After an extreme makeover – which has seen the banishment of Flip Saunders and three prominent players in the past nine months – the Wizards are certainly on a different course (again). And with training camp one week away, the pressure is on the team’s latest incarnation to prove that this is, indeed, the correct course and fulfill owner Ted Leonsis’s desires to end a four-year playoff drought.
Statistical projections, past production, trends and educated guesses can assist in preseason predictions but cannot provide certainty. And even with increased optimism that the team has abandoned the eyesore elements of a forgettable past, the games still have to be played, the chemistry still has to form or break down and the inevitable obstacles still have to be overcome or remain obstructive.
That being said, there is a pretty good chance that the Wizards won’t have to worry about any of their veteran additions running the wrong way when the team has the ball, or blasting the coaching staff about play calling a few hours after proclaiming themselves a captain and asking fans for their support.
The newcomers appear to be a no-nonsense sort, as opposed to a group auditioning for a nightly slapstick comedy show. Leonsis wrote in a recent blog entry that the “vibe” of the team is quite different from the last two years. “It is very serious,” he wrote. “There are no distractions – and we talk about team now – no more focus on individuals.”
An attitude adjustment was necessary, but so was a talent upgrade. The Wizards have added four more lottery picks in Nene, Emeka Okafor, Bradley Beal and Martell Webster. And they remain youthful, with third-year players John Wall, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker the longest-tenured members of the roster.
Since Leonsis assumed ownership of the franchise, President Ernie Grunfeld has spent the past two seasons changing the personnel and the culture of the franchise. The wins, however, remain elusive.
The Wizards will have the benefit of playing in the Southeast Division, where they are guaranteed eight games against two teams expected to be among the dregs of the league – Charlotte, which just completed the worst season (based on winning percentage) in NBA history, and Orlando, which traded Dwight Howard for pennies on the dollar.
But for the Wizards to leapfrog from 14th to one of the Eastern Conference’s top eight teams in the upcoming season, they will need plenty to break in their favor. Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman are both scheduled to address the media this week, but this is also a good time to examine what it will take for the Wizards to put mediocrity behind them and become relevant again: such as Wall’s ascension, the health of Nene and Okafor, finding an answer at small forward, Wittman’s ability to bring it all together and the contributions of Beal and Jan Vesely.
What do you think the Wizards need to succeed in the 2012-13 season?