The Washington Wizards think they’re something they’re not. And there’s nothing worse than being removed from reality.
On Monday, just 72 hours before the trade deadline, the Washington Wizards lost at home to the 17-win Atlanta Hawks. Less than a week ago, the Wizards lost to the then 10-win Cleveland Cavaliers.
Washington is now nine games below .500, tied with the Orlando Magic in 11th place. The playoffs, which were already an increasingly unrealistic goal for the Wizards, shouldn’t even be discussed at this point.
If this span of losses — including an embarrassing blowout against the first-seeded Milwaukee Bucks (wait, do the Wizards really want to aim for the 8th seed, just to play Giannis four more times?) — isn’t a reality check to the higher-ups, nothing will be.
Luckily, the Wizards have shown their true colors — with no sort of ambiguity what that is — right before the trade deadline.
Ted Leonsis says the Wizards “will never, ever tank,” but unfortunately for Leonsis, this team excels at losing.
The Wizards don’t have to be intentionally bad to recognize that the team, well, isn’t good. Sure, other teams have successfully put together noncompetitive rosters for the sake of racking up losses and securing top picks, but if the result is the same, does it really matter? The scoreboard doesn’t show which teams are tanking and which are just losing because of mismanagement, injuries and poor coaching.
Finishing the season with the same roster in place would be literal insanity and it offers no upside for the Wizards, neither today nor in the future. The option to change the course of the team, though, is available.
Washington is paying the luxury tax to likely finish the season in the lottery. Shedding salary — and maximizing the value of players who likely aren’t long-term members of the team — should be the priority for the Wizards heading into Thursday’s deadline.
Against the Hawks, Washington’s veterans continued to showcase themselves to teams that could use their services — teams where their contributions would matter. Trevor Ariza scored 25 points, keeping the Wizards from losing by double-digits by knocking down several timely threes down the stretch. Jeff Green — who is also on an expiring deal, added 26 points off the bench.
The loss to Atlanta was another reminder that Washington must approach Thursday with honesty. Is Green, who’s already 32, worth keeping past this season? If the Wizards were on the verge of winning a championship, then keeping him might be in the cards. But given that the Wizards are what they are, getting something back for Green and letting him earn what could be the last multi-year contract of his career elsewhere is the more prudent move.
The same is true for Ariza.
Washington dumped Kelly Oubre for Ariza and did not get a first-round pick. The team acquired Ariza hoping to get a push to the playoffs. Ariza has played excellent basketball in spurts, but he — like everyone else on the roster — isn’t good enough to propel a losing team into the playoffs single-handedly.
Ariza is a proven veteran — perfect for a team that’s looking to win a championship. Teams that have accepted their reality — like the New York Knicks, for instance — will flip their veteran players for picks and cap space. Washington will have the opportunity to do the same. Playoff-bound teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers are yearning for help and the Wizards have players on their roster that can provide it.
The Wizards did not expect the season to unravel the way it did. They were confident that they had put together a competitive group of players — and with LeBron James gone, there was a clear path to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Those days are gone.
This is what the Wizards are — and the longer they wait to accept their truth, the less valuable their limited assets will be. This isn’t a slow start to the season — this is just what the Wizards are more than halfway through.
Washington has a crop of young players under affordable contracts — Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown, Devin Robinson, Jordan McRae, and Chasson Randle — that could be developed, salvaging what’s left of the season. For the Wizards to do that, though, they will need to quit lying to themselves - and start selling.