Going into the postseason, the Washington Wizards had a clear objective to continue their culture shift by adding more veterans to aid youthful roster still in need of some guidance. They also had to find a cast of shooters, rebounders and defenders who could support the skill set of their franchise building block, John Wall.
Since their fourth consecutive lottery season ended, the Wizards have said farewell, directly and otherwise, to Rashard Lewis, Andray Blatche, Roger Mason Jr., James Singleton, Maurice Evans, Brian Cook and Morris Almond. Those spots have been filled by Bradley Beal, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, A.J. Price and Martell Webster – a rookie and four players with at least three years of NBA experience, all under the age of 30. Cartier Martin re-signed.
After announcing that Webster had inked his new deal, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said on Wednesday that the team would “in all likelihood” go with 14 players when training camp begins on Oct. 2 at George Mason. “But that remains to be seen,” Grunfeld said. “We’ll see what opportunities are there. If other opportunities come up, we’ll look at them.”
The Wizards have a mix of veterans and youngsters, with eight players on the roster – Wall, Beal, Jordan Crawford, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Shelvin Mack, Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton – with two seasons or less of NBA experience. They have players who can attack the glass in Nene, Emeka Okafor and Booker. They have shooters in Beal, Webster and Martin. They even have a backup point guard in Price.
But do they have enough to make the playoffs?
After finishing with the NBA’s second-worst record last season, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said his team was “bad – by plan – and now we plan to be GOOD.” On paper, the Wizards are a much better team than they were last season – in talent and professionalism – but they still have several teams to leap in order to break into one of the top eight seeds.
Defending champion Miami certainly didn’t take any steps back with LeBron James entering his prime and the signings of Ray Allen and Lewis. Boston lost Allen but bolstered its lineup by adding Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Jeff Green and making sure Kevin Garnett didn’t exit into retirement. The Heat and Celtics have represented the Eastern Conference in five of the past seven NBA Finals and should continue to be among the elite teams, but the Eastern Conference standings will look somewhat different next season.
Orlando is expected to plummet with Dwight Howard dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago is expected to slide some with Derrick Rose recovering from a torn ACL that could keep him out for most, if not all of next season. But the Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets, who finished with only two more wins than the Wizards last season, have upgraded with the addition of Joe Johnson, and Philadelphia has transformed its roster and added the league’s second-best big man in Andrew Bynum.
Indiana re-signed center Roy Hibbert and added D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi and Gerald Green. Atlanta replaced Johnson and Marvin Williams with Lou Williams, Devin Harris and Kyle Korver. New York lost Jeremy Lin but added Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd.
Milwaukee, which finished ninth last season, will have a full season to incorporate Monta Ellis and added a shot blocking presence in Sam Dalembert. Toronto plucked Kyle Lowry from Houston and will bring over last year’s top pick Jonas Valanciunas after getting Terrance Ross and Quincy Acy last June. Cleveland has a rising star Kyrie Irving. Detroit will only get better if Greg Monroe continues to elevate his game. Charlotte should be lousy again.
The Wizards have upgraded the talent this calendar year, having started last season with just two lottery picks on the roster (Wall and Vesely) to now having six (Wall, Vesely, Nene, Okafor, Webster and Beal). But in order for Washington to escape the bottom and become relevant, Wall will have to be truly ready to take the next leap as a player.
Dramatic turnarounds usually require game-changing acquisitions, but the team has already urged patience with Beal. In two seasons, Wall has already shown that he has the physical tools to become a star in this league. He has also had a normal offseason – free of a lockout and an inordinate amount of exhibition games – to prepare for a possible breakout campaign.
Wall has trained with Team USA in Las Vegas, worked on improving his jump shot with Dave Hopla and gained knowledge from Rob McClanaghan, the trainer who has assisted all-star point guards Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. Wall wants to be the “savior” and bring postseason basketball back to Verizon Center. With Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee gone and a group of players noted fro their professionalism in town, he will have his opportunity to elevate the franchise.
Questions also remain about how all of the pieces will come together for the Wizards, if players will get used to different or diminished roles and if Coach Randy Wittman will be able to push the right buttons for an essentially new collection of talent. And, in roughly two months, the Wizards will find out if they have done enough this summer to go from bad to good – or at least become respectable again.