Over the past week, the Wizards community saw footage of the players coming back to practice in the team’s facilities and multitudes of interviews on the Wizards website following the news of the proposed CBA agreement.
With the full (shortened) schedule released today, now is the perfect time to gauge the state of affairs for the Wizards.
Entering his third season, Flip Saunders will need a lot to go right to push the Wizards over the playoff hump that has befuddled this franchise since their lone championship as the Washington Bullets in 1978.
Despite the Wizards finishing last in the Southeast Division for the past three years, coach Flip Saunders sounded optimistic in his press conference and exclusive interview with WashingtonWizards.com, saying, "It's gonna be a process, but we have to short-circuit that process to put ourselves in a position that'll lead to a playoff spot."
For the first time in his tenure here in DC, Saunders will finally have continuity on the roster after the rebuild was kick-started last year with the trading of Gilbert Arenas.
Boasting one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Wizards will have the fresh legs to battle through the shortened, fast-paced season and hopefully make enough strides to reach the playoffs.
Ultimately, the hope for the Wizards’ playoff dreams starts at the top with the head coach. Many have criticized Saunders over the last few years for being a veteran’s coach and not having the ability to work with the younger guys. However, he helped mold Nick Young into one of the most improved players last season and has shown patience in helping other players on the roster improve individually as well.
While I ultimately believe that roster upgrades will be essential for the team to ever truly compete in the Eastern Conference, there are a few things that Flip can instill in the team now that will end up improving the unit as a whole in the future.
Defense wins championships. This cliché mantra that is uttered throughout the sports media each season will be key for the Wizards, who have dwelled at the bottom of the league defensively for the past few years. Saunders highlighted this deficiency in his interview as one of the main things that he will be trying to work on this season.
If the Wizards can become a complete defensive unit, they will be able to pull out more of the 15 games that were decided in the last three minutes last season. Also, by playing better defense they will be able to create more missed shots that lead to the transition points that suit the athleticism featured across the roster.
Learning to slow down the tempo and run a traditional half-court offense is another trait that separates the contenders from teams like the Wizards. Saunders mentioned moving away from flashy plays to the “meat and potatoes” style of offense that championship-caliber teams employ.
For next season, Wizards fans should expect the team to compete hard each night on both ends of the floor regardless of the final score. While the playoffs seems like a stretch, if the team plays with the same passion that they did in the final few weeks of last season, anything is possible with such a small margin of error created by having only 66 games.
Unfortunately, while Saunders says all the right things in theory, Wizards fans have experienced enough to know that all the talk means nothing if the production on the court is not there.
Flip has the gift of patience from new owner Ted Leonsis, who has specified that this rebuild is not a hasty one. For fans, however, patience is not as easy to come by and Saunders will have his hands full trying to earn back the trust of spurned fans fed up with the circus that was the lockout and the lack of a winning team in recent history.