may be able to make a dent in the Eastern Conference. But as the team saw last year, when things don’t work out they fall apart pretty quickly. The season could become an uphill battle very fast.

But still, players were confident that this season would be different for them and they’d be competing in the end. Some players got together in Los Angeles to play with one another and get a feel for each other, and many left the golden coast with the impression that the team’s depth would be something they haven’t had in Washington in quite some time.

Beal said the scrimmages they played against each other were like a “real live NBA game.” Everyone sung the praises of European rookie Tomas Satoransky, whose athleticism impressed even the most athletic players on the team including Wall himself. Markieff Morris categorized Trey Burke as a “feisty” player. Ian Mahinmi and Marcin Gortat were complimentary of each other on both ends of the floor.

The mutual admiration and praise by teammates to one another may not seem like much. But for a team that is just coming together to be singing each other’s praises already speaks volumes for team chemistry — something the team sorely lacked last season.

There was no talk about whose team it was or who takes the last shot. Wall is the best player on the team — that was clear. But at the end of the day, as last year showed, being successful is an entire team effort. Everyone will have to pitch in.

This team is expected to be a very good one defensively. Head coach Scott Brooks has emphasized everything will have to be earned for everyone. And everyone will earn their keep by playing good defense.

Otto Porter, who was solidly penciled in as a starter, will now be fighting for minutes with a second year player in Kelly Oubre, Jr. Mahinmi and Gortat, two big men both capable of starting, will have to strike a balance and put egos aside when certain situations call for their counterpart’s set of skills.

Though roles may not be solidified yet, one thing is certain: The team is ready to turn over a new leaf from last year. When asked about the biggest difference between the coaching staff this year and last year, Gortat shook his head and let out a huge sigh.

“Oh man,” he said, visibly shaken by the question. “I really don’t want to answer that question right now.”

Porter kept saying this year is a “fresh start,” with the new coaching staff. new players and new strategies their still implementing. Last year is in the past, Porter said, and moving forward was the focus. The team knows it can be good, he said, they just have to go out and prove it.

The playoffs are still the goal in Washington. Wall is still one of the best 20 players in the league and the supporting cast around him, while not old, has a slight veteran presence to it. These players know the “tricks and trades,” as Satoransky called it, of the league.

This year, pace and space isn’t the thing. It’s back to reality for Washington, with a clean slate and new faces to write a new story for the Wizards. Hopefully, this one is more positive than the last.