The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What are the Wizards doing? No, seriously, what are they doing?

Rui Hachimura is gone, and the Wizards will be left throwing more darts. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
6 min

Give the Washington Wizards this: They aren’t boring.

Some NBA franchises prefer to comfort the anxiety of their fan bases with rebuilding plans. They’ll tank games and hoard high draft picks, as the Philadelphia 76ers did during “The Process” days. Or they’ll make painful decisions and trade away superstars while embracing a youth movement, as the Oklahoma City Thunder is doing now. This humdrum way of running a franchise, which provides a sense of stability for a fan base and even a vision for the future, might be for other cities. But not here.

No, ma’am. In Washington, we want mystery. Give us instability and a nebulous future, please and thank you.

A vision? Pfft! That’s for losers! We prefer to spend hours in front of our crazy walls, connecting red strings from the Issuf Sanon draft pick to the Isaiah Thomas era and trying to unearth the truth: Was taking Jan Vesely sixth overall in 2011 just a way to distract us from the government bugging our landlines — or at least from the previous year’s trade that somehow involved Kirk Hinrich and Mike Bibby?

On Monday, the Wizards kept us guessing again by trading Rui Hachimura — the guy they drafted ninth overall less than four years ago and who was once considered a key part of the future — to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round draft picks. With this move, forget rooting for a shot for the play-in. Instead, generations of fans can join in on a near-annual game: “What Are the Wizards Doing?!?”

Wizards trade former lottery pick Rui Hachimura to Lakers

Oh, it’s great fun. WATWD happens every time the Wiz thumb around the reset button, halfheartedly pressing it without dramatically changing a thing. It’s the cute little pump fake that happens whenever they feign to move on but don’t actually move forward.

More specifically, it’s when, in an attempt to shed salary, they’ll trade Otto Porter Jr. for two young players but then let both Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker walk away months later.

Or when they’ll execute a blockbuster trade with the Lakers to receive depth in return for Russell Westbrook and acquire point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, then admit failure with the fit by shipping out three of those players in less than a year.

What were they doing? Whoever guesses right gets a signed Andrew Nicholson jersey.

Now, courtesy of the Hachimura trade, there’s fresh material for the conspiracy board — because who can honestly tell what’s happening with the Wizards?

It wasn’t that long ago when the Wizards seemed to make sense. The direction they were heading, that is. They had something going, possibly something that could be distinguished as a plan — or at least a clear vision. Nothing at all like the bathroom mirror in which we now view the Wizards, the one speckled with toothpaste, fingerprint stains and the remnants of whatever has been flossed out and stuck there for years.

In those heady days, all the way back in the summer of 2019, the Wizards had a lottery pick, and though they could’ve used a point guard — either selected in the draft or by dangling that pick in a trade to nab a veteran — they selected a wing whose most obvious distinguishable talent might have been his international marketing ability.

Hachimura, the highest draft pick ever from Japan, opened the door for the Wizards to gain a foothold in a blossoming basketball country. The significance of Washington employing such a popular player who could draw massive media attention cannot be emphasized enough. Still, he was expected to be more than the Wizards’ Japanese ambassador; he was supposed to plug into the rotation right away.

As a rookie, Hachimura was expected to play alongside the team’s alpha, Bradley Beal. And, looking ahead, he was to develop into a deeper role as one of the team’s foundational blocks for whatever it was working on in the coming days.

“We were really, really fortunate last night to be able to draft Rui Hachimura,” President and General Manager Tommy Sheppard said at the time. “Our future got much more clear, much more successful just by having him join our franchise.”

But since then, the Wizards’ future hasn’t looked clear at all. There is only more confusion over what they’re doing. They signed Beal to the super-duper max — with a no-trade clause, mind you — and surrounded him with Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma. But that group is about to get very expensive, and their so-called “Big Three” can’t stay on the floor long enough to determine whether they’re worth the price.

Wizards’ Kristaps Porzingis is week-to-week with an ankle sprain Image without a caption By Ava Wallace

After Hachimura in 2019, the Wizards selected three more players late in the lottery or just outside of it, but not one has emerged as a key piece who can lift the team into playoff contention. Johnny Davis might be a fine professional basketball player one day. For now, however, he has scored 11 more points in the NBA than Washington Post NBA editor Jason Murray or than anyone who is still paying to watch this team play. And he is spending his rookie season mostly in the G League — living proof as to why the Wizards need to lose more games for a shot at a higher pick, because they’re not hitting on the players found later in the lottery.

Instead of committing to a full rebuild, they’ll give Beal the keys to the kingdom but provide him little assistance outside of his best two teammates. And rather than embracing a youth movement, they’ll send away an unhappy 24-year-old for picks they’ll probably never use efficiently anyway. (Tomas Satoransky in 2012 was the last second-rounder to become a rotational player for the Wizards.)

So, you ask, what exactly are the Wizards doing? They are sprucing up their summer house in purgatory, adding rims to their tricked-out hamster wheel and wearing Louboutins while kicking the can down the road. One red string connects to another and another, and the die-hards are left staring at the chaos, searching for a deeper meaning. The Wizards are making their stalemate seem more stimulating, at least, but in the end, they’re doing what they always do: nothing.