The 2017 offseason was the wildest in NBA history. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are now Eastern Conference rivals. Out West, Chris Paul joined James Harden, while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony united with Russell Westbrook. Ten recent All–Stars changed uniforms, and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Durant’s strange summer, so let’s get to previewing. The 2017-18 NBA season is finally upon us.
2016-17 finish: 49-33, lost in the second round
• Offensive rating: 108.5 (9th)
• Defensive rating: 106.9 (20th)
Did the summer help at all?
A little bit, maybe? (Welcome to Ball Don’t Lie, your home for hot takes!)
Losing Bogdanovic, who provided punch as a reserve scorer after coming over from Brooklyn at the trade deadline, could hurt a second unit that was brutal before his arrival and struggled in the playoffs. Better point guard play off the pine would go a long way toward mitigating that drop-off, though, and Frazier could provide it.
The Penn State product doesn’t have as recognizable a name as Jennings, but he’s been about as productive over the past two seasons, and he impressed in 35 starts in place of Jrue Holiday for the New Orleans Pelicans last year before Washington imported him at the cost of a second-round draft pick. Provided a training-camp groin strain doesn’t linger, Frazier should be a stabilizing backup for All-World superhero John Wall. (To be fair, it would be difficult to be less helpful than Jennings was last postseason, when Washington was outscored by nearly 15 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, or than Burke was during the regular season before all but falling out of the rotation.)
If Frazier can help keep the Wiz from falling off a cliff when Wall hits the bench — and if veteran shooting guard Meeks and combo forward Scott can shake off the injuries and inconsistency that have marked their last two seasons to return to the ranks of legitimate NBA shooters — the Wizards’ reserve corps could look a bit less threadbare this season. Two other keys on that front: a healthy second season in D.C. for big man Ian Mahinmi, limited to just 31 games last year after the Wiz paid handsomely for his services, and a third-year leap for Boston fan favorite Kelly Oubre Jr.
Outside of bargain-bin bench shopping, the Wizards’ most important summertime work was standing pat. Owner Ted Leonsis gave general manager Ernie Grunfeld the green light to shell out a five-year maximum-salaried contract to keep quietly key small forward Otto Porter, followed by a four-year “super max” extension for Wall, the franchise player who helped carry the Wiz to within one win of the Eastern Conference finals. Factor in last summer’s max re-up for shooting guard Bradley Beal, and the Wiz have now laid out more than $400 million to lock up their top three players.
On one hand, that is a lot of money for the perimeter core of a team that’s yet to win 50 games or advance past the second round of the playoffs. On the other, that’s the cost of retaining high-upside young talent in today’s NBA, and there’s something to be said for hanging onto 60 percent of one of the league’s best starting lineups … especially at a time when continuity’s become tough to come by.
The Cavs and Celtics will look drastically different next year. The Raptors also paid through the nose to bring back last year’s dudes, and don’t look particularly scary. Nobody else in the East appears likely to be especially good. Why not trust your guys, pay up to run it back, and take your chances at winding up on top of a conference in flux?
Leonsis told The Vertical’s Michael Lee this summer that he wants the Wizards to be a “‘have’ team,” the kind of franchise that does whatever it wants. He wrote checks like a man who believes his team can compete for a championship; his players certainly don’t sound short of confidence on that score. All that’s left to do, then, is knock off LeBron. Piece of cake, right?
Best-case scenario: Wall steps up to Kobe’s challenge, turning in an elite two-way season that justifies his belief that he belongs on your MVP ballot. Beal turns in an unsnubbable campaign, and Porter continues the pattern of year-over-year improvement that got him paid like a star. Marcin Gortat and Mahinmi stay healthy enough to give Scott Brooks 48 minutes of competent center play every night. Markieff Morris bounces back in relatively short order from sports hernia surgery. Oubre, who emerged as a vital rotation piece and perimeter defender in his second season, takes a significant leap on the offensive end, helping the bench stay afloat. Internal development propels the Wiz not only past the 50-win mark for the first time since 1978, but all the way past Cleveland and Boston into the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
If everything falls apart: The bench is just as bad as last season, once again putting an outsized load on the shoulders of the Wall-and-Beal-led starting five … only this year, that group doesn’t stay healthy enough to stay on the floor for a whopping 1,300-plus minutes. Gortat looks even closer to the end of his career than he thinks he might be, and Mahinmi can’t pick up the slack. Morris never quite gets on track after the sports hernia. Porter plateaus. Oubre fizzles. Brooks can’t find creative answers in the uninspiring second unit Grunfeld handed him. Even Wall’s excellence can’t carry Washington past the middle of the muddled Eastern pack, squandering an opportunity to rise and raising serious questions about the possibilities for a Wizards roster all but devoid of flexibility for the next two years.
Best guess at a record: 52-30
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2017-18 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz