The Washington Wizards’ dramatic collapse this season is the impact that their front office has had to the environment that has been created within this organization. It appears that the Wizards have still continued to struggle to find an identity and continue to make the mistake of building a team around one player.
The history of this type of structure simply does not lead to long term success, especially if that player is not an elite, superstar-level player. I have asked this question about this organization in the past when they tried to go down this same path with John Wall, which is, what is the identity of this team?
If hypothetically, Bradley Beal walked away from this team after this season, what would you be able to say definitively about this roster? Are they going to be a strong defensive team? An efficient offensive juggernaut? What exactly can you say about this team without Beal? That’s how you know there’s no identity and that their identity continues to be rooted in a singular player than actual philosophy.
Recently we have seen Wes Unseld Jr. struggling to find the right combination of players, which included the benching of former starting Center Daniel Gafford, which he ended up back in the starting lineup due to the injury of Thomas Bryant. Certainly, Gafford has his flaws, but when asked the decision to shorten the center roster prior to Bryant’s injury, Unseld Jr. stated, “Trying to play the three bigs, it became very choppy. I know the guys didn’t like it, I didn’t necessarily like it,”
The issue, which wasn’t addressed though, is why was Gafford chosen to be the benched player of the three? What exactly is this team trying to accomplish by playing Bryant over Gafford?
It seemed even as players like Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura returned, this team never had a plan for how to incorporate them, and the whole team has suffered. The choppy play isn’t because of having too many players to play. Rather, it is because this organization doesn’t seem to understand anything about building a cohesive vision for this basketball team, besides wanting to build around Beal.
The Wizards are not the first and only team to try to incorporate players into their rotation after they return from injury, but they seem too poorly equipped to manage it. The question is not how do we play all these players, which they erroneously attempted to do. The Wizards should have simply focused on the players that best fit the style of play that they want.
If the Wizards want to play fast, then perhaps Gafford makes the most sense, but if they want to have spacing, a more fluid and dynamic offense, then Thomas Bryant makes more sense. The problem is no one seems to know what this team wants to do. Perhaps it’s to build a trade market for some of the players on the roster, but even then that should not come at the expense of winning.
Watching the games, you often see players over-extending their roles on the floor and playing outside the strengths of their game. This has led to chemistry issues and a sharp decline in play from the team, as a whole.
A lot of the blame is being set on the players and Wes Unseld Jr, and certainly, each deserves their share of the blame. But the organization as a whole seems lost. Perhaps, Wes Unseld, Jr. is being exposed as having challenges managing locker room personalities, but these are things that could be aided by an organization that has higher standards and true accountability.
Players bickering in the media, having visible disagreements on the court, while losing winnable games, or looking completely outmatched in some of the most recent games, is a reflection on the organization as a whole. It shows a lack of chemistry, a lack of direction and an unwillingness to commit to a singular goal that everyone buys into.
As this Wizards team moves forward with its current stretch of difficult games, it’s entirely possible this team is out of the playoff race by the time the trade deadline is in place. Perhaps this could be a blessing in disguise and maybe it will aid in having some honest conversations about the direction of the future of this team. This team desperately needs to define what it is and what it needs to be. That definition needs to be made clear with or without Beal.