By electing to keep intact a roster that won only 29 games a year ago, the Washington Wizards and GM Ernie Grunfeld altered their offseason strategy over the past three seasons in 2013.
In doing so, Washington has not only changed its priorities but managed to change the expectations of fans as well.
The draft day trade, which came following a 20-46 2011-12 season and an equally poor 23-win 2010-11 campaign, was a glimmer of optimism for a downtrodden franchise.
A number of unfortunate injuries, bad contracts and off-court incidents created turmoil in Washington. Entrenched in a lengthening postseason drought towards the end of the Gilbert Arenas-era, management continued to believe in its current team’s ability to return to prominence.
Particularly before Arenas was traded for Rashard Lewis in 2010, Grunfeld targeted big names to pair with his one-time star guard. Caron Butler was one of these additions, along with Antawn Jamison and Larry Hughes.
When one considers that Arenas was brought in through free agency himself, it becomes clear the Wizards' best teams of the early 2000s were built through free agency and not the draft.
An era that began with tremendous promise and four-straight playoff appearances from 2004-2008, soon became a point of frustration for fans in the nation’s capital.
The frustration came not only because Arenas struggled with his play and injuries, but because win-loss records became heavily skewed towards the loss side.
With this came high draft picks and a constant reshuffling of the roster that after the disappointing 2010-11 saw Arenas, Mike Bibby, Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard, Hilton Armstrong, Yi Jianlian and Al Thornton—all of whom could have been solid contributors to the lineup—be released or sent elsewhere. A bitter Rashard Lewis became the focal point of the struggling franchise.
Even in the midst of signing veteran stretch-4 Al Harrington, the Wizards have done away with these old ways in the 2013 offseason.
It seemed the Wizards would be stuck picking in the lottery forever at one point, yet they appear to finally have the makings of a playoff team again.
And they did it, like the greatest Bullets teams in franchise history, through the draft.
Not since the late 1960s when the then-Baltimore Bullets selected Wes Unseld and Earl Monroe with back-to-back No. 2 overall picks has the franchise used the draft to address its immediate needs so effectively.
With John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter providing this excitement as the team’s three most recent lottery selections, as well as the re-signing of Martell Webster, the Wizards have created quite a buzz about 2013-14.
Despite this hype, there are still holes on the Wizards roster. Whether they can answer these with their current crop of players or not remains to be seen.
Will Harrington Shore Up Frontcourt Depth?
One of the lingering concerns remains who plays behind or in relief of Nene and Okafor.
While the current roster suggests former first-round picks Jan Vesely or Chris Singleton could see the floor, such is not the best-case scenario for Washington.
Both carry a heavy bust label with them. Al Harrington, however, has proved a solid scoring option throughout his career.
According to Michael Lee of The Washington Post, the Wizards are close to inking Harrington.
The 33-year-old is ecstatic and has been reportedly making guarantees for his soon-to-be franchise.
Get ready Washington, soon-to-be Wizard Al Harrington says the team is "definitely going to make the playoffs." http://t.co/4pGYpMvqJ9— Post Sports (@PostSports) August 13, 2013
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Dan Favale believes Harrington can make an immediate impact. Though he played in only 10 games a year ago for the Magic, Harrington has long been an effective and fearless scorer.
Says Favale of the 15-year veteran:
He's one of only six active players to be averaging at least 13 points and five rebounds while shooting 44.5 percent or better and 35 percent or better from the field and three-point line, respectively, for their career. The other five include Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Rashard Lewis.
Hopefully he can be better than Lewis, as he also came to Washington via Orlando, and another option at the 4- and 5-positions could be a huge boost for D.C.
Nene and Okafor remain great options at forward and center, respectively, but how durable will they be as they add another year of mileage? Both have played over nine seasons and Nene even considered retirement, according to Matt Moore of CBS Sports, after a foot ailment bothered him into the 2013 offseason.
Preserving their health is crucial to Washington’s defensive effort and points in the paint. Nene remains the team’s best option for low-post scoring whether Harrington is signed or not. Harrington is more of a three-point shooting forward, as made clear by Favale’s metric.
Three-Point Shooting and a Backup Shooting Guard
Speaking of three-point shooting, the Wizards may have some opportunities to improve in this area as well.
Though Beal and Webster are quality three-point shooters, the Wizards lack depth at the shooting guard position and could use a player with similar skills from beyond the arc.
Trevor Ariza should see action at the 2 as well, despite being more suited for the small forward position. Ariza will without a doubt see a lot of time as both a defensive specialist and primary bench player, with the potential to be the team’s sixth man.
Garrett Temple was also re-signed, further proving this emphasis the Wizards held on continuity this offseason. While Temple is an effective player, acquiring a quality shooting guard via trade could be an option for the Wizards should Beal continue to have issues with his lingering lower leg injury or need some rest from time to time.
Second-round pick Glen Rice Jr. could be the one to provide this relief. Though he has some big league experience and was the Finals MVP for the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers a year ago, he may still lack the talent and experience to be a major part of an NBA rotation.
Emergence of One Big Man
Other than these two holes, the only addition Washington needs to make does not even involve a transaction.
A decent-to-strong season from any of the former first-round forwards on their roster (Vesely, Singleton, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin) would bring such a boost to the team, they would be serious contenders in the Eastern Conference.
It has been a long road for each of them, and head coach Randy Wittman has become critical of these high draft picks, according to a May 13 article by Michael Lee regarding these young players' confidence levels.
What is most difficult for each of these players is that their similar deficiencies make it hard for Coach Wittman to give any one of them significant minutes. Due to this, each of them is uselessly stored on the bench while the more effective rotation of Wall-Beal-Webster-Nene-Okafor-Porter-Ariza-Eric Maynor and now possibly Harrington takes up all the minutes.
If one of these duds can emerge and make a nine-man rotation into a 10 man, the Wizards will be a top-tier team in the 2013-14 Eastern Conference.