After years of pursuing mediocre results, the Washington Wizards finally have decided to rebuild their roster. But maybe don’t use that specific phrase. The front office leading duo of Michael Winger and Will Dawkins prefer to use more diplomatic terms such as “refresh,” “retool,” or “renew” to describe their plan. Whatever verb you choose, Washington now has a new roster and a new attitude, with a focus on the future.
“We have a vision for the team. It is ambitious and it is a heavy lift,” said Winger, who was appointed as the President of Monumental Sports in May. “We want to build an organization that can develop and support a sustainably great team. We don’t want to be a flash in the pan, we don’t want to be a one-hit-wonder.”
The crux of Winger’s and Dawkins’s vision is their holistic player development plan. The Wizards will be investing in making players better both on and off the court. Each player will have a team of up to 10 individuals dedicated to planning their workouts, nutrition, mental health training, and everything in between. The first investment in player development came earlier this week with the addition of new members to the coaching staff. Brian Keefe gets credit from Kevin Durant for teaching him “everything he knows.” David Vanterpool comes recommended by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Cody Toppert, the new coach of the Go-Go, has played a role in guiding Monte Morris, Gary Payton II, and Shaquille Harrison to success in the NBA from the G-League. With the restructured staff, Wes Unseld Jr. will be able to refocus on his role as an assistant coach: player development.
“The biggest benefit we have is that Wes is a player development coach by nature,” said Dawkins, who oversees the day-to-day operations for the Wizards. “He has put his time in at multiple organizations making players better. When you have buy-in at the highest levels, it trickles down from there.”
Emphasizing player development sounds like a euphemism for tanking. But the Wizards seem unlikely to tank, even if they won’t necessarily prioritize wins in the short term. Winger said that he doesn’t believe winning habits can be developed through intentional losing. But they also explained that process (crucially not the Process) will reign over results. Progress won’t be measured solely by wins and losses, but rather by evidence-based goals tracked by the organization. These “small wins,” as Winger called them, are supposed to stack into a winning organization. Regardless of the win-loss records, Winger insists that the front office will not deviate from the plan.
“As far as ‘how long is this going to take?,’ the research is pretty telling and the research says that you just cannot skip steps,” explained Winger. “We are going to make some incorrect draft picks, and some players will not reach their full potential. We have to acknowledge from the beginning that we will make more mistakes than we will get things right. We just need to get enough things right.”
This messaging is a significant departure from the Beal era and is a breath of fresh air for fans who are weary of mediocrity. Still, the short-term outlook for Washington is murky. Kyle Kuzma, Jordan Poole, and Tyus Jones could gel into a solid trio, potentially propelling the Wizards into playoff contention for a portion of the season. The trio could also live up to the preseason predictions of doom, and they may hit rock bottom for the first time in a decade. Both paths have their upsides and downsides. It may be comforting to Wizards fans that this front office has stated that they will not sacrifice the future for the present, regardless of the outcome.