When did you know the season was over?
Ben Mehic: When Dwight Howard was supposed to save the season. If you’re depending on Howard at this point in his career, you’re probably in trouble. And, of course, the Wizards were. He played just nine games this year and he has a player option, which he’ll almost certainly exercise in the summer. Looking back, the Wizards were doomed before the season even began. Howard traveled to China, had butt issues from sitting on the plane for so long, missed time in training camp, and never really recovered. It doesn’t get more #SoWizards than that.
Marcus Atkinson Sr.: On February 11th when the Wizards had an opportunity to pull within a game of the eighth and final playoff spot, which was occupied by the Detroit Pistons, who was also their opponent that evening. They were down most of the second half in a mostly non-competitive affair that put them three games back and from that point they could never build enough moment to get close to the eighth spot.
L.W. Mid-December is when I started to get really, really pessimistic. The top teams in the conference were clearly in a different tier than the Wizards, and the dysfunction on the team seemed pretty palpable at that point. There seemed to be no relationship whatsoever to how Scott Brooks said he wanted to play and how the team actually played. In the 2016-2017 season the team dug themselves into a big hole early and came back to win 49 games, but their were signs of a turnaround by early December. This year, when they looked just as bad in mid-December as they did in early November, when there isn’t one or two things holding the team back, but ten things...it gets hard to envision a comeback. Even if they clawed their way to a 7 or 8 seed, they weren’t going to see the second round.
Kevin Broom: Opening night? After the third game, Matt Moore from the Action Network and I both wrote about how the Wizards were failing to incorporate Otto Porter in the lineup. By the seventh game of the season, I wrote a piece about fixing the Wizards that hammered their collective lethargy and lack of communication — from the players to the coaches to the front office. After the tenth game, I was looking back at history and warning the season “...could degenerate into an expensive catastrophe that would leave the franchise in a shambles for the foreseeable future.” That was before Wall left the lineup for heel surgery and then tore his Achilles. So, it was clear in the opening weeks of the season this team was in serious trouble.
Alan Jenkins: I didn’t have a ton of hope coming into this season and the team’s 2-9 start confirmed to me that this year was going to be a long one. Back in 2016-2017 when the Wizards started off 2-8, it felt different.
All of Washington’s bad habits from the year before had already reared their ugly heads multiple times over the first 11 games. Since they were no-showing for games, not playing defense, stat hunting, picking up stupid technical fouls in early November — I wasn’t too optimistic that things were going to change all of a sudden. They didn’t.
Ernie Grunfeld said the #Wizards are comfortable with Ian Mahinmi as the team's starting center: "He's a proven starting center. He's won playoff series as a starting center. ... We would be comfortable with that."— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) July 2, 2018
Knowing what we know now, is there anything the Wizards could have done this summer to avoid missing the playoffs?
Ben Mehic: They could’ve been more disciplined with their roster decision-making. I was all for signing Howard, trading Marcin Gortat for Austin Rivers and replacing Mike Scott with Jeff Green. On paper, it looked fine. Really, it was the most talented roster the Wizards had in years. But in hindsight, the roster was terribly flawed. For that team to work, they needed a ton of luck — mostly banking on Howard having a resurgence in Washington.
With all due respect to the Wizards’ coaching staff, they lacked the ability to get someone like Rivers going in D.C., too. He played the best basketball of his career in Los Angeles prior to coming to D.C. and he’s been productive since joining Houston. That’s an indictment on Washington’s coaching staff.
The Wizards could’ve taken a more calculated approach — perhaps look for lesser-known free agents to fill the gaps they had, like pursuing Nerlens Noel as hard as they did Howard. Operating with an open mind couldn’t have hurt, either. Why did it take them until March to start playing Troy Brown Jr., when he couldn’t have possibly been any worse than Rivers in Washington? So, to answer the question, the Wizards could’ve dug a little deeper than just acquire players based on their names.
Marcus Atkinson Sr.: The same thing we say every year, this team needed a plan and direction. If trading Oubre was in the cards to help get veteran help to push for the playoffs, then why weren’t they more aggressive at getting some more veteran wing help in the off-season? I thought they sold low on Oubre and could have gotten more than an aging Ariza on an expiring contract. At least if you had signed someone in the summer it would have been an option to give you a bit more leverage for Oubre. This isn’t exactly how I would have approached this season, but at least if they were going to do it, they should have planned it out better.
L.W. Short of trading at least two of their big 3 and totally re-engineering the team from the ground up? Probably not. The Wall-Beal-Porter trio wasn’t working. Wall was hurt. Porter was hurt. Brooks didn’t seem to be getting through to the team. Whatever the source of the dysfunction is, there weren’t any realistic small moves that could have saved the team this year.
Kevin Broom: What’s interesting is that the moves they made last offseason were designed to address the exact issues that kept them from making the playoffs this season. They needed depth in the backcourt to hedge against Wall’s health, which they thought they’d solved by trading Gortat for Rivers. They needed to fill the hole at center, which they thought they’d fixed by signing Howard. And they needed help at PF because Morris isn’t very good, and they got that by signing Jeff Green. But, they fundamentally overrated Rivers (in fairness, I thought a lot less of Rivers than most did, and he was significantly worse than even I expected), and Howard and Morris got hurt. They got lucky when Thomas Bryant came out of the scrap heap playing hard and well, but the people who took longest to notice he was doing a good job were the coaches. What happened this season was the team’s persistent squandering of resources finally caught up with them in a big way.
Alan Jenkins: Maybe trading Porter away this summer? But probably not. There was too much dysfunction, injuries, uncertainty etc. to overcome this season and I don’ think a few moves here and there over the summer could have prevented this implosion from happening.
Ben Becker: As callous as it may sound now, trading Wall. The injury piece aside, I was very worried about the gap between Wall’s production and his compensation once the supermax kicked in. I remember telling Kevin that the Wizards should offer to take Luol Deng from the Lakers as part of a Wall trade that brought back Lonzo Ball and others because LA could not have said no. I knew it would have been met with derision by fans. But imagine if the Wizards were sitting on a couple of more young players and faced the specter of Deng coming off the books with Mahinmi after next year — instead of dealing with Wall’s albatross. The season would likely have gone completely differently. Hell, Ernie might still have his job.
The defense needs a massive overhaul this summer. Obviously, a great scheme can hide individual deficiencies to an extent, but nothing beats having good defensive talent. How many players on the current roster do you think can be positive defensive contributors in the right scheme?
Ben Mehic: Bradley Beal has gotten some flack for not being an impact defender all the time, but the guy has played more minutes than anyone on one of the worst rosters in the NBA. He carries a heavier load than anyone in the league. It’s damn near impossible to be a good defender when you’re quite literally doing everything offensively. In a league full of super athletes, Beal stands out. He’s quick, has impressive leaping ability and his timing is really solid. He has the potential to be one of the best two-way players in the NBA. Troy Brown has similar traits. He’s tenacious - moves his feet well, keeps a solid base and rarely gambles. For a teen, Brown doesn’t make too many mistakes.
Outside of those two, though, the Wizards don’t have anyone on the roster who sticks out. Relying on an ancient Trevor Ariza isn’t the smartest thing to do, either. Thomas Bryant has gotten better defensively he’s starting to block more shots, but I’m worried about his ability to switch or stop the pick-and-roll. It’s something he’ll have to work on this summer, but if he does, he could be a plus defender.
Marcus Atkinson Sr.: I think Ariza, Beal (at times), Brown Jr. and Satoransky are good. The rest are either okay or just plain bad. The big thing I think the Wizards lack is balance in their lineups. Players like Thomas Bryant and Jabari Parker are not a good combination together. You have players who are gifted offensively but then they struggle on defense. If they can find players that can thrive on the defensive end then Brooks (or whoever the coach is) has to do a better job of mixing the lineups up with those players so that they are more balanced. If I am playing Jabari Parker, I have to have a wing player like Ariza and a solid defensive center next to him to help cover up his flaws. And of course part of being able to do this, would be having a better group of players. If the Wizards retain players like Parker and/or Portis, they need better defensive players around them.
L.W. Ugh. I don’t even want to think about that one.
Kevin Broom: I don’t think this is the right question. Yes, the defense needs major work, but barring a stroke of incredible luck (like winning the lottery and picking Zion Williamson) this team is just not competitive. They don’t have a great player. They don’t have enough good ones. The roster needs an overhaul. Zooming in on defense, there were three big issues: 1) a scheme that exacerbated bad habits by switching constantly and exposing the team’s weakest defenders, 2) inexperienced, ineffective and indifferent defenders in major roles, and 3) a lack of preparation. I know “load management” is what the smart kids are doing in the NBA, and I understand the reasoning. But, this wasn’t a veteran squad that knew what it was doing and could execute well with film sessions, mental repetitions and rest. This team needed practice and run-throughs they weren’t getting, and it showed in their execution.
Alan Jenkins: I’d argue that buy-in on the defensive end is more important than talent. You don’t give up 117 points a game because of a bad scheme or a lack of talent. You allow 117 points per game on that end of the floor because guys could care less about playing defense.
The Wizards don’t have enough talent to be picky about who they select with their first round pick this season. They just need to take the best player available. But let’s say hypothetically they had equally good choices at every position. What position would you be the most interested in filling with the first round pick?
Ben Mehic: Point guard. I’m not entirely convinced we’ll ever see John Wall play at an All-Star level again. An achilles injury is devastating, obviously, and he won’t be back until he’s 30. Assuming he’s still on the roster, I think relying on Wall to do most of the heavy lifting at point guard could be disastrous. It’s not fair to him, and the Wizards should start looking ahead to the future. Even if Wall didn’t suffer the injury, he’s close to the end of his prime and the team should consider retooling. Finding a point guard for the future might be wise.
Marcus Atkinson Sr.: Honestly if all things are equal, they need a PF. Someone who can stretch the floor and can be a great defender. The power forward position has evolved so much in the modern NBA and the Wizards have failed time and time again to fill this position. Whether it was Kris Humphries shooting threes, or Jared Dudley being undersized, or watching the inconsistent effort from Markieff Morris, they have yet to figure this position out. I honestly believe the PF position is the most important position in modern basketball because depending on how good and how skilled your PF is, he can create matchup problems for the other teams. Having a good one can transform your team in the way that Draymond transformed the Warriors into a team that can play small but still handle traditional PFs on the other team.
L.W. That’s an interesting question because my answer changes depending on whether or not the goal is to make the playoffs or start a rebuild. If the answer is “make the playoffs”, probably a power forward who can play defense. Otherwise I’d say take a big 2/3 wing because Trevor Ariza and Jabari Parker are not the future for this team and good 2/3s are hard to come by and (relatively) easy to trade if you have a positional logjam.
(But really, take best player available and figure out the rest later.)
Kevin Broom: Probably the only position where they shouldn’t use their first-round pick is center. Otherwise, their needs are basically equal across the board, especially if they take my advice and trade Beal.
Alan Jenkins: The power forward position. Right now, the Wizards have Jeff Green, Jabari Parker, and Bobby Portis as their power forwards. There’s a scenario where all three of those guys may not end up on next year’s roster which would leave a gaping hole. I think that the Wizards should pick up Parker’s option (or try restructuring it) and adding Jeff Green would be a nice bridge solution however here’s an opportunity to bring in a young guy at the power forward position where he could get playing time early on and they could develop him.
What do you do if Bradley Beal makes All-NBA this summer?
Ben Mehic: Trade him. I don’t think you can win an NBA championship with Bradley Beal as your best player — and the Wizards aren’t getting anyone better anytime soon. Washington has to rebuild. They’ve denied their reality for too long. Beal’s value is probably the highest it will ever be, so they must capitalize.
Let’s say the Lakers miss out on all the top free agents, and there’s a good chance they will. They have a ton of interesting young players on the roster. Magic Johnson is under pressure to win and LeBron James isn’t getting any younger. If the Wizards are able to get, say, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, they should consider swinging Beal to build for the future. If Beal makes All-NBA, his value will reach its peak — and teams will come calling.
Marcus Atkinson Sr.: You have to give him the supermax and here’s why: The Wizards don’t have a lot of assets. They might walk away from this summer with nothing to show from the Porter and Oubre trades. You cannot continue to lose assets and gain nothing in return. Yes, you could trade Beal, but he’s only 25 years old, so keeping him a few more years won’t take him out of his prime. Signing him now ensures that you have at least an All-Star player in the fold for the next six years and he’s still young enough that he can still be a vital player for you at the end of his contract when hopefully you will have a better team built around him.
The money is not an issue because now is the time to start rebuilding the rest of the roster. If you draft well, you should have younger, cheaper controllable assets, so money won’t be a factor until the end of Beal’s super max. Now is the time to gut the roster, but unlike before when Wall and Beal were just drafted, you have an unquestionable leader who can help lead your younger players in much of the same way that we briefly got from Paul Pierce.
L.W. Trade him either way. It’s stock is at an all-time high. You can’t pay two super max contracts. Wall’s lengthy recovery means that this is the perfect time to rebuild. Let Beal go somewhere where he can win, and get picks and young players in return. There is no reasonable pathway to success for this team next year, because Wall will take awhile to become himself again and the team isn’t in the position to add another star player. We’ve already seen this team with Beal playing at an All-NBA level, and the supporting cast still isn’t enough.
Kevin Broom: Trade him. Under no circumstance should they offer him the supermax extension.
Alan Jenkins: That’s an enormous decision that this new GM will have to make. If you’re going to make him the new centerpiece of the franchise, you have to offer him the super max. If there’s any ounce of uncertainty as to whether he’s the guy or not, then that’s probably a sign to trade him and do a complete reset as his trade value is the highest its ever been.
Ben Becker: The supermax thing doesn’t matter, because the right answer is to trade Beal. I love him and what he’s done, but if the second half of the season has taught us anything it is that this team is broken. Beal’s value will never be higher. The Wizards new GM should try to do what the Clippers did with Blake Griffin — get a cache of assets that includes a player they can shine up and trade again in a year.