Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) and guard John Wall (2) and other teammates, walk off the court together after an NBA basketball game. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A bitter-ending series against the Atlanta Hawks sends the Washington Wizards into the summer with a sour taste in their mouths. The Hawks were certainly beatable, and Washington had its chances of trumping the East’s top seed. Despite the defeat, Washington officially took another step in reclaiming its respectability, and the young duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal garnered more of the necessary experience that it takes to win in the NBA. And, for an added bonus, sophomore forward Otto Porter established that he has what it takes to play in the Association. He could potentially combine with Wall and Beal next season to form a lethal perimeter trio. However, the summer doesn’t approach without some major questions that the franchise has to answer. The AFRO examines what could be a pivotal summer in the season’s final edition of Wizards Weekly.

Paul Pierce, Drew Gooden III, Kevin Séraphin and Rasual Butler all played key minutes for the team this year and they all could potentially be off the roster by the time next season starts. Pierce has a player option to return and the rest are free agents. Pierce’s one season was instrumental for some of the young veterans but Washington may want to hope he does eventually retire. Porter showed in the postseason that he could be an effective starter and it’s time for the Wizards to start focusing more on its 2013 third overall pick. Porter has the intangibles to be a stalwart lockdown defender and effective passer. His range extends easily to 25 feet from the rim and he’s a stat-stuffing rebounder. Minutes in the playoffs only boosted his confidence and he should definitely be pencilled in as Washington’s starter at small forward next year, whether Pierce returns or not.

The Wizards need more active bodies in the front court as their lack of mobility was exposed in the series loss to Atlanta. Marcin Gortat, Kris Humphries and Nenê are the only bigs signed through next year, but Washington almost has to try to acquire another big – preferably a young one – if they want to compete in the playoffs next year. The Wizards could – and should – use Nenê’s expiring $13 million contract to try to reshape the front line. This summer’s free agency group includes Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan and Greg Monroe for starters. Criticized general manager Ernie Grunfeld catches a lot of flak for his drafting, but he’s proven to be a successful trade specialist. Which poses another question: What to do with Grunfeld and Randy Wittman?

Grunfeld and Wittman could be approaching their final two years in D.C., or they could be just settling. The summer will definitely be a crossroads for the two headmen in Washington. Another fall-short season could spell doom if the Wizards don’t make a significant jump next year. They’ve been in the semifinals in back-to-back seasons and now it’s time to trek forward. The draft and free agency is critical for Grunfeld, who cannot afford another blunder. And Grunfeld’s roster composition is what will ultimately decide Wittman’s fate. These two men are linked to each other and it’ll show as summer progresses. With the 19th pick in June’s draft, Washington will look to add a young big man to the core of Porter, Beal and Wall. The pressure is on Grunfeld to pick carefully as it’s vital for Washington to be able to add another rotation player as free agency will most certainly deplete the Wizards’ roster.

Washington’s success next season will ultimately fall on the shoulders of Beal and Wall. Beal continued to show impressive playoff performances despite the absence of Wall to an injured left hand. Wall’s injury proved just how important he was to the Wizards, since before his injury the team was 5-0 in the postseason. Pierce’s heroics in the playoffs were both exciting and frustrating. On one hand, Pierce gave life to the ball club and its fan base with clutch, big time shots. On the other hand, you want your two young, franchise players being able to make those shots as well. They’ll get their chance next season as the team officially will shift into their hands for leadership and performance. Beal and Wall are the cornerstones on the Wizards, and Porter is working his way into the group. Washington will be one of the league’s better teams next season, but its success depends on several variables.