The past few years, the Wizards have taken on endearing identities which largely defined the season they were having. The AARP bench unit, led by Andre Miller and Al Harrington, represented Washington’s dependence on veteran role players during their initial push to the playoffs. Death Row D.C. was adopted after Markieff Morris instilled a sense of toughness the team had lacked prior to his acquisition from Phoenix.
In 2017-18, the Wizards never molded a true identity and were marred by inconsistency - but at one point, with John Wall out, the team developed a pseudo persona: Everybody Eats.
When Wall went down, the Wizards’ trust in each other grew – their assist totals went up, Bradley Beal solidified his spot as an NBA All-Star and the bench blossomed.
At one point in February, the Wizards had won eight of their 10 games, causing some misinformed pundits to question whether the team was better off without Wall. As ridiculous and aggravating as that notion was to the active Wizards fan, looking back, it was the most exciting and optimistic part of the season. The Wizards were winning games, climbing the standings and fantasies about how much better the team would be when Wall returned arose.
That part of the season wouldn’t have happened without Tomas Satoransky.
Satoransky was relegated to the end of the bench before the season started as Scott Brooks chose to rely on Tim Frazier, an undersized journeyman guard in keeping with Washington’s longstanding tradition of showing no confidence in unconventional guards.
Frazier averaged a season-high 18 minutes per game in November while averaging four points and three assists on 42 percent shooting from the field and shooting 5-of-19 from three. He proved to be unreliable as a creator offensively and was a liability defensively, yet Satoransky didn’t get a chance to prove his value until John Wall was sidelined with an injury late in the month.
In December, Satoransky put up six points and three assists per game on 53 percent shooting and 39 percent from three. Then in February, when Wall was out and Satoransky was playing close to 30 minutes per game, he averaged 12 points, six assists, made more than 60 percent of his total shots and 55 percent of his threes. He played with poise, no longer hesitating to shoot when open or make the risky pass. He showed flashes of the player Wizards fans were anxious to see coming from Barcelona.
Then the playoffs started and Satoransky, whose production had dipped slightly but remained significantly better than Frazier or Sessions, was sent back to the doghouse by Brooks in a way only Randy Wittman would admire.
Ernie Grunfeld, assuming under Brooks’ vote of confidence, signed Ty Lawson – and less than a week later, the point guard flew in from China and took the primary backup role from Satoransky in the playoffs, with virtually no time to practice or learn his teammates’ tendencies.
The decision mirrored the trade for Trey Burke in 2016, the Brandon Jennings signing in 2017, the trade for Tim Frazier in 2017, and re-signing Sessions after he was waived by the lottery-bound Knicks earlier in the season. The message, once again, was clear: Brooks and the Wizards had doubts about Satoransky as a backup point guard and felt more secure in playing carbon copies of the vets that previously failed to produce.
Explaining why Satoransky – who kept the Wizards afloat when Wall was unavailable – was benched is practically impossible, as he learned after Washington was kicked out of the playoffs.
For a team that touted change and progressive basketball thinking after hiring Brooks, the head-scratching move reeked of one the Wizards would’ve made under the old coaching staff – the staff that stubbornly decided to stick to its prehistoric ways even as an avoidable asteroid was coming.
Washington won’t have flexibility this summer, yet finding a backup point guard remains on the off-season checklist. The issue is, a competent backup guard – despite his ballhandling flaws – is already on the roster, but the Wizards cannot, or simply refuse, to recognize it.
It’s a shame it’s come to this, because it’s a summer in which Satoransky is extension-eligible. If things were in a better place, Washington could be working on a deal to avoid the risk of another team signing him to an offer sheet they can’t afford to match. Instead, they will enter the final year of his current deal with his future, which seemed to be intact during the Everybody Eats stretch, as uncertain as ever.
Tom Satoransky: "1 thing I learned from last season: in the NBA, you can never be sure with your position [on the team]." ... "People from other coaching staffs greet you, they congratulate you on the season. You take notice that perhaps there could be interest from other teams."— Lukas Kuba (@Luke_Mellow) May 26, 2018
If the Wizards – primarily Brooks – can’t see the talent and versatility he possesses, some other team will and Satoransky will become the latest player to join a long list of players that went on to thrive elsewhere upon leaving Washington.