On this week’s Bleav in Wizards podcast, I was joined by Chase Hughes, Wizards reporter for NBC Sports Washington. My cohost Larry Hughes is on vacation so it just made sense to bring in another high-basketball-IQ Hughes to carry the show. This Hughes is from the area and grew up rooting for the Wizards so he has the historical knowledge and understanding of the fanbase that many local media members do not.
I opened the podcast by asking Hughes about his overall opinion of the 2020-2021 season and I found his answer to be both objective and nuanced. He believes that given how far below .500 the team fell in April, that the year was an overall success because they rallied around each other and ended up still making the playoffs. But he also felt that the ceiling for this current team was likely a six or seven seed.
Hughes saw value in the team making the playoffs because it provided a realistic assessment of the roster and showed how far away the Wizards are from being real contenders in the Eastern Conference.
“I think there’s value in the data that they now have, that they know the gap between them and the Sixers is pretty wide and that they’re not going to be fooled into thinking that they’re super close,” said Hughes.
That provided a natural segue into the types of moves the Wizards might look to make to better their playoff prospects for the 2021-2022 season. Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard recently said that he would be willing to take “big swings” and I wanted Hughes’ take on what exactly a big swing might look like. Essentially, how realistic is trading for a third star?
“I think they’re going to try,” said Hughes. “Now realistic is the key word there because, no pun intended, the stars kind of have to align. The right guy has to become available. You have to have the right pieces to beat other teams with your offer.”
The Wizards best chance at adding a marquee name would be through a trade. Given the power players have today, a star would likely have to sign off on coming to DC prior to any deal being made.
“I just wrote an article about this. In the last eight months, four of the top five highest paid players in the league got traded...James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, John Wall, and all those trades kind of worked out to varying degrees for their teams. Chris Paul and James Harden helped turn their new teams into contenders. You see it every year, these stars become available,” said Hughes.
Hughes believes the Wizards could put together a competitive offer compared to other teams that are also in the market for star but the right player would have to become available. By now, most fans have heard some of the rumors, which seem to have varying degrees of credibility, regarding the Wizards’ interest in Kristaps Porzingis, Jerami Grant, or DeRan DeRozan (who is a free agent but would likely have to be acquired via sign-and-trade).
“I think the parameters that they have to look for are obviously someone who’s not a guard because they already have Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal,” said Hughes. “Ideally someone who’s not a liability as a shooter. So I think that should probably rule out, I know DeMar DeRozan’s a free agent and it would be a sign and trade, but someone like that would worry me because shooting is probably their biggest weakness.
“They’ve got to be able to play defense,” continued Hughes. “And I think ideally someone who’s not past their prime now. I think odds are someone like that is going to be come available this offseason. And the Wizards, I think, are probably better positioned and more willing to try to take a swing than they have in the past...I wouldn’t be surprised if they went into the offseason trying to do that and ended up settling with a deal that instead just added depth to their rotation.”
Hughes also provided a very compelling argument for why Grant is a more realistic target than Porzingis. I’d encourage you to check out the rest of the episode for more insight into that.
We also covered why Washington hasn’t been more of a free agent destination, Bradley Beal’s perimeter shooting tailing off, younger players learning from Russell Westbrook, Dr. Katherine Evans analytics-centric approach and how it might inform decision making, and what it was like to cover the Wizards during a pandemic.