The Washington Wizards haven't made the playoffs since the 2007-08 season when Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison were the leading scorers on the squad.
As Aaron Lewis might croon out with his gravelly voice, it's been awhile.
However, John Wall and the rest of this improving roster are looking to change that in 2013-14, hoping to parlay a strong second half of the 2012-13 campaign and a correspondingly solid offseason into a postseason berth.
To do so, they'll have to follow four main keys.
The biggest key is one that may ultimately be out of the Wizards' control. They have to stay healthy and keep their star players out on the court.
Injuries can derail even the most promising of seasons.
Just ask the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were expected to compete for a playoff spot in 2012-13 before Kevin Love was knocked out of action multiple times. Between the rebounding machine going down and the injuries to Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Andrei Kirilenko and just about everyone else, the season was a massive disappointment.
A true championship contender can compete for a playoff spot even in the wake of a major injury, but not one that's expected to be fighting for one of the lower seeds. The Wizards fall squarely into the latter category, and they don't exactly have playoff-caliber depth.
Washington's second unit is expected to consist of Eric Maynor, Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin. While a solid line of backups, those aren't the guys you want in the trenches when you're making a playoff push.
They're backups for a reason.
Last year, Wall played in only 49 games, sparking the team to a 24-25 record when he was on the court. Bradley Beal sat out at the end of the year, taking part in just 56 games during his rookie season.
The frontcourt wasn't much better.
Otto Porter didn't play even a single contest in 2012-13 for his NBA team. Oh, that was because he was in college? Never mind then...
But the sentiment does apply to Nene Hilario (61 games) and Emeka Okafor (team-high 79 games).
Health may ultimately be out of the team's control, but they have to do everything possible to stay on the court throughout the regular season.
Don't Hesitate Bringing Otto Porter Along
When people find a cold swimming pool on a hot summer day, they typically take one of two approaches.
Some dip a toe into the water, testing the temperature. After they've taken their time, they ease their way in down the steps, slowly acclimating to the cold. Certain steps can take longer than others (guys, you know what I'm talking about), and the entire process often lasts for minutes.
That can't be what the Wizards do with their first-round draft pick out of Georgetown. Instead, they need to jump right in. Whether they do so with a cannonball or a dive is their own prerogative, but they can't test the waters first.
Despite what his summer league performance may have looked like—out of respect for Wizards fans I won't show you the putrid numbers again—Porter is ready for the NBA and prepared to make a big impact in the exact areas Washington could use some help.
First is his defense.
Porter was a great defender at Georgetown thanks to his length and versatility. Though he doesn't have tremendous athletic tools, he could guard perimeter players with his impressive instincts and contest any shot with those long, lanky arms. He could also use his excess size to bang around down in the post.
The Wizards need Porter to take some of the pressure off Okafor and Nene, as they were charged with protecting the rim far too often in 2012-13. Until they can stop keeping their heads on swivels, their defensive impacts will be partially negated.
Offensively, Washington was pulling a Bono, as they still hadn't found what they were looking for.
But Porter is enough to ease the mind of both Washington and the U2 lead singer.
Versatility is the name of the game again, and it stems from his proclivity for knocking down jumpers from all areas of the court. From behind the three-point arc, the former Hoya will offer a lot of help to a team that struggled hitting triples in 2012-13, but his mid-range game will be even more beneficial.
While Webster was an efficient mid-range shooter, he avoided the area like a plague. He shot 39.4 percent from 16 to 23 feet and 48.6 percent from 10 to 16 feet, but he only took 94 and 35 attempts from the respective areas, as shown by Basketball-Reference's shot chart.
Webster's three-point shooting was incredibly valuable, but the Wizards were more limited when he was on the court. All he could do was finish at the rim or spot up from behind the arc, and it was incredibly rare to see him set any screens for his point guards.
Porter changes this, and he'll give Wall yet another kick-out option during his inevitable assaults on the rim. If you watch the first play in the video below, you'll see a great example of both Porter's confidence shooting mid-range jumpers (even out of the post) and his unorthodox form.
The Georgetown product brings a whole new dimension to the Washington offense, and it's one that is sorely needed. Without a jump-shooting point guard, it's especially important for the wing players to be potent shooters from all areas on the court.
Beal meets the criteria, but Webster is too much of a specialist. He's a crucial part off the bench, but Porter has to be a major player in 2013-14.
Truly Become "John Wall's Washington Wizards"
It's not much of a secret that the Wizards were a markedly different team with John Wall on the court. They went just 5-28 without the dynamic point guard but were 24-25 when he was in the lineup. That's a monumental difference, and that second record would be good enough to make the postseason had it been prorated to 82 games.
The biggest difference came on offense, as you can see from the chart below. It shows the points scored and allowed per 100 possessions with Wall on and off the court, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
And because one chart is never enough, take a look at this one as well.
This one displays how many points per 100 possessions the Wizards scored with each member of their 2012-13 roster on the court. Notice who stands out as the No. 1 offensive player?
That would be Wall.
Nene, Jason Collins and Jan Vesely all come close, but the latter two are products of small sample size and shouldn't be considered particularly indicative.
When Wall is on the court, he's in complete control of the game. He dominates the ball, and it's virtually impossible to stay in front of him on any given possession. Even without a threatening jumper, he's able to blow by defenders and penetrate into the heart of the defense.
But the most impressive part of Wall's game is his knack for finding open teammates. When the Kentucky product is on the floor, the concept of ball movement actually exists, and Washington is able to create significantly better looks.
In 2012-13, the Wizards had an effective field-goal percentage of 49.9 when Wall played and just 46 percent when he sat or was injured. Nene and Vesely (again, a fluke) were the only players that boosted the number by more.
Wall just signed a five-year extension for $80 million. The Wizards have put their money where their mouth is, but now it's time to put their trust where their money is.
This may seem like a simple key, but it's an important one.
The Wizards don't need to change anything up in a major way because they're already primed to make the playoffs. They just have to live up to the expectations and allow the new roster additions to mesh with the incumbents.
A 24-25 record with Wall in the lineup prorates to a 40-42 record over the course of the season, a mark that would have been good enough to beat out the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Of course, the landscape in the East has changed rather dramatically. Let's take a look at the playoff locks first:
- Miami Heat: Duh.
- Chicago Bulls: Especially with the return of Derrick Rose, they're poised for greatness once more.
- Brooklyn Nets: The additions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko guarantee a playoff spot.
- Indiana Pacers: Only getting stronger after adding more depth.
- New York Knicks: No questions here, as a strong lineup featuring Carmelo Anthony will always make the postseason.
- Atlanta Hawks: They may have lost Josh Smith, but replacing him with Paul Millsap and some more depth will strengthen the team slightly.
Will the Wizards make the playoffs?
That leaves two postseason spots for the Wizards, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers to fight over. The battle will come down to Washington, Cleveland and Detroit, and it's the Pistons who should be left on the outside, looking in.
While they upgraded the roster rather significantly, there isn't enough floor spacing, (good) jump-shooting or chemistry for them to advance past 82 games in their first season together.
The Wizards just need to play like they belong.