A few weeks ago, the Washington Wizards were neck-and-neck with the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. Talks of trading Bradley Beal and John Wall resurfaced, and it seemed like the team was prepping to hit the blow-up button. With Wall out for the remainder of the season due to another surgery, calls for a rebuild were warranted.
Slowly, the Wizards put together some wins, with their recent impressive ones coming against the talented 76ers and Thunder. Those wins, coupled with some grind-out victories against lesser opponents, have put the Wizards back in the playoff picture. As of Friday’s win over the Giannis-less Bucks, the Wizards find themselves just two games behind the eighth seed.
In an otherwise miserable season, the Wizards have had some unlikely contributors give the franchise hope for the future. Tomas Satoransky forced his way into the rotation when seemingly everyone was trying to subdue his development and has earned a possible contract extension. Thomas Bryant, who was going to spend most of the season in the G-League had Dwight Howard not gotten hurt, is the best young center the team’s had in eons. And, of course, Bradley Beal is a bonafide star — an All-NBA caliber player this season.
And all of that has gotten the Wizards ... a shot at the eighth seed.
Amid the recent spurts from Satoransky, Bryant and Beal, it’s easy to forget that the Wizards are just a fringe playoff team paying luxury tax for an extra five games in April.
The sample size for the current team Scott Brooks is coaching hasn’t been that large. News of Wall being sidelined for the season is still relatively fresh and the team has been dealing with constant rotation changes all year long. It’s going to take some time for the chemistry build and, if the Wizards really put it together, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see them climb higher than the last spot in the playoffs.
But what’s it for, really?
The Wizards, like plenty of other teams around the NBA, have to come to grips with their reality. They must be honest with themselves, especially since the trade deadline is merely four weeks away.
Are the Wizards a role player — say, a Trevor Ariza - away from making real noise in the playoffs? Probably not.
The good news is, throughout the ups-and-downs of the season, Washington’s role players have stepped up.
Jeff Green has outperformed his veteran’s minimum contract and has played his way into the starting lineup, providing consistent scoring, particularly behind the 3-point arc. Before going down with an injury, Markieff Morris gave Brooks a similar spark off the bench, scoring double-digit points in three straight games. Ariza, similarly, has gradually found his rhythm with the Wizards, knocking down six threes against the Bucks on Friday.
Given either their age or lack of upside, Morris, Green and Ariza don’t necessarily have long-term futures with the Wizards. They’re the sort of players that are expected to shine when a team is struggling. All three can score in bunches and get their numbers, no matter if the outcome is a win or loss. Ultimately, their impact is immediate. All three players are who they are — Washington can’t realistically expect any of them to return next season with an additional dimension to their game.
What does that mean for Ariza, Green and Morris? They would look better in different uniforms, contributing in similar fashion for teams where their numbers would make an actual difference to a team’s outlook in the postseason.
The Wizards are a stubborn bunch and the front office won’t give-in. Their jobs depend on getting wins and Ernie Grunfeld has never been the type to trade currently-contributing players for future assets, like picks and raw talent. If the Ariza-for-Oubre trade is any indication, the Wizards are determined to make some sort of playoff push. What that looks like in the end is yet to be determined.
But if the Wizards wanted to play their cards the right way, they would sell stock when it’s peaking. Playoff-bound teams like the Lakers and 76ers, who lack depth outside of their starting five, are going to be okay with parting ways with picks and young players for the services of Ariza, Green and Morris because their window for success is not very wide. For the Wizards to capitalize, they have to recognize that their window is shut, at least this year.
To find the next Satoransky or Bryant, the Wizards just might have to let go of the few veterans they have when teams call them next month, which creates more of an opportunity for the young players they currently have on the bench waiting for their chance to play, just as the aforementioned once did.