Playoffs Or Bust? The Wizards Franchise Optimism Index, Take Three
The Wizards are firmly in the playoff hunt. Their franchise player became an All-Star this year. The team owns victories over the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Can fans finally—finally—be optimistic about the state of Washington’s Wizards?
Don’t be too hasty, caution TAI’s grizzled writers. This franchise can cast a spell on you, before—poof!—it all goes up in smoke.
You can see that wariness reflected in the return of our sort-of-annual Optimism Index. Six TAI writers took a look at the Wizards by using five factors, weighted to reflect the relative importance of those factors to the state of the franchise:
- Current Players (out of 40);
- Future Players via draft picks and free agents/cap space (out of 25);
- Coaching/Player Development (out of 20);
- Ownership/Team Management (out of 10); and
- Arena/Atmosphere/Fan Support/Etc. (a catch-all area rated out of 5).
You’ll see our responses further down in the post. But [spoiler alert!]: in a mild shock, our crew is slightly less optimistic about the Wizards’ fortunes than we were 16 months ago, on the eve of a 29-win season.
And where do you stand on the Wizards, with the second half of the season about to tip? Give us your own rating by voting in the poll following the post.
DAN DIAMOND (@ddiamond): No more knuckleheads in this locker room; just players who knuckle down in the clutch and win the right headlines. The best part: Not only does the core of this team—John Wall, Bradley Beal and Nene—still have room to grow together, they’re under contract for two more years. Score: 24 out of 40.
CONOR DIRKS (@ConorDDirks): Rarely do you go from the lottery to playoff winner, but the Wizards have a chance to do that this season. As you scan beyond the starters, though, you’ll see the “NO DIVING” signs. This is not a complete team. Score: 24 out of 40.
ADAM MCGINNIS (@adammcginnis): Beal and Wall have to give you optimism for the present and future. They’re talented, work hard, and their strengths complement one another. Score: 32 out of 40.
RASHAD MOBLEY (@Rashad20): For once (fingers crossed) I don’t have to factor an injury, or who is coming back, to answer this question. I’m fairly comfortable going to battle with the current starting five, Martell Webster, and whoever wants to occasionally step up among Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, Garrett Temple, and Jan Vesely. But I worry how they will stand up in their first playoff run together. I will decline to speak about Eric Maynor and Otto Porter. Score: 16 out of 40.
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND (@JohnCTownsend): The starters are great. And this edition of the Washington Wizards is the best the NBA has seen in years. However, the bench is downright terrible and the “young talent,” outside of Wall and Beal, is … well, not really that talented. Score: 16 out of 40.
KYLE WEIDIE (@Truth_About_It): The Wizards backcourt should be set through 2019, at least. But the frontcourt? That lies at the intersection of age and uncertainty. Even if Washington does resign Marcin Gortat, he and Nene don’t advertise an enduring future. In other words, the Wizards don’t have a Serge Ibaka on their bench and Seraphin isn’t becoming that guy any time soon. Scratch that: Ever. Score: 24 out of 40.
>> AVERAGE TAI RATING: 22.7 out of 40 – 57% optimism
FUTURE PLAYERS: CAP SPACE & DRAFT PICKS
DAN DIAMOND: Cap space is coming this summer, but marquee free agents probably aren’t. The last big-time player to arrive in D.C. via free agency based his decision on a coin flip. While contract-year Trevor Ariza is a minor marvel, I hope he doesn’t return. But I’m not sure who we’ll get to replace his production. Score: 10 out of 25.
CONOR DIRKS: I am optimistic that the Wizards will re-sign Gortat and hopeful that they will be able to find two to three less-heralded free agents to fill the hookah-smoke-filled void left by a departing Ariza. The draft picks which remain, or will remain, by the time Washington’s number is called and Ernie Grunfeld is done dealin’, are sure to inspire dread more than optimism. Score: 15 out of 25.
ADAM MCGINNIS: Maybe Tomas Satoransky can rescue this category and solve Washington’s backup point guard woes. They could have enough cap room to make a splash for that third star, but I doubt this will be their approach. Score: 10 out of 25.
RASHAD MOBLEY: There’s plenty of cap space next season, but unless Wall and Beal did some recruiting at the All-Star game, I’m still skeptical about top free agents who will actually want to come play in D.C. This year’s draft is allegedly deep, but the Wizards have selected Porter, Vesely, Chris Singleton, and Booker during the past three years and most likely won’t have their first-round pick. That’s not the stuff that optimism and confidence are made of. Score: 5 out of 25.
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND: The Wizards have a bunch of money coming off the books after the season, but the 2014 free agent pool is underwhelming, D.C. is still an unappealing NBA destination, and they’re almost guaranteed to lose their first-round pick. Score: 10 out of 25.
KYLE WEIDIE: Wizards fans should feel great about Wall’s ability to attract or “recruit” free agent talent, but the franchise might rue the day that they selected a “glue guy” in Porter instead of a potential long-time defensive stalwart like Nerlens Noel. Score: 20 out of 25.
>> AVERAGE TAI RATING: 11.7 out of 25 – 47% optimism
DAN DIAMOND: The Wizards have seven recent first-round draft picks on this roster, and five are playing closer to their NBA floors than their ceilings—and fans of the franchise know that’s not a new trend. But there are two signs for real hope: Wall has emerged as a top-flight point guard and Beal is coming along, too. Score: 12 out of 20.
CONOR DIRKS: The team’s biggest star has developed quite nicely, and Beal is on his way. But there are troubling signs outside of the team’s surefire young core: of Booker, Seraphin, Vesely, and Singleton (all recent first-round picks), it’s likely only one will remain on the roster in 2014-2015. They can be better players than they’ve been with the Wizards. Score: 8 out of 20.
ADAM MCGINNIS: Mixed bag as Vesely and Seraphin have shown improvement with their limited opportunities. Injuries are a factor but the 2013 Draft has provided little and Chris Singleton barely exists. Score: 12 out of 20.
RASHAD MOBLEY: In the NFL, Tony Dungy was good enough to get Tampa Bay to the NFC Championship game, but it took Jon Gruden to come in and take them to the Super Bowl. Coach Wittman has this team playing hard and realizing their potential, but youth isn’t the only reason this team is hovering around .500. A more seasoned, polished coach is needed to get this team to the promised land. (The second round of the playoffs.) Score: 4 out of 20.
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND: Is it even possible to be optimistic about coaching and player development without changes to both staffs? Randy Wittman runs one of the least-efficient offenses in the Association, and if first-round draft picks Vesely, Seraphin and Singleton have improved since they signed their first NBA contracts, I’m not sure anyone has noticed. Score: 8 out of 20.
KYLE WEIDIE: I still like Randy Wittman for this team, but evaluating his ability to keep the Wizards motivated over the last 30 regular season games will be interesting. Plus, what if players like Wall and Nene once again endorse Wittman when his contract is up this summer? In terms of player development, Wall has come along nicely under this coaching staff, but you can’t grade the overall picture higher than a ‘C.’ Score: 12 out of 20.
>> AVERAGE TAI RATING: 9.3 out of 20 — 47% optimism
DAN DIAMOND: Meh. No one is better at building a 43-win team, I guess. Score: 4 out of 10.
CONOR DIRKS: Applicants for the position of team president will note owner Ted Leonsis’ unnecessary loyalty, which may make taking over for Ernie Grunfeld at the end of this season a dream worth pursuing. Grunfeld has made some good moves over the years, but they have often come as a means of cleaning up a mess he himself has made. Eric Maynor as a replacement for A.J. Price as a replacement for Shelvin Mack (who is now one of the better backups in the NBA) is a train that gets uglier, and more expensive, as it chugs along. Score: 4 out of 10.
ADAM MCGINNIS: This is Year 4 of the rebuild, and the team’s goal of making the playoffs is likely to be reached. However, you can’t overlook the context of being a .500 team with a $70-plus million payroll in a historically awful conference. Al Harrington, Maynor, and the 2013 NBA draft have been failures and the front office is to blame. Score: 2 out of 10.
RASHAD MOBLEY: Leonsis wanted cap space and a playoff berth, and it appears he’ll go 2-for-2 two by season’s end. But yet another carte blanche situation for Ernie Grunfeld in 2014-2015? I’m not even cautiously optimistic about that right now. Score: 4 out of 10.
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND: If the Wizards did have depth or versatility, two things Grunfeld has always advertised, they would not have panicked and traded for Gortat, nor would they be phoning every franchise in the league to find a back-up to Wall. Leonsis has never fired a GM, in any league, but he could let Grunfeld (and Wittman) walk at the end of the season. He should … I’m just not sure he will. Score: 4 out of 10.
KYLE WEIDIE: I still think Leonsis gets it and his plan, although often pivoting with tweaks, does seem sound. But he can’t ride the train of savvy Grunfeld mediocrity forever, leaving one to wonder that if not now (after this season when Grunfeld’s contract is up), when is a good time to get a more innovative and forward-thinking head of basketball operations? Score: 6 out of 10.
>> AVERAGE TAI RATING: 4 out of 10 — 40% optimism
DAN DIAMOND: The core fanbase isn’t sleeping on this team, but the rest of the city still slumbers. The Wizards fill less than 83 percent of their seats at home, good for just 23rd in the league. Score: 3 out of 5.
CONOR DIRKS: D.C. goes as the nation goes, and the nation has not been more excited about the Wizards since Gilbert Arenas graced a video game cover. Wall’s All-Star appearance and performance will further cross-promote the Wizards brand. The Verizon Center atmosphere is improving, but still doesn’t get fully behind the team until they are winning in the fourth quarter. Score: 3 out of 5.
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND: The Verizon Center is a fun place to watch a game, and can be an intimidating arena for visiting teams, when it’s not half empty (or worse, empathy). The Wizards are still D.C.’s forgotten franchise (check the TVs in any bar during game days). When they finally learn how to win, everything will change for the better, but this is something Wizards watchers have been saying for half a decade. Also, I really hate G-Man’s drum. Score: 1 out of 5.
ADAM MCGINNIS: Considering the lackluster home play at times, fans have been great and supportive. The city is extremely proud of John Wall’s individual accomplishments, but they yearn for team success. Many don’t believe it can’t be done under current management. Score: 3 out of 5.
RASHAD MOBLEY: Before the All-Star break, I’d have placed this at a 3, but the All-Star performances of Wall and Beal, combined with the existing excitement surrounding a possible playoff appearance, have ramped up the Wizards-related peripherals for now. Score: 4 out of 5.
KYLE WEIDIE: Fan experience has taken a step back this season, at least the in-game entertainment via poor music selection, sound miscues, and the Mickey Mouse experience of halftime amateur talent shows portion. More fans are showing up and they do seem to be increasingly enjoying the product (i.e., winning), but I can’t give higher than a ‘2’ here, especially as music continues to play during game action. Score: 2 out of 5.
>> AVERAGE TAI RATING: 3 out of 5 — 60% optimism
- Dan Diamond – 53% optimism
- Conor Dirks – 54% optimism
- Adam McGinnis – 59% optimism
- Rashad Mobley – 33% optimism
- John Converse Townsend – 41% optimism
- Kyle Weidie – 64 % optimism
>> AVERAGE: 50.7 out of 100 — 51% optimism