TAI 5-on-5: The Wizards of the Past, Present, and Future | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

TAI 5-on-5: The Wizards of the Past, Present, and Future

Updated: May 20, 2014

The Walls, the Wittmans, and all the free agents in between. How did the Washington Wizards do in 2013-14 and where might they go from here? Five TAI staff members try to answer five burning questions about such in today’s 5-on-5. Leggo…

['Boys, we point toward the future because our damn Ferarri wasn't equipped with rear-view mirrors.' -#WittmanFace]

[‘Boys, we point toward the future because our damn Ferarri wasn’t equipped with rear-view mirrors.’ -#WittmanFace]


1) Grade the season.

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

B-plus. Your grade will be determined by two assignments: regular season and postseason. Regular season grade: B. Postseason grade: A. With slightly more weight assigned to the regular season, due to the 82 games compared to 11 (admittedly more important) games in the postseason, the Wizards campaign before the final act was just OK. Where was the team that beat the Bulls in 5 during the regular season?

That said, John Wall’s performance in the regular season was a fantastic development, and these seesaw Wizards were fun to watch, most of the time.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

A-minus. In a vacuum, the Wizards achieved what they promised their fans: a trip to the playoffs and the continued growth of their two stars. Though the process was disjointed (the quest for .500) and came at the expense of sacrificing the future (the Marcin Gortat and Andre Miller/get rid of Eric Maynor trades), D.C. is now on the radar of the national media and prospective free agents. For a franchise that has labored in obscurity, the sacrifices were worth the innumerable gains.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

B-minus. Yes the Wizards made the playoffs for the first time since 2008. That cannot be denied or easily brushed off. However, during the regular season there were maddening stretches of inconsistency that usually centered around lack of effort, rushed mid-range shots and lapses from the coaching staff. The Wizards eliminated those flaws against Chicago and at certain points during the Indiana series, but ultimately that consistently inconsistent play (along with their youth) played a large hand in their exit from the playoffs. Had those flaws been addressed, or at the very least limited, the Wizards’ seed would have been higher and they may have found themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals. As it stands right now, rectifying the inconsistencies of the players and the head coach has to be high on the offseason to-do list. Coming into this season, fans and bloggers were understandably skeptical about whether this team could meet expectations—and they did just that. That cannot be ignored, but they can do better, but until they do, the grade stays in the B-range.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):

B. And that grade is inflated a full letter by the post-season. Lest anyone forget, Washington was a frustratingly underachieving team in the regular season that lost twice to Charlotte down the stretch and very nearly ended with the seventh seed. The playoff run was impressive and gives hope that the team can finally play with the consistency necessary to make the leap from novelty act to perennial playoff contender.

John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend):

The Wizards, a franchise that has long been aspirationally challenged, went all-in to reach the playoffs in John Wall’s fourth season. They won 44 games (33 against a historically bad Eastern Conference), grew stronger as the winter’s snow melted, and even kicked down the door to the second round of the playoffs. Mission accomplished.

I graded the season a 3.5 stars (out of 5) before Game 5, but I’ll up that score to a rock solid 4. (That’s a B-minus for you gradeschoolers.)


2) It looks like the Wittman will be back. Do you agree with this decision. And if, in fact, Grunfeld has been extended one more season, what do you do with Wittman (per Marc Stein’s report)? Give him one more year? Two?

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

No. Before the playoffs, this wasn’t a difficult choice. Although Wittman should absolutely be credited with changing the culture—with getting the Wizards to play defense (ultimately, losing Okafor didn’t drop them out of the top 10 defensively), and with some of the growth shown by Wall and Beal—I also think that he held this team back. The Wizards blew far too many double-digit leads, lost more overtime games than most teams played (the most in the NBA, at eight), and were one of the worst teams out of timeouts this year. Sure, this may seem like nitpicking a guy who has, to some, “earned” the “right” (how we throw these words around!) to return, but why resign yourself to a pretty good (and I say that with some suspicion) coach when a few more wins, better on-the-fly management, and a better offense could make this team more of a contender?

However, the chances he comes back are probably around 90 percent. So forget I said anything.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

No, this is the chance for the Wizards to step up into the spotlight and their one shot at hiring a “name” coach. Bolstered by their postseason success, you could throw out the name George Karl and not get laughed out of the room. A better coach than Wittman ensures that the club does not undergo the regular season bumps and dips against the dregs of the league. That said, considering Ted Leonsis’ loyalty, there is a 100 percent chance Randy wittman is back at the helm next season.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

I know Frank Vogel made a point to compliment Randy Wittman’s coaching—specifically his ability to make adjustments—at least three times during the Pacers vs. Wizards series, and those accolades were well-deserved. But there are experienced coaches who are calling and/or analyzing games from the sidelines—George Karl, Jeff Van Gundy, Lionel Hollis, and Larry Brown (OK, maybe not). Whether it is done publicly or behind closed doors, the Wizards should do their due diligence and at least listen to what these coaches have to say. Wittman took this team from Flip Saunders and taught them how to play consistent defense and how to play more disciplined. But the jump from where the Wizards are now to being a contender is a little higher, and will require a bit more polish and attention to detail than Wittman has. That being said, Leonsis has a track record of holding on to personnel too long rather than the other way around, so Wittman and his political candidate attire will roam the sidelines again next season.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):

I have a problem with the argument that Wittman has “earned the right” to coach this team two more years. This is not middle school. This is the NBA. Ernie should hire whomever he thinks is the best coach to lead this team even farther next year. If that is Wittman, fine. But don’t hire him just because it seems like the right (and easiest) thing to do. Try interviewing other candidates for once. Listen to what other NBA minds think about the roster and how they would use it.

As for length of contract, I don’t think it matters as long as Ted is willing to eat the second year if things go sour next season.

John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend):

“Management upheaval is the worst thing for a rising organization,” wrote the Washington Post‘s Jason Reid, in defense of Wittman and Grunfeld. But that’s only half true, in the (rare) case that new hires make the team worse—which would be mismanagement. Reid also wrote that keeping Wittman around is “the right move,” going as far as to suggest: “There’s no other sensible conclusion.”

Why? Because he’s a good motivator? (Aren’t most coaches?) Or because he knows how to text message? (Who doesn’t, in 2014?)

The Wizards will bring Witt back, likely without shopping around. The odds are between very likely (greater than 90 percent likelihood) and “a sure thing.”

Two-year extension. Count on it.



3) You must name co-MVPs of the season. Who?

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

If they have to be co-MVPs, then I’m going with Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza. If I had to name one, it would be Wall. Does that make sense? Let me explain. While the Wizards coaching staff has certainly helped Wall along, no two players have been more important in his development than Gortat and Ariza. What Gortat learned from the master of the pick-and-roll, Steve Nash, is now knowledge available to Wall. Washington’s star point guard hasn’t had a proper pick-and-roll partner since he arrived, and that’s crippling for a kid with a tendency to go full speed all the time. Gortat was responsible for much of Wall’s control over the offense this season. Not to mention he is the best Wizards center, by the numbers and by the eye test, since Moses Malone in 1988.

Ariza, on the other hand, was the perfect complement to Wall’s Dr. Jekyll, his breakneck, top-down, middle-fingers up, four-seconds-or-less sprint down the floor. Over the course of the season, Ariza provided Wall with 77 corner 3-pointers. How many times did Wall race to the hoop, collapse the defense, and kick it out to Ariza? Without that safety valve, the play ends up in a turnover or a missed layup. Because Wall, despite what some folks who just tuned in this month may believe, is the straw that stirs the Wizards drink, the fingers that provide kinetic energy for the straw should be recognized.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

Trevor Ariza and Nene. Both players allow a dysfunctional offense to work at its peak. Without Ariza to hit the corner 3 with regularity or Nene to run the offense on the second unit, Wittman’s game plan dissolves into a borderline unwatchable mess.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza. Beal improved his play off the ball, he showed he can legitimately be a backup point, and with a few exceptions, he came up big in crucial moments. And contract year or not, Ariza played his usual stellar defense (he’s the only Wizard who can play both on-the-ball and free safety defense), and he set career-high in 3-point shooting percentage (40%), rebounds per game (6.2) and points per game (14.4).

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):

Lebron and Durant. Just kidding. Wall and Beal. Wall gets the nod first and foremost for playing in every single game. Beal snuck in with his strong playoff showing, especially his new-found ability to run high pick-and-rolls.

John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend):

One half of my made-up pewter MVP trophy goes to John Wall, All-Star, who so far has career averages matched only by Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Chris Paul. Wall suited up for every game, posting career-highs across the board, while leading his team to a 44-win season—and won more playoff games than the Agent Zero era Wizards did in ’04-05.

The other half goes to Marcin Gortat for saving the season … and the rotation from the likes of Kevin Seraphin and other Wiz misfits. Gortat averaged 13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, a team-best plus/minus (+3.6), and posted 37 double-doubles, the most double-doubles by a Wizards player since Antawn Jamison’s 38 in ’08-09.



4) Who do you bring back, Marcin Gortat or Trevor Ariza? And is it at all feasible that both come back?

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

I don’t let the best Wizards center since 1988 go. I sign Gortat up to $13 million per year, but hope the number is more like $11 million per year. Gortat, as mentioned above, is far too important to this team, and there are no other viable options in unrestricted free agency outside of Spencer Hawes. Greg Monroe, ultimately, is a restricted free agent, and has never shown himself to be worthy of the money many say he’ll command. That, sir, sounds like a bad deal waiting to happen. As Grantland’s Zach Lowe noted, in the playoffs, the difference between a “pretty good” player and a replacement-level player is magnified. Gortat is worth the difference in pay.

Trevor Ariza was my favorite Wizard this year. They should not re-sign Trevor Ariza. How did I get here? Otto Porter and Martell Webster are on the roster. Ariza, as good as he was, was in a contract year, and don’t discount that phenomenon. But most importantly, the Wizards need the money Ariza would command to sign two or three players for depth elsewhere, rather than tying up more cash in the small forward position. This team badly needs a backup center and a backup shooting guard. If Andre Miller is released to save money, Washington will also need enough money to bring in another backup point guard and watch him die. It kills me, but it’s the right choice.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

You have to bring back both. Big men come at a premium and Gortat’s general mobility and ability to set screens are invaluable to a fast-paced team like the wizards. Ariza is a entirely different problem in that the Wizards entered the season under the assumption that he would walk. However, Martell Webster was beyond awful on both ends of the floor, and Otto Porter may not be a professional basketball player, so you have to resign Ariza to ensure the team doesn’t take a step back.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

Both Ariza and Gortat have to come back, and, unfortunately, they will have to be overpaid for that to happen. But this isn’t like overpaying Gilbert Arenas who was quirky with unreliable knees. Gortat is not just a valuable front court player who sets screens, plays with attitude, can hit jumpers and get to the rim off spin moves, but he’s also an insurance policy for Nene, who will never again play more than 60 games in a season. And while it is possible that Ariza could have a post-contract regression like Martell Webster, Ariza is a two-way player. And as Chris Webber told us time and time again during the Pacers vs. Wizards series, those are hard to come by. This season alone Bill Simmons, Zach Lowe, Sam Smith, and Bob Ryan all commented on how well the Wizards starting five stacked up against another other NBA team’s starting five. If that is the case, they deserve a right to back intact … even if it hurts financially.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):

Given a choice, Marcin Gortat. Ariza was probably more valuable this season but he is easier to replace. Any legitimate starting center will cost north of $10 million per year—and the Wizards have no other center options on the roster. If Gortat is willing to return at that number, I doubt there will be any better options available.

It is feasible to bring back both Gortat and Ariza, and I suspect that is the front office’s number one priority (remember, this is the same front office that made it a number one priority to overpay Martell Webster last season to keep a 29-win team intact). No complicated salary-talk necessary. The salary cap is projected to increase by $5 million this offseason and continue to increase in successive offseasons with a new TV deal on the horizon. That means bad contracts signed today might not look so bad in the coming years. Washington will have more than enough money to sign both if Ernie passes on Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin’s qualifying offers and buys out Andre Miller. All three of those players could theoretically be replaced with guys making half their salary. However, do you really want Ernie out there trying to piece together a team with veteran minimum contracts and young guys on cheap deals? He does not have the best track record in that regard.

My biggest concern is not the size of Gortat and Ariza’s impending contracts, but their length. I imagine both guys will be seeking four-year deals. I would much rather overpay Ariza on a two-year deal than lock him up for less annually on a four-year deal.

John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend):

Gortat. You can’t just let the team’s co-MVP walk—not when he scores, on average, more than one point per pick-and-roll play. Next-level John Wall needs the Polish Machine next to him.



5) Who do you try to bring back (for cheap), Kevin Seraphin or Trevor Booker or neither?

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

If the Wizards bring back Kevin Seraphin, it should be a fireable offense for Grunfeld. He’s been awful, he doesn’t rebound, he doesn’t draw fouls, he doesn’t leave the bench despite the Wizards’ real need for a backup center who can bang inside. Seraphin is a funny guy, sure, and has some truly endearing quirks. But that’s not worth $3 million per year. Seraphin will catch on somehwere else, with a better player development staff, and he will become an NBA player. He has too good of a touch to discount his career. But the Wizards can’t help him, and he can’t help the Wizards.

I’d consider my options before re-signing Booker, but this season was a good one for Trevor. He has several huge games, and played very well alongside Gortat, as Kyle Weidie has noted in the past. With Nene always a risk to miss 20 or 30 games, Booker is a proven asset. I would shop around, but would also have no problem offering Booker a two-year deal worth somewhere between $5 and $6 million.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):

Both should be let go. If Wittman is retained, neither player has much value in his scheme, as they get jerked in and out of the lineup at will. Booker will be overpaid. Seraphin still hasn’t shown anything. In all honesty, the Wizards would be better served signing Jan Vesely as an RFA.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

Booker deserves to come back for his late season play in Nene’s absence, and his endless energy in the playoff series against the Bulls—and he’s the less inconsistent of the two. Seraphin is a world-beater one game and tenant in Wittman’s doghouse the next 10 games—plus he’s destined to land on the Spurs, who’ll turn him into the second-coming of David Robinson. But ideally, the Wizards would ditch them both, put together a game plan with Wittman, his assistant coaches, Grunfeld (yikes) and maybe even Wall and Beal, and figure out which available players work well with this starting roster. Seraphin and Booker had their chances, but it is time to show them the door.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):

Depends on your definition of cheap. According to Shamports.com, Seraphin requires a qualifying offer of roughly $3.9 million and Booker’s number is $3.4 million. Neither player is worth that amount. However, Washington needs at least nine legitimate NBA players on its roster in order to fill out a regular season rotation. It’s hard to justify paying Seraphin anything more than $2 million per year when—after four NBA seasons—he still has not shown he can be trusted in an NBA game. The calculus on Booker is a little different because, unlike Seraphin, his contributions would have to be replaced if he is not signed. Booker has consistently been the first big off the bench and a part-time starter. That role is worth $3 million per year. I would give Booker a two-year $6 million contract, but I would test the free agent market first.

John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend):

Trevor Booker. Kevin Seraphin (like the rest of the frontcourt players drafted by Grunfeld in the John Wall era) has not proven himself to be an NBA player.

But how cheap is cheap?



BONUS: True or False… If they bring back essentially the same team, the Wizards are set up to be contenders for the NBA Finals (via the East), but not necessarily win the title (via the West), for the next three seasons.

Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):

This is very false. The Wizards took advantage of a not-as-historic-as-people-say-but-still-very-bad Eastern Conference, a very slow start from the Nets, an injury to Derrick Rose, and an injury to Al Horford to leapfrog a few teams that would have been better than them otherwise (remember, Atlanta was the third seed early in the season). Toronto’s roster may not be as strong on paper as Washington’s, but they’re just as good, if not better, in reality.

Things change, and any of the aforementioned teams could get worse this offseason, but they could also get better. And you can bet they’ll try. Which is why the Wizards should, too. With the same team next year, even with marked improvements by Beal and Wall, the Wizards will be more likely to challenge for the fourth or fifth seed and a first-round exit than they will be to challenge for the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami and Indiana are still the top dogs, by a wide margin, in the East. As currently constructed, coached, and managed, the Wizards are in the picture, but taller guys are obscuring them from view. Isn’t this what we’ve been talking about avoiding all along? Don’t lose heart now.

Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20):

This is false. The return of the same starting five will automatically keep the Wizards in playoff contention. Wall and Beal will get better and mentally stronger this year, and that alone will offset the inevitable return of Brook Lopez, Derrick Rose, Al Horford and Nerlens Noel (I kid). But to be contender in the East, as opposed to just barely making the playoffs annually, the Wizards will need: 1) a more polished coach, 2) a young backup point guard, 3) a consistent scorer off the bench.

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):

Extremely False. Miami, Indiana and Chicago project as the top three teams in the East for the next few seasons by a wide margin. Washington, on the other hand, is set up to compete with the likes of Toronto for the fourth through six seed. That means to get to the NBA Finals Washington would have to win a dog fight in the first round, then beat one of the top three teams in Round 2, then beat another of the top three teams in Round 3. Could it happen? Sure. But I don’t think anyone—even the most optimistic among us—would bet on it.

John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend):

False. Unless… John Wall and Brad Beal become regulars at All-Star weekend and are joined in red, white and blue by another star (which seems increasingly unlikely for reasons related to dollars and years dedicated to Marcin Gortat and/or Trevor Ariza).



Kyle Weidie on EmailKyle Weidie on GoogleKyle Weidie on InstagramKyle Weidie on LinkedinKyle Weidie on TwitterKyle Weidie on Youtube
Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.

  • ExPat

    2013-14 grade was a B. They started off the season looking like another lottery team, and they lost a lot of games to teams with inferior talent. In the playoffs, their max contract player (Wall) was a liability in key quarters.

    Co-MVP is a nonsensical concept. John Wall was their season MVP; Beal was their playoffs MVP.

    Grunfeld needs to be fired, and that would also the provide the Wizards a new coach (or a big vote of confidence in Wittman by the incoming GM). It would also upgrade the Wizards’ awful player development staff.

    Keep Gortat and let Ariza walk, unless they can offload Webster somehow.

    In the discussion of Seraphin and Booker, don’t forget Gooden (he had much better per 36 minute numbers than Booker). But I agree that Seraphin should be let go to become a productive cog for a smart organization (e.g., Spurs, Heat) and Booker is worth $3M per year.

    If the Raptors can resign Kyle Lowry, then they probably will improve more than the Wizards in 2014-15. Jonas Valanciunas is a talented young center that will likely improve. Terrence Ross is a talented young forward that will likely improve. The Raptors have a middle of the first round pick and it is a good draft class (e.g., they could get PG Tyler Ennis, PF Clint Capela, SF Kyle Anderson), and pick #37, whereas the Wizards don’t get to pick until #46.

  • beefdongle

    B Grade for the season. Like noted above, the Wiz lucked into the 5 seed with injures to other teams. Need more regular season consistency.

    I say keep Gortat unless that means overpaying too much ($13M+/4yrs) and let Ariza walk. Losing Ariza hurts, but that’s why they drafted Porter. Keeping a trustable player in Gortat rather than gambling on a FA like Monroe is much more enticing given Nene’s injuries.

    I love Wittman, but we need a coach that can figure out a consistent rotation and getting the most out of the bench rather than having someone like Booker/Seraphin/Vesely/Singleton play minutes for a 2 weeks and then sit for 4 weeks. Unfortunately I think Wittman’s good detailed approach is better suited as an assistant until he figures these details out.

    DC is becoming an attractive place for FA again (was it ever?) so Ernie needs to capitalize to get actual bench players that can be relied upon. Losing Ariza, Booker, and Seraphin, Miller would free up that space and still leave enough for bigger signings in the future like locking up Beal and hopefully another star.

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