Lost amid the dizzying NFL headlines, the start of the new 2017-2018 NBA season is quickly creeping upon us.
New York Knicks center Kyle O’Quinn (9) blocks a shot by Washington Wizards center Ian Mahinmi (28) during the third quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in New York. The Wizards won 110-103. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
The Washington Wizards will tip off their latest campaign on Oct. 18 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Summer talk of championship contenders has circled around perennial favorites such as the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, but sneaky dark horses like Oklahoma City and Boston could emerge as well. Where do the Wizards and their returning core stack up? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate this haunting question.
Riley: Washington didn’t have the sexy summer that would have made them a trendy pick this year, but they did have a productive one. The team made no new trades or signings, just dished out major money to retain its own core. Otto Porter Jr. and John Wall were re-signed to hefty extensions on the heels of Bradley Beal’s extension last summer. The expectation is that continuity, maturity and growth will be the added pieces that Washington needs to develop into an upper-echelon unit. Cleveland and Boston loom as season-stoppers that could clip Washington’s postseason plans, but both of those teams are ushering in sweeping new changes that could stunt the early part of their seasons and give the Wizards a chance to create some separation in the early standings.
Green: I’m concerned with the lack of firepower on the team. Boston and Cleveland have constructed themselves such that if you’re going to topple one of them in a series, you’re going to need reinforcements. I just don’t think Washington has the bench for that. Porter, Beal and Wall are fantastic, but the absence of a reliable fourth scorer and the absence of quality reserves just puts too much pressure on Wall and Beal to be fantastic every game for the team to have a chance. Washington has been rumored to have an eye on DeMarcus Cousins or DeAndre Jordan as potential trade targets, but it’s anyone’s guess whether there’s any truth to that. The Wizards would benefit tremendously from either acquisition—but at what cost, considering they don’t have the salary cap or the trade chips to pull off such a maneuver. This team could be stuck in neutral for another season.
Riley: Acquiring Cousins or Jordan would be a major step forward for the Wizards. As seen in recent trades involving Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Cousins himself, it’s proven you don’t need to have a plethora of draft picks or young players to obtain all-stars. Both George and Cousins were moved for fringe players, so why can’t Washington do the same? Washington is right on the cusp of a championship-caliber roster, they just have to stay the course. You can never crown teams who undertake the type of roster overhauling moves that Cleveland and Boston made because you never know how chemistry will work out. “Experts” and the lines in Vegas don’t normally factor in how many players are returning from the prior season and what continuity and familiarity look like on various teams. Washington has that going for them and it could probably push them to a deep playoff run should the other teams falter.
Green: A season-long outlook doesn’t need to process continuity from the team’s core players because teams usually have things figured out by the time the playoffs start. No matter how many early-season growing pains the Celtics or the Cavaliers might run into, they’ll assuredly be resolved by playoff time. And for all the praise we keep giving those two teams, don’t forget about an up-and-coming Milwaukee squad that’s stuffed with prototype athletes, or steady threats like Toronto and Charlotte. District teams tend to disappoint when the postseason starts. Without a fourth star or a reliable bench, Washington is set up perfectly to continue that trend.