Are The Wizards Primed to Get Over Hump?
While the Cleveland Cavaliers will head into the 2015-16 campaign as the clear frontrunners to come out of the Eastern Conference, the remaining members of the upper tier remain largely debatable.
The Atlanta Hawks had the East’s best record last season but fizzled in the conference finals. The Chicago Bulls have the talent, on paper, but will have to adjust to a new head coach. The Toronto Raptors have emerged as a force in the East the past two seasons but have yet to make it out of the first round of the playoffs when games matter most. The Miami HEAT have had a strong summer but are banking on a couple of free agency bargain bin pickups to provide a high return on investment. The Indiana Pacers will have a fully healthy Paul George back in the fold, but are transitioning to an up tempo style of play so expect a learning curve.
One team that should definitely be in the discussion is the Washington Wizards, a squad that has averaged 45 wins the past two seasons but have yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs. On paper, the Wizards have the tools to compete with anyone on any given night. However, injuries and bouts of inconsistency have limited the team’s overall success.
Here is how the team fared this offseason:
Additions: Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson, Gary Neal, Kelly Oubre
Departures: Paul Pierce, Kevin Seraphin
Paul Pierce played just one season but his impact on the team on and off the court spoke volumes. The future Hall of Fame forward was instrumental in the Wizards’ first round playoff victory over Toronto and nearly worked some magic against the Hawks in round two. Pierce’s departure thrusts Otto Porter Jr. into the spotlight. The young forward has had the benefit of playing behind Trevor Ariza and Pierce since entering the league with little to no pressure to be consistent on a nightly basis. Things will change for Porter this season.
The Wizards acquired veteran forward Jared Dudley early in the summer and he will provide minutes at the three and four. Although undersized to be a full-time power forward, Dudley can play the position in spots and stretch opposing defenses because of his shooting ability from deep. Rookie forward Kelly Oubre looked solid, at times, in Summer League but he likely won’t see steady minutes in the Wizards’ rotation with the franchise looking to go deep in the playoffs.
The addition of veterans Alan Anderson and Gary Neal give the team two role players with playoff experience that understand where they fit in winning situations. Kevin Seraphin heads to New York after five seasons with the Wizards but never developed into the low post option desired.
The Wizards boast one of the best backcourts in the league with All-Star John Wall and Bradley Beal, two guys under the age of 25 still scratching the surface of their potential. However, the duo’s inability to stay healthy has truly limited the Wizards’ rise in the standings. While Wall played 79 games last season, Beal missed 19 games due to injury. In fact, Beal has missed a total of 54 games in his first three seasons in the league. Wall has missed 36 in this time span, although only three games total in the past two campaigns.
Down low the Wizards feature Marcin Gortat and Nene, two physically imposing bruisers that add toughness to the team’s frontcourt. Veteran forward Drew Gooden has also developed a niche role in the team’s frontcourt as he winds down a long career.
This is a big season for the Wizards because their success could dictate which free agents give them strong consideration next summer. The team has $81 million in guaranteed contracts on the books this season, but only $33 million for the following campaign and hometown product (and former league MVP) Kevin Durant will be hitting free agency.
Beal is up for a contract extension so the team will have the next two months to decide whether they will offer him a maximum contract. Nene, owed $13 million, is in the final season of his current deal. Anderson and Dudley will be unrestricted free agents next summer and factoring in Gooden (non-guaranteed) account for roughly $12 million that will roll off the books.
The Wizards should be one of the teams in the mix to battle it out with the Cavaliers for Eastern Conference supremacy. But if Porter isn’t ready for a larger role and the backcourt duo of Beal and Wall can’t stay healthy, the team could be heading for another sub 50 win campaign filled with plenty of what-ifs.
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