After what turned out to be a busy offseason for the Washington Wizards—fans were originally just expecting to see the Wizards re-sign basically every free agent they had—it's time to look at the longer plan for this team.
There's an interesting mix of young talent and veterans, and with the Eastern Conference up in the air (barring any Kevin Love trades), almost any team could make a run to the NBA Finals this season.
If the Wizards want to be a part of that conversation beyond just this year, it's important that they take a few more steps toward building their team for the future.
Al Harrington seems to be a lock for the final roster spot in Washington, so with the roster in place, the team's attention now turns to the 2014-15 season and beyond.
Looking past the immediate future of training camp and preseason games, these three things should constantly be on Washington's radar if it wants to be a viable team going forward (and no, this doesn't include Kevin Durant; it's frankly too difficult to say for sure if he's a part of Washington's future plans).
Give Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. more minutes
The most immediate action the Wizards can take come the first game of the season is giving their Summer League standouts more time.
With Martell Webster out with a back injury for at least the first month of the season, the Wizards will have no choice but to give at least Otto Porter Jr. some playing time behind Paul Pierce at small forward. At Pierce's age, he won't be playing nearly as many minutes as Trevor Ariza did last season.
Glen Rice Jr. was named the Summer League's Most Valuable Player, and Porter made the All-NBA Summer League team.
I'm not even going to list off the stats of both players, because I don't believe there's much value there. Both Rice and Porter chucked up as many shots as they wanted to each game and, frankly, should be dominating the Summer League, as they're both second-year players.
But fans and Washington's front office can at least look at the performance of the pair of 2013 draft picks. Rice showed that he's not afraid to drive to the basket and be aggressive at the rim, oftentimes drawing fouls, while Porter showed off his jump shot from all distances on the floor.
Now, the Wizards need to play them in meaningful minutes during the 2014-15 season to find out what exactly they can bring to the table.
Porter was basically ignored in Washington's rotations last season. Here are the minutes per game numbers for the top-10 picks in last year's draft, and see where Porter fits in.
|Minutes and Games for Top 10 2013 Draft Picks|
During the Summer League, assistant coach Sam Cassell (who is now with the Los Angeles Clippers) told Michael Lee of The Washington Post that seeing Porter perform this well gives the coaching staff confidence to play him more minutes.
"It shows what hard work does. It pays off. That’s [Porter]. He can shoot the three-ball, he can shoot the midrange game. He can play the game of basketball."
This season, he needs to get more minutes. If he shows that he can produce in the league, Webster becomes a potential trade piece when he's healthy, and the Wizards have yet another young piece to their team.
If Porter flounders again and Rice's production falls off, then it's just time to move on or send one or both of them to the D-League. But if they're just sitting on the bench, the Wizards will never know one way or another.
Make the Eastern Conference Finals
In this year's Eastern Conference (again, barring a Love trade), this isn't an unreasonable expectation. Making it to the conference finals would energize the fanbase and would just boost the confidence of the team as a whole.
But more than that, it gives John Wall and Bradley Beal more playoff minutes. The Wizards have no chance at winning a title this year given how stacked the West is, so even if they somehow made a run to the NBA Finals, they'd have no chance.
Still, it's important to make a deep playoff run this year for Beal and Wall's sake. If the Wizards want to be a relevant team for the next five years, both Wall and Beal need to improve in the postseason, and the only way that's going to happen is if they get more games under their belt.
Out of all the players who played in at least four playoff games and attempted at least four shots per game, Wall had the third-worst shooting percentage (36.6) and Beal ranked 53rd out of 77 players (42.4), per NBA.com/Stats.
That doesn't mean that Wall and Beal are suddenly going to drop off in the regular season. It just shows that they both need more experience in the playoffs. There were times—especially in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers—when both players would settle for mid-range jumpers and hold on to the ball for far too long.
Even if they don't make the conference finals but still end up playing in 12 or 13 playoff games, it'll make the Wizards a better team in the future.
Albert Lee of Bullets Forever expanded on this, saying that multiple playoff appearances in the coming years will prevent the Wizards from getting trapped on the infamous "treadmill of mediocrity" in the NBA.
So how do the Wizards prevent themselves from being perennially mediocre? Without taking Durant's free agency into account, the young core of Wall, Beal, and Porter need to continue improving. We need to see them lead this team to 50 wins in the regular season, win division titles, and go deep in the playoffs. Hopefully, that is what we end up seeing.
Sign Bradley Beal to an extension
This could potentially be two years in the future, but this needs to be a long-term goal for the Wizards. It's an extreme long shot that the two sides won't work something out, but the sooner an extension gets done, the better.
Beal will at least be under contract through the 2015-16 season, the same time that Nene's $13 million per year contract comes off the books.
By then, Beal needs to have a maximum extension. Using the Basketball-Reference player season finder, let's look at how many players in the shot clock era have averaged, in their second season in the league, at least 17 points, 3.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 40 percent three-point shooting.
|Averaging 17 pts, 3.1 ast., 3.5 reb. and 40 3FG% in second year|
Beal is in very good company and is one of three players to do it at 20 years of age.
It may seem like a no-brainer (because it is), but Beal needs to be locked up for the long term, no questions asked.