The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kristaps Porzingis eyes the future as the Wizards’ year ends with one last loss

Hornets 124, Wizards 108

“At least if you look at the names, that’s a playoff team,” Kristaps Porzingis said of next season's roster with Bradley Beal. (Rusty Jones/AP)
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CHARLOTTE — Kristaps Porzingis danced around the arc in a red shooting shirt Sunday as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope worked across from him, headphones in. Both looked as focused as they would before any game, but the light shooting session was as close as either would get to the basket all afternoon.

The Washington Wizards’ season finale at Spectrum Center was a 124-108 loss populated by role players and youngsters who battled with gusto a Charlotte Hornets team scrapping for seeding in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. But the game was nothing more than a merciful punctuation mark on Washington’s fourth straight losing season, the third in four years in which the Wizards (35-47) did not advance to the playoffs.

Washington ends the season with the 10th-worst record in the NBA and a 13.9 percent chance at a top-four pick in the draft, a sliver of a silver lining at the end of a campaign that began with thrilling optimism before a 10-3 start dissolved into infighting, shoddy defense and disorganization.

But a potentially favorable spot in the lottery wasn’t the only bright spot Sunday. As Porzingis wraps up his final duties of the season — first-year coach Wes Unseld Jr. already has met with the majority of the players individually for exit interviews over the past few days, and Porzingis spoke to the media for the final time Friday — he knows a long, healthy offseason awaits.

The 26-year-old hasn’t had many of those in his career.

“Summers before . . . there were some things I had to get through to even be able to get on the court,” Porzingis said, referring to injuries. “This summer is a long one, and also I’m fresh. I’m feeling great. I could play right now. That’s an exciting thing for me, and I’m really looking forward to doing some work, getting some tan and coming back next season with batteries fully charged.”

Tending to his health is Porzingis’s priority this offseason, which the big man will spend at home in Spain before it gets warm enough to return to his native Latvia. He played just 51 games — 17 after joining the Wizards from the Dallas Mavericks at the trade deadline — because of a bone bruise in his right knee, a bout with the coronavirus and back soreness.

Aside from that, he plans on cleaning up his three-point shooting (he wasn’t satisfied with his 31 percent from beyond the arc) and working on his post game, specifically making decisions out of double teams.

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“I think I am about, I would say, 60 percent, 65 percent of my potential where I can be, so I still have a good way to go — that’s how I look at it,” Porzingis said. “For me, it’s going to be continuity. Health, continuity on the court, and I feel like that’s going to take me to the place where I want it to be.”

Where Porzingis wants to be is the playoffs. Should Bradley Beal re-sign on a contract worth up to 35 percent of the salary cap, which he has said is likely, Porzingis sees no reason, on paper, the Wizards would not be a playoff team next season.

He rattled off the names of his teammates who joined him on the injury report Sunday. After Porzingis left the court following his pregame work, forward Kyle Kuzma (knee tendinitis) and Caldwell-Pope (rest) rode the bench in casual wear. Beal was at home tending to his surgically repaired left wrist. Backup center Thomas Bryant also was out with lower back soreness.

“At least if you look at the names, that’s a playoff team,” Porzingis said. “Has to be a playoff team, you know, but it depends. There are a lot of factors going into that, so I don’t want to promise anything because there’s not only three or four guys, but the whole group is important.”

Promises about the Wizards’ future are even harder to make given that Porzingis and Beal have yet to share the court. Beal’s season ended just before the trade deadline.

Beal is on track to have his cast removed later this month, and both players have busy summers ahead — Porzingis is planning to be abroad, and Beal is set to welcome a third child in the coming months in addition to making a decision about his future. If Beal returns, Unseld is betting on an adjustment period.

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“A lot of things we can look at offensively, it’ll change because we’ll have different pieces out there,” he said Sunday. “Getting Brad back, it’s a different piece. Not to have him out there now and to have him available to play with KP these last few games, it’s tough because you’re trying to project.”

Porzingis understands that this offseason will be a pivotal one for the Wizards. Answering questions about the future before Beal makes his decision is difficult. But he knows this: He isn’t interested in wasting any years of Caldwell-Pope’s, Kuzma’s or his prime.

“I want to achieve the maximum potential that we have with the group that we have next season,” Porzingis said. “That would be the thing I would strive for. Whether that’s making the playoffs or taking it a step further, we don’t know yet.”

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