The roller-coaster story of the 2013-2014 Washington Wizards will be largely remembered for the development of the team’s precious backcourt of John Wall, 23, and Bradley Beal,20. After several botched rebuild attempts over the last few seasons, Wall and Beal stand as the brightest moments among blown draft picks and free agency failures by team general manager Ernie Grunfeld. The twenty-something guards fueled the attack this season for the Wizards and both the team and fans believe this backcourt is something the franchise can build around as they transition into a National Basketball Association (NBA) title contender.
A second-round loss to the Indiana Pacers highlighted Wall’s need for a more reliable jump shot, despite high levels of improvement that the fourth-year point guard from Kentucky made in 2013-14. Wall’s improved accuracy from the field catapulted him into a regular season all star selection but some bad shooting mechanics and old habits rendered him virtually useless aside from one game in the series against Indiana. As a max player, Wall will need to be able to take over games as a scorer and this season was proof that he could do it. But more work is obviously needed in this stage of Wall’s career to complete his growth.
Beal, at 20, is in prime position to become one of the best shooting guards in the league. His ball handling still needs tightening up but he actually surpassed Wall this season as the Wizards go-to scorer down the stretch. With the backcourt in place, solidifying the frontcourt this summer becomes a huge challenge for Grunfeld and Co. Swingman Trevor Ariza and center/hustle big Marcin Gortat approach free agency after each completed the best campaigns in their careers. Ariza saw career-highs in shooting percentages this season while Gortat flashed stabilizing play at one of the most important positions in the league.
Washington also drafted lanky forward Otto Porter last summer with the third overall pick, and while he wasn’t able to wow crowds this past season, the hope is that Porter will be able to replace whatever production the team will likely lose should Ariza receive a more lucrative offer than what the team is prepared to give him. Washington has already prepared itself for Ariza’s defection but a smart decision will definitely have to be made on Gortat. The 30-year-old was an asset to the team in both play and leadership and good centers are hard to come by in the NBA. Still, the team is rumored to be ready to make a run at Pistons restricted free agent center Greg Monroe. Stories broke in February that the Wizards were widely expected to make a pitch to the former Georgetown Hoya and Monroe, 23, would certainly give the club a sizable presence in the middle and somebody who could grow along with the other young core players.
A quartet of Wall, Beal, Porter and Monroe would be something the team could build around for years to come, anchoring the roster with four solid, multi-faceted players. There’s also a growing belief that the Wizards should go after a marquee name in this summer’s free agency class that will be expected to include LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony. Washington could have close to $16 million in cap room to play with this summer and coming off the team’s best finish since the late ’70s, this offseason could be the perfect time to stage a spending spree.
Retaining a center, improving Wall and Beal’s offensive games and preparing Porter for a starring role will all be on the agenda for the Wizards this summer. A lot of unknown scenarios await a team that could have an all-new look by the time the 2014-15 season looms in late October. The front office is under pressure to avoid stagnation. A few major pieces could push the team’s contender momentum into overdrive next year. Washington could always simply opt to bring back both Ariza and Gortat but that lineup wasn’t good enough to help the Wizards get past the Pacers and it definitely wouldn’t be enough to take out the Miami Heat as they’re currently constructed.
Last season was just a glimpse for long-suffering Wizards fans. The best is yet to come for a team that could look completely different in just a few months.