Things have been so bad for the Washington Wizards over the course of the past four seasons that it'd be hard to blame them if they resorted to soliciting help from the most legendary wizard of them all, Merlin.
But are the days of being a doormat in the Eastern Conference behind them?
While it's still a bit premature to answer yes, the Wizards have won six of their last 10. With point guard John Wall building up to full strength after returning from injury and Bradley Beal posting some of the best scoring numbers among rookies, the outlook for the Wizards isn't as bleak as one might think.
However, in order for them to take that next step they must continue to evaluate their young talent and keep their solid core of veteran players together.
Most of the pieces are in place, there are just a few tweaks that need to be made.
Evaluating Young Talent
Randy Wittman hasn't done a poor job with this Wizards team. In fact, to his credit, he's done a lot of things well. One example of that is getting a young team to buy into the notion of defense. That alone is nothing short of miraculous.
But there are areas where Wittman has come up short in terms of how he coaches this team. One of those areas is getting younger players more minutes so that they can be properly evaluated.
With the playoffs being a massive pipe dream at this point in the season, Wittman must give role players like Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Trevor Booker consistent minutes.
This is especially true in the case of Vesely.
Washington used its No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft on the 22-year-old Czech but have not given him ample time on the floor. It's crucial that Wittman plays him more down the stretch in order to get a better understanding of what he can provide.
Whether or not it was the right choice, the Wizards front office picked Vesely. It's imperative that they give him more than 12.3 minutes per game down the stretch.
Now is the time to be playing young talent on a routine basis. There's no reason why the aforementioned players should be receiving a DNP in the nightly box score at this juncture.
Tightening up the Rotation
Having a lot of depth is great to a certain extent. However, there can be such a thing as too much.
The Wizards currently have eight players who have played in more than 20 games while logging more than 20 minutes per night. Only one of those players—Bradley Beal—is averaging more than 30 minutes.
As next season approaches, Wittman needs to tighten his rotation. Chemistry is formed through consistency, and right now the Wizards have too many guys playing too many minutes.
In addition, consistency can help you find the best slot for certain players.
For example, Kevin Seraphin has started seven games this season as opposed to coming off the bench in 47 games. In those seven starts, his numbers are significantly better.
Does this automatically mean emphasis should be placed on getting Seraphin into the starting lineup? Absolutely not; it's a relatively small sample size. However, splits are a valuable tool. Where one player might excel, another may not.
He's done well so far, but Wittman's next job should be finding the absolute ideal spots for each of his players so that their production is optimized.
Making Smart Decisions in the Draft
With John Wall and Bradley Beal being two of the Wizards' picks over the past several seasons, it's fair to say that they've done well in the draft.
This year, they must continue that trend by drafting smart.
And while Martell Webster has played well this season and Trevor Ariza is no slouch, neither is a great building block for the future.
Which is why, with a talented young backcourt and veteran frontcourt, the Wizards must select a small forward in the 2013 NBA draft.
However, with the jury still out on Vesely, Washington has no choice but to take one of the two best small forwards available—assuming they both declare early—in either UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad or Georgetown's Otto Porter.
Muhammad might be the sexy pick, but Porter seems to fit the mold of Wittman's vision better.
At 6'8" with excellent length, Porter isn't afraid to play defense. Add that to the great strides he's made this season on the offensive end and convenient fact that he knows the local landscape, and the Wizards have a great prospect.
The John Wall Effect and its Relation to the Future
In the 24 games Wall has played in this season, the Wizards are 13-11.
While not a spectacular record, it's a winning one and proof that Wall makes a major difference when he's on the court.
There are the detractors who will say Wall isn't a star point guard. They'll cite his career-worst 13.7 points per game, lousy 40.3 percent field-goal percentage or decision-making ability as reasons why he isn't the right guy moving forward.
Some of those might be true—though let's not forget he was hurt early this season—but there's one thing that is certain: John Wall makes the Wizards much better.
As he builds back to full strength, works on his weaknesses and continues to build chemistry with teammates like Beal and Nene, things will continue to improve.
With talented youth around him and enough of a veteran presence, the tools are at Wall's disposal. It's up to him to make the most of what the Wizards have and will continue to provide him with.
With the support and confidence of Wizards fans, there's no reason why Wall cannot be one of the league's best point guards and the leader of a future playoff squad.