Still, some things remain the same. Bradley Beal’s status as the franchise cornerstone is intact after the Wizards spent the offseason building around the 28-year-old all-star, but less certain is whether he will sign a contract extension. Washington plans to make an offer the first day it’s able to — Friday.
The Wizards start the preseason at the Houston Rockets on Oct. 5 and open the regular season at the Toronto Raptors on Oct. 20.
Here are four pertinent questions before camp gets underway.
How are Thomas Bryant and Deni Avdija progressing?
Washington closed the 2020-21 season with a pair of key players sidelined. Starting center Thomas Bryant partially tore the ACL in his left knee in early January, and forward Deni Avdija, the No. 9 pick in last year’s draft, suffered a season-ending hairline fracture in his right fibula in late April.
Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard said at a news conference Thursday that the team does not expect Bryant back until December at the earliest, though Avdija should see action much earlier. The 20-year-old from Israel has been participating in practice drills at full speed — Washington has had players back in the gym since Labor Day — but he is not yet participating in scrimmages. The Wizards plan to ease him back onto the court out of what Sheppard called an abundance of caution.
Aside from those two, the Wizards will have a fully healthy roster when camp begins.
How will the Wizards handle the center spot?
Washington dealt with Bryant’s injury last season with one of the funkiest methods in the league, rotating Alex Len, Robin Lopez and Daniel Gafford depending on nightly matchups to create a three-headed monster that, surprisingly, worked fairly well.
But Len and Lopez are gone, leaving Unseld with new arrival Montrezl Harrell from the Lakers and slightly less-new arrival Gafford, who joined the Wizards from the Chicago Bulls at the trade deadline and made an immediate impact with his energy, athleticism and ability to slam lobs. Sheppard told The Washington Post in an interview this past week that the Wizards would like to add a third center to shore up the spot with Bryant not expected back until winter, but for now Gafford is Washington’s starter.
“Minutes work themselves out; players tell you what to do,” Sheppard said. “. . . But there’s no mystery [about who’s starting].”
Gafford’s fitness level occasionally limited his minutes last season. But at a news conference Friday, Unseld said the 6-foot-10 big man is “exactly where we need him to be” with his conditioning.
What is the team’s vaccination status?
As a result, there may be different protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated players governing things such as testing frequency and mask requirements. ESPN reported this month that roughly 85 percent of NBA players are vaccinated.
Sheppard declined to give specifics about the Wizards’ vaccination numbers when asked Thursday but said he is pleased with where the team is in relation to the league standard.
“Everybody is fully educated, fully informed, and we’ll be in compliance and looking forward to the season,” Sheppard said. “A lot of stuff, you get into some personal, private information. We’re not going to go down that road, but we will be in great compliance with the NBA and moving forward.”
In response to a follow-up question about how many members of the Wizards’ “Tier 1” group — loosely defined as players and staff members who travel and/or come into close contact with players — are vaccinated, Sheppard said Washington is “well in the 90th percentile.”
“We’re pleased with where we’re at, and we’ll continue to push to make sure that we get to where we need to be from the league standard,” Sheppard said. “We’re there now.”
Are there any other position battles to watch out for?
The Wizards have options on the wing and at forward heading into training camp with Davis Bertans (back and, according to Sheppard, looking good after a poor 2020-21 season), Rui Hachimura (who will miss the start of camp for personal reasons), Kyle Kuzma, Avdija, Anthony Gill and draft pick Corey Kispert in the mix. Sheppard and Unseld don’t think of it so much as a “battle,” though — it’s more that Washington finally has flexibility after a season in which it desperately needed help on the wing.
Given the abundance of shooters, playing time may come down to defensive ability on the perimeter.