Coming into this huge season for the Washington Wizards, two underlying issues were on the agenda: One, would they overplay their hand in the pursuit of soon-to-be star free agent Kevin Durant? And, two, would this team full of square pegs for round holes keep itself competitive in an improving Eastern Conference.
A basketball sits on the court during the second half of an NBA basketball game between the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Washington. The Celtics won 116-91. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Let’s answer the first question surrounding Durant. Yes, the Wizards have stacked up all their chips in a grand attempt to woo the D.C. native to sign as a free agent this summer. Do I believe it was the wrong strategy? Honestly, I don’t think so. With the way Washington’s roster is constructed, there is a need for one more superstar to take the team to the next level. So why not put everything on the table for Durant to fill that void—even if it is a pipe dream. As we have seen for decades in the NBA, superstars win titles. That’s just a fact. The more talent you have on the roster, the better chance you truly have of winning major hardware in June. Now, I don’t believe that Washington will sign him because it makes more sense for him to re-sign a deal in Oklahoma City. But it is better to try than to not take a shot at all.
Secondly, for all of the funky positions that players on the roster have had to play this season either because of the injuries (most missed games by injury in the league) or by roster construction, the new “pace and space” offensive system hasn’t worked the way the coaching staff had envisioned. Not having a true stretch-big man who can stretch defenses with sharp perimeter shooting has really hurt what the offense is supposed to accomplish. Forward Jared Dudley has done a yeoman’s job trying to be that guy, but at this point of his career, he shouldn’t be the main guy opposing defenses have to acknowledge on that end of the floor. Guys like Otto Porter and Kris Humphries have tried to stretch the floor but they haven’t been capable of doing it on a consistent basis.
As mentioned earlier, the injury bug ravaged this team in the first half of the season. Brad Beal started off the season on fire, averaging more than 20 points per game and becoming “that guy” Wizards fans all wanted him to be. But a stress fracture in his leg caused him to miss 20 games and he is now on a time restriction. If that wasn’t enough, Nenê missed 19 games himself. Add off season pickup Alan Anderson to the injury heap as he has not seen the floor this season. Multiple games missed by Drew Gooden, Humphries, Porter, and Gary Neal has given coach Randy Wittman very little to work with at any given moment.
If it wasn’t for All-Star guard John Wall, this team probably wouldn’t be hovering around the .500 mark at this point in the season. During the first month of the season, Wall was – for lack of a better term – lackluster. After some self-reflecting, he came out in December and played the best basketball of his life and earned December Player of the Month in the Eastern Conference, the first for the Wizards franchise since 2006. Wall also won Player of the Week just two weeks ago. Without his stellar play, this team would be competing with the likes of the Lakers and Sixers for the No. 1 overall selection in the next draft.
All in all, this team, when healthy, can make a run for the playoffs. Four games out of the divisional lead isn’t an insurmountable feat, but something needs to change. The inconsistency is killing the fan base. There’s starting to be an apathy for the Wizards and that shouldn’t be the case because the team is still growing. But lethargic losses to the likes of the Lakers, Blazers, etc. are causing this team to become an afterthought in its own city.