Washington Wizards Seek Balance Between Idealism and Tempered Optimism

Matthew Brown@mlb923Correspondent IJuly 14, 2010

Just about everything has gone right for the Wizards during this whirlwind offseason. They drafted the future of the franchise, point guard John Wall, they made a few trades to free up cap space and fill the roster, and their summer league squad has been fun to watch. While plenty has gone right thus far, none of it points to the Wizards being a playoff team next season.

Make no mistake about itWashington is playing for the future, not the present.

Yes, the Wizards will be an interesting team to watch, the obvious reason being the dynamic backcourt of Wall and Gilbert Arenas. Other reasons include the progression of center JaVale McGee, the true breakout of Andray Blatche, any change in consistency for Nick Young, and the play of the recently added Hilton Armstrong, Yi Jianlian, and Kirk Hinrich.

Those latter names won't be starters, but they should play their own parts in the Wizards' rotation. It is silly to think that the casual fan will care about anything but Wall and Arenas.

Focus aside, the Wizards simply aren't built to win right now. It isn't out of the question for them to reach the playoffs, but only because the East is an upside-down conference where more than the occasional sub-40-win team can sneak into the postseason.

Some experts, however, project much worse than just below 40 wins for the Wizards. The bar has been set in the 25 to 30 range, which sounds about right for this team.

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There have been fans eager to point out other teams that made the playoffs following low preseason expectations. The popular one from last season is the Milwaukee Bucks. They drafted Brandon Jennings, and, poof! Playoffs!

They overlook the drafting of a franchise center in Andrew Bogut a few years prior and the trade deadline move to get John Salmons. And then there was Jennings.

At this point, even considering Wall the future of the franchise is premature. Sure, he has all the tools and the talents to be the next big thing in the NBA, but sometimes things don't pan out for various reasons beyond talent.

As I have said in the past, please temper your expectations for this young and untested team, because chances are, about half of the people who suit up in the fall won't be there come summertime.

And roster turnover isn't necessarily a bad thing when you consider the aforementioned cap space it would clear for Washington.

The Wizards will have roughly $12 million worth of cap space if they do not pick up any of the numerous player options and qualifying offers they'll have next offseason. Disregard that for now and assume they have a nearly full roster, minus one key player and that same $12 million to play with.

Carmelo Anthony is a name floating around for free agency next season, assuming the three-year, $64 million extension offer from the Nuggets doesn't keep him off the market. He won't get the same money, but by then he'll hopefully be alongside one of the best one-two guard combos in the league with a solid big man and an improved Blatche.

I can already smell a real playoff berth. Hey, if some fans can make claims about the Wizards being a 40-plus-win team, I can daydream about Anthony in Washington.

If only things were that simple. The Wizards have plenty of obstacles to overcome before they can even consider thinking about future free agent moves. They need to let Wall flourish, kick Blatche and McGee's development up a notch, and somehow make Arenas' contract work for them and not against them.

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing this team in action come October. Even if it means bearing a few dozen double-digit losses, or exasperation over Blatche's immaturity and Jianlian's softness. Or perhaps Arenas will do something else to capture the spotlight of the mainstream media and overshadow the abysmal, yet entertaining Wizards.

Hopefully, the five-year plan will be in place by then, and fans will at least have the luxury of knowing how long the pain will last.