With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Washington Wizards.
You have to worry about Washington Wizards fans.
Their team made it to the second round of the playoffs, a fun turn pitched in response to years of lottery-bound seasons spent faffing about. On paper, considering age, the team boasts the best young backcourt in the NBA – a cruel mix of elegance and function split between the lightning-quick John Wall and the emerging Bradley Beal.
Randy Wittman, the coach, seems to have their ear. Nene, their versatile big man, seems to have his best gig yet. Various helpers seemed to enjoy playing alongside these young standouts.
The problem? All the contracts that are set to expire this summer.
Marcin Gortat is a fantastic player and person, working in his prime, and his one season in Washington was probably well worth the first round pick general manager Ernie Grunfeld gave up to acquire him.
Trevor Ariza is a fantastic player and person, working in his prime, and he played excellent basketball for the Wizards in their unexpected 11-game playoff run.
Wittman? He had this team playing defense both last season and in this campaign. He also draws up plenty of plays for long, two-point jumpers, making his opponents’ day. His coaching history isn’t exactly riddled with success.
GM Ernie Grunfeld? He drafted Beal and Wall. He dealt for Ariza, Nene, and Gortat. He also dealt for Randy Foye and Mike Miller while giving up a lottery pick, and drafted Jan Vesely and Otto Porter. He’s the man who extended Gilbert Arenas’ contract, and held onto Antawn Jamison for too long.
The second round ouster doesn’t change this. Grunfeld’s resume is far from stellar. Wittman is a clear leader of men, but it’s not entirely clear if he’s leading them in the right direction, once you consider the NBA’s modern-as-tomorrow angularity. And when it comes to re-signing Gortat and Ariza – are these your guys? Are you ready to commit to these players in their primes, expecting that internal development could turn the Wizards into championship contenders? Is this a championship team in waiting, or just another second round participant?
There are tough decisions to be made, but one has to suppose that Grunfeld has already made them. He’ll pay Gortat and Ariza their worth in July – something rather large, considering the players’ market this summer – and continue apace. It well help justify the moves made prior to their acquisition, and the second round showing will make up for the years gone missing between 2008 and 2014. The franchise will point to Wall and Beal – two brilliant young stars worth pointing to, it should be noted – and remind you that their best days are ahead of them.
Whether or not that’s the case for the Wizards, capped out with Gortat and Ariza on board into their 30s, remains to be seen.
This isn’t a bad situation to be in, and considering the fluidity of the crummy Eastern Conference, the Wizards could even stretch out to become a third round team next season. With no draft pick in place next month, and with Otto Porter seemingly lost on an NBA court, Washington isn’t exactly primed to turn over. It’s all on Beal and Wall, which would be nice if the goal was to make the second round every year.
The Wizards could tear it up, of course. They could let Ariza and Gortat walk, they could decline to bring Andre Miller back, they could wish Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker goodbye, and they could build around that young backcourt with heaps of salary cap space and acquisitions taken in via free agency and trades.
Starting center with skills, 3-and-D swingman, backup point guard and reserve bigs – those are a lot of holes to be filled, and the Wizards truly do have admirable solutions to those problems already on hand, with Bird Rights in their pocket. It would be hard to blame Grunfeld for bringing the whole band back. It’s the East, and you’re always an ankle sprain in May away from the Eastern Conference finals.
The peak isn’t exactly as high as you’d like it, though. In spite of the promise of Beal and Wall, for the next decade. And in spite of how respectable Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza are as NBA contributors.
Ernie Grunfeld can go nuts, this summer, if he wants. He can take chances and potentially work his way into something special. It’s hard to see that happening, though. The Washington Wizards have found a niche.
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