If these playoffs have taught us anything, it is that desolate franchises can turn things around quickly. Entering the 2010-11 season, the Chicago Bulls had won only one playoff series since Michael Jordan's retirement. They then went on to have the best regular season in the NBA. Three seasons ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder were nearly extinguished. Instead, the franchise was moved from Seattle to Oklahoma.
Both the Bulls and Thunder made it to their respective conference finals, and they are poised for a long and successful future. But how did they do it?
The Washington Wizards have already made the first and most important step, drafting a budding superstar in young point guard John Wall. He represents the franchise's hope in the same way that both Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant do for their teams. Now the key is to fill the rest of the roster with talent that meshes with Wall's game.
One way to do it is through the draft, as the Thunder have already proved. Four of their five best players are 22 or younger, and were drafted and developed by OKC. The elder statesmen at 26 is Kendrick Perkins, and he was brought in via trade. It takes a lot of talent and even more luck to get a Durant and a Russell Westbrook in successive drafts, to have a raw 19-year-old from Congo develop like Serge Ibaka, and to find a young player willing to do all the little things like James Harden.
But Washington could also right the ship by following the Bulls' blueprint. Chicago found a great role player late in the draft in Taj Gibson. They kept some of the established talent in Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, meshing them with a crop of veteran free agents in Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Keith Bogans, and Kyle Korver.
How many wins will the Wizards have next season?
The only player in this year's draft who could fill a need position for the Wizards and be a force is Derrick Williams. Washington may want to consider packaging their two picks—the sixth and 18th—to the Timberwolves for the second pick to select the University of Arizona small forward. If not, they should pick Kawhi Leonard out of SDSU. He's an explosive athlete, and he could be ramming down lobs from Wall for the next decade.
The Wizards got a steal in last season's Kirk Hinrich trade, receiving Jordan Crawford in the deal. After receiving little playing time in Atlanta, Crawford immediately impressed in Washington, averaging 16 points, four assists and three rebounds.
Most importantly, he allowed the team to send Nick Young back to the bench. Young is a selfish gunner who averaged one assist per game in 30 minutes of play last season. That kind of player cannot be fun to play with, and his presence should be removed from the roster.
The Wizards are also set at center, where Javale McGee made huge strides last season, utilizing his Team USA experience to make him a better all-around player. Crawford and McGee are only 22 and 23 years old respective, and they should be kept for the long haul.
Andre Blatche, on the other hand, should be traded. He is a premier athlete, has the prototypical build for a power forward, and is a skilled big man. However, he is not engaged game-to-game, is a bad influence on his young teammates, and is not a winner. He can, however, actually play, so the Wizards could get great value for him. Remember, Washington got a heck of a player in Caron Butler for Kwame Brown, who by then had already established himself as a bust.
David West would be a great fit at power forward. However, he is coming of an ACL tear and should only be acquired if he can be signed at a bargain price. Now that they have finally gotten rid of Gilbert Arenas' contract, Washington should be able to fill the roster with veteran winners to play around their young point guard.
It won't be easy to turn the franchise around. With the right moves, and a little bit of luck, it can be done. Now is the time to do it.