Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is convinced this year’s iteration of D.C’s basketball team is the deepest he’s ever seen. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, who has the Wizards finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference, disagrees. So do Las Vegas oddsmakers, who put the Wizards’ over/under at 44.5 wins, the sixth-best mark in the conference.
The truth is, no one—neither the team’s owner, nor Vegas, nor Pelton, an analytics guru—really freaking knows. There is a broad spectrum of outcomes in play for next season, which seems odd for a franchise that’s tried to corner the market on continuity in recent years.
Two scenarios, though, seem most likely:
The light bulb might have finally gone off for Dwight Howard—he could actually stop focusing on getting touches in the post and begin screening hard, rebounding and blocking shots. He has the physical tools to do exactly what the Wizards—and Rockets, Hawks, and Hornets, previously—need him to do. If Howard accepts a “diminished” role, then he’ll have the opportunity to rejuvenate his career.
Both Austin Rivers and Jeff Green have untapped potential stored away—and the Wizards have gotten it out of unlikely players in the past. If they can get it out of Martell Webster and Mike Scott, then there’s no reason to believe Rivers and Green can’t have their best individual seasons in Washington.
Best case scenario, the Wizards could legitimately contend for a spot in the NBA Finals. LeBron James is out of the East—and if everything were to fall into place, the Wizards would have four All-Star caliber players, plus a deep bench.
The opposite could happen too.
Howard might not accept his role, consequently blow up another locker room, sending the Wizards spiraling into an unexpected rebuild. If that were to occur, the Rivers trade and Green signings would become irrelevant.
No one really knows how the season is going to pan out, including the Wizards, and that’s mostly because off-season moves were made without an overarching goal in mind.
After ending a playoff drought in 2014, the Wizards had a defined goal: make it tough for the higher seed, embrace the underdog mentality and potentially shock a team in the first round. No one expected the Wizards to beat the Chicago Bulls, leading to greater expectations the following season: another appearance in the semifinals with a chance to advance to the conference finals.
But this past season’s failures, after barely making the playoffs and getting eliminated in the first round, has muddied the team’s goals—no one, at least as of today, has set expectations for the team. Merely making the playoffs doesn’t seem like a lofty enough goal, but the team won’t stand to gain much if they fall into a pool of delusion, either—an issue Washington has faced for a while, critics would argue.
Pundits were high on the Wizards after a seven-game series against the Celtics and Washington followed up with their most disappointing season to date. This year’s ranking, like all the ones published previously, hold no merit on how the team will perform—that will be solely determined by the team’s core, just like what they consider to be success at the end of the season.