COMMENTARY: Wizards' Future Looks Bright
Charles E. Sutton | 5/19/2014, 11:53 a.m.
Young team on the rise or middling overachiever that caught a few lucky breaks?
That's the identity crisis facing the Washington Wizards after a surprising playoff run finally ended with a second-round ouster at the hands of the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. There's truth in both of the above characterizations, but to keep trending toward the former, they can't stand pat.
The good news is that they have the framework in place to build a championship-caliber squad. Despite losing to the Pacers, the Wizards were a very tough out and showed the basketball world that they can compete at the highest level. Had a few bounces here and there went their way, they'd likely be playing the Miami Heat this week instead of Indiana.
And there's much reason for optimism regarding the future. They have one of the best young backcourts in the league with John Wall and Bradley Beal, plus a nice mix of vets up front (Nene, Marcin Gortat, etc.) The team has really good chemistry and responds well to head coach Randy Wittman. The nucleus for success is in place.
Now the bad news: The Wizards have been in this position before, with less than desirable results. When the Webber/Howard-led squad were knocked off in the first round of the 1996 playoffs by Jordan's 69-win Bulls, it looked like they'd be a force for years. Turns out, it was the end of the Bullets — literally.
And of course, there was the Arenas/Jamison/Butler triumvirate, which was constantly stifled by LeBron James and finished off by injuries and jail time(?!).
The Wizards are a good, young team that simply didn't have the playoff experience to make it to the conference finals. They may have been the underdog in the first round against the Chicago Bulls and Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, but no one expected the scrappy Bulls to do much without its superstar point guard Derrick Rose. But give the Wizards credit for making short work of an inferior team and then giving the Pacers all they could handle.
In order to continue to get better, however, the Wizards must strengthen their bench. They have decent bench players in Trevor Booker, Martell Webster, Andre Miller and Drew Gooden. But there is no reason to believe that this franchise can improve with its current depth. It is imperative that Washington acquire backup players that can have a greater impact on the game.
Doing so via trade is the least likely option because it would probably involve getting rid of one of their core players. The more likely scenario involves drafting a rookie or signing a free agent.
If it were my decision, I'd do all I could to sign Rudy Gay and say so long to Trevor Ariza. I would then focus on three possible signings: Rodney Stuckey, Josh McRoberts and Greg Monroe.
Stuckey is a solid seven-year veteran who will provide scoring and quality defense. Over the past couple of seasons, his productivity hasn't improved dramatically, but he understands the game and could flourish in a new environment. McRoberts is an active big man who can score inside as well as on the perimeter. He is a versatile defender who can guard either the 4 or 5 positions, often beats opposing bigs to 50-50 balls and can also slide into the starting lineup in a pinch. Monroe, who played his college hoops at Georgetown, has become one of the best centers in the league. He averages 14.7 points per game and 8.8 rebounds. His southpaw style makes him difficult to defend and his overall length enables him to alter shots in the paint.
Any of these players can be signed without breaking the bank. Each would serve as a great complement to the team's nucleus and give the Wizards a high-quality, balanced roster. If Washington can even manage to sign at least two of them, their team would improve significantly.
All things considered, this season's version of the Wizards did an outstanding job. Under the leadership of Wittman, the team grew by leaps and bounds. Now, it's merely a matter of improving their roster. If they make a few much-needed personnel upgrades, next year's Wizards could challenge for the Eastern Conference title and — dare I say — the NBA championship.