There is a lot of excitement surrounding the Washington Wizards as they prepare for the 2013-14 NBA campaign.
The Wiz look competitive in an Eastern Conference whose bottom three playoff teams (Atlanta, Milwaukee and Boston) all lost their top scorers from a year ago. The remaining 2012-13 playoff teams are relatively set in stone for a return. Miami, Indiana, New York, Brooklyn and Chicago all kept intact the cores that carried them a year ago.
The Nets even managed to attain one of the departed leading point-getters, former Boston legend Paul Pierce. Pierce could be the difference for first-year head coach Jason Kidd while Brooklyn looks to leapfrog the other elite franchises of the East.
With the rich getting richer, particularly in the case of the Nets, the openings at the lower playoff seeds have teams like the Wizards salivating.
Of course, Washington is not alone in its eagerness to end a five-year playoff drought.
Its absence is tied with Toronto for the third-longest in the NBA. Big offseasons by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and Raptors have each team looking to end its own postseason lapses, all of which are at least three years in length.
Above-average talent will arrive in these cities for the start of 2013-14. Free-agent additions of Andrew Bynum in Cleveland and Josh Smith in Detroit should make big impacts, and Rudy Gay’s first full season north of the border may lead to a substantial win differential.
While these moves generated a lot of hype and optimism for their respective fanbases, the Wizards put their faith in a different approach.
According to a recent ESPN article projecting this upcoming season’s Eastern Conference, two unbiased NBA writers, Dan Feldman of PistonPowered and Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball, believe the Wizards' plan should work out just fine.
The Hawks and Charlotte Bobcats will join these drought-suffering squads in their quest for the playoffs, but expect the openings to dwindle as the Wizards show the NBA exactly what building through the draft can do for a franchise.
Patience Is a Virtue
The aforementioned playoff drought has lasted since 2008, meaning Wizards fans have had little to cheer about since the Gilbert Arenas era.
As Bleacher Report featured columnist Jonathan Munshaw mentioned in a recent article, the Arenas era ended in “disaster” and the Rashard Lewis-led plan that followed was not much better.
So NBA fans in the nation’s capital have been a gloomy bunch of late.
In multiple, somewhat desperate attempts to find joy, they have encouraged team owner Ted Leonsis to discuss changing the franchise nickname back to the Bullets. Despite obvious reasons why any ownership team would be against such a move, things have been bad enough that Leonsis continues to address this matter, according to John Ourand of Sports Business Daily.
2013-14 is the year they put this all behind them.
And throw it down with authority! Jeez, John Wall is cool.
Recent drafts have yielded them the above All-Star-caliber point guard, a versatile 2 with range, Otto Porter, and a potential scorer off the bench in Glen Rice Jr.
Furthermore, a predraft trade in June of 2012 added another starter in Emeka Okafor and a defensive stalwart and veteran presence Trevor Ariza.
Ariza should be behind Martell Webster on the depth chart for a second straight year, but he remains a contributing player coming off the bench for Washington.
Ultimately, this is the deepest team Washington has fielded in recent memory.
Beyond the lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Webster, Nene and Okafor, the Wizards have four capable players who can handle significant minutes for the club. Porter, Ariza, Eric Maynor and Kevin Seraphin all have the potential to score in double figures on a given night.
Add in the likelihood of one of the trio of underperforming bigs in Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Trevor Booker panning out in a last-chance-or-consider-retirement year, and the Wizards have a solid 10-man rotation.
There’s only one thing that could stand in their way.
Wall Must Avoid the ‘Andrew Bynum’ Look
Though Andrew Bynum could be an asset for the Cleveland Cavaliers, his name, play and brand have become more synonymous with injuries and time spent in a suit than dominant post play.
Though no one ever wishes injuries upon a player, particularly one like Bynum who has experienced such difficult struggles, the Wizards and the rest of the NBA would probably prefer he be on the sidelines rather than on the floor. If he plays anywhere near 82 games, the Cavaliers will make the playoffs and finish as one of the top four teams in the East.
If he cannot, however, the Cavaliers will struggle and end up somewhere in the hunt for the No. 7 or 8 seed in the conference.
The Washington Wizards are all too familiar with this tale of injuries determining wins.
As Bleacher Report contributor Jared Johnson pointed out in a recent article, the Wizards went 4-28 a year ago while John Wall was sidelined with a leg injury. They recovered to escape the basement of the Eastern Conference, but in the end it did not matter; the damage was already done.
Wall has yet to play a full 82-game season in his three-year career. Despite his All-Star numbers, the guard has failed in the field of long-term production.
Should he go down again with a serious injury, I will be the first to recommend to this bunch of Wizards use the always-effective Harry Potter spell, Brackium Emendo, that can heal bones or other injuries at a rapid pace.
Despite these health issues, Wall remains good enough for rumors of a long-term contract extension to be surfacing.
Should another incident occur, the spell may be the club’s only option. Another year of futility and conspiracy theories, such as a curse of Gilbert Arenas or that the team will never succeed until the Bullets nickname is brought back, will begin to mount.
In the end, futility will bring a lot of attention towards team president Ernie Grunfeld’s job, and deservedly so. Grunfeld is the man responsible for the majority of the franchise’s decisions.
An injury to John Wall could inflict more pain on Grunfeld than the former Kentucky standout himself.
One of the Busts Must Shake Their Label
If the Wizards can remain healthy, they will be a team with few question marks. After all, health is perhaps the most important factor in any playoff run.
Yet regardless of how their season ends, the Wizards will be faced with some decisions to make involving their two first-round picks of 2011, Vesely and Singleton.
Both have put in their best effort during summer league games, as Steve Aschburner discusses in an NBA.com blog. Nevertheless, they remain the primary overseers of head coach Randy Wittman’s doghouse.
With lucrative contracts to both of their names, one needs to emerge to fully erase the era of futility that has existed since 2008, and since they were drafted in 2011 as well. They each remain a black mark on the franchise’s otherwise admirable turnaround.
Either player performing to his capabilities would lift the weight of failure and allow Washington to move into the mix of the East’s elite teams. The Wizards' starting 4 and 5 are both above the age of 30.
Rather than battling out the Pistons and Cavaliers for the last few spots in the playoffs in 2013 and beyond, the Wizards could use strong play from either of these two to advance to the next level.
The hype surrounding this Wizards team is justified.
For all the talent and athleticism that other emerging Eastern teams have, the Wizards have continuity—an underrated asset. Outside of Porter, every player that should see significant time in 2013-14 has a full year of experience playing in the John Wall-led attack.
Wall maximized the talents of Beal, Nene and especially Webster. He should do the same for Otto Porter and the rest of the lineup if he can turn in the first 82-game season of his career.
Their playoff seed will come down to how they perform against the drought-suffering squads (Toronto, Detroit and Cleveland) as well as division foe Atlanta. The only one of these four teams likely to give the Wizards fits are the Pistons, as their bigs, though unlikely to have strong chemistry from the start, should overpower Washington’s older frontcourt.
So long as the Wiz stay healthy, they should not have an issue running the floor with anyone.
And to the management team of Leonsis, Wittman and Grunfeld: Keep in mind that nifty spell; it could be the difference between a first-round exit and a meaningful series with the Miami Heat at some point in the postseason.
Win-Loss: 44-38, No. 6 in the East