The End of the Beginning of the Wizards | Wizards Blog Truth About

The End of the Beginning of the Wizards

Updated: September 8, 2015

[Photo via @AdamMcGinnis]

Rarely does a team, for two seasons in a row, exchange blows with a No. 1 seed in the second round of the playoffs and exit in such an unsatisfying manner. Uncharted territory for the modern era Washington Wizards, who crashed hard—in amazing fashion—to end the 2014-15 season.

Fifteen other NBA playoff teams were sent casting their reels into a pond of disappointment—some with chins up, some with a whimper; the Wizards were closer to the former, at least. Series losses to the Indiana Pacers in 2014 and Atlanta Hawks in 2015 were not the result of one or two bad plays, but they do represent legitimate, blown chances to make the Eastern Conference Finals.

These are the Washington Wizards. Coping with being a miserable and malnourished franchise for so long is not so different from coping with an abrupt halt to such fun and successful runs. In 2013-14 the Wizards made the playoffs after a five-year absence and advanced past the first round for just the second time since 1982. The follow-up 2014-15 season goes down as one of the best in franchise history. The fact that it took a range of emotions and characters to get here shouldn’t be all that surprising. Disappointing, yes, but you don’t become better without some failure.

The season that was:

A historical 19-6 start, and a slap-in-the-face reality in the middle.

A sweep of the Toronto Raptors—Washington’s best playoff series since 1979—by means of a refreshing adjustment in style: small ball.

An injury-influenced and heart-breaking loss to the Atlanta Hawks, defined by clutch Paul Pierce shots that were either countered (by Al Horford in Game 5) or didn’t count (after the final buzzer in Game 6).

John Wall’s All-Star starter legitimacy, next-level development of Bradley Beal, and the emergence of Otto Porter. A trio kicking down the door of NBA relevancy at the season’s last gasp.

A cast of creatively assembled veteran depth and a future Hall-of-Famer in Pierce continuing to help propel team culture from punchline to promising.

Two pillar-like, traditional big men providing strong overall seasons—Marcin Gortat in basketball and Nenê in relative health—but both leaving more wreckage than anyone or anything else after their respective playoff-ending crashes. Gortat missed key action in the second round of the playoffs with food poisoning, it was reported, and Nenê struggled to find confidence and swallow his pride, it was assumed.

A franchise at a critical juncture in its realization of which brand of basketball works in today’s NBA. A coach in Randy Wittman and front office behind Ernie Grunfeld, men whose seasons always seem on the brink, but who are adept at clinging to a resilient combination of incremental change and belief in constancy.

A tad late to the table of pro basketball change but not too late to eat. At the buffet you’ll find cures for various hunger pangs. Pressure to maintain a defense-first culture. An about-face in offensive style. Adding more complementary parts around two stars who fell into the team’s draft lottery lap. A come-to-Jesus post-mortem from Wittman about playing small, going fast, and shooting the long ball. Grunfeld’s roster risk management perpetually in the balance—too many bigs because Nene’s often hurt, not enough stretchy stretch-4s (even though Drew Gooden does yoga), no wing defenders who can defend up the weight class scale. We could go on.

A team owner’s innovative foresight passively aggressively communicated in Web-log form; a gentle guiding hand on the sideline in a V-neck sweater, steering the ship and allowing autonomy like all good captains would, while also instilling a vision, an edict if you will. Technology and science are paid more than a passing courtesy in Ted Leonsis’ business model.

The Wizards are in good shape, and that’s the main point. Pretty good shape. Shapely enough to run up Capitol Hill without really being out of breath. Wall: amazing point guard with the potential to be great. Beal: quenching a long-time franchise thirst for shooting. Porter: dear, sweet Otto.

The rest of them? Get in where you fit in. (With special consideration for Gortat, easily in the top third of NBA centers.)

Nenê and Kris Humphries are still talented, above average depth up front. What positions they play and how they will be used remains a question. Maybe Humphries truly extends his range to the 3-point line, or is allowed to try. Maybe Nene comes off the bench to spell Gortat at the 5, a rotation that better suits the team and him, if he opens his eyes.

Summer moves to acquire Jared Dudley (declared out approximately three-to-four months by the team after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc on July 21), Alan Anderson, and Gary Neal were made to add varying levels of oomph to wing defense, 3-point shooting, and ball handling—areas exposed during the series against the Hawks.

Ramon Sessions and Drew Gooden provide quality depth. Kelly Oubre brings youthful promise in project form. Garrett Temple, Martell Webster, and DeJuan Blair hold roster spots. (At least one of them probably shouldn’t.)

Regular slate wins over the last two seasons: 90. Playoff wins: 12.

These Wizards are not done, not with their young central core and especially not in the East, but maybe the team we knew is no more. Maybe the team that should have always been constructed around John Wall is just now grasping what they previously refused to acknowledge. Unexpected first round wins over the last two seasons cultivated quality yet overdue playoff experience, while also emphasizing the need for more change.

The 2015 offseason has been comfortably tame, in a good way. September is here, time to get serious. The first preseason game is less than a month away, the regular season opener will happen 50 days from now.

Will Washington create the flexibility to address weaknesses while heavily relying on the individual improvement of Wall and Beal? Are the Wizards a better team now than they were at the same time last year? Perhaps more balanced and confident than ever, they are in a good position to find out before the summer of 2016, when more drastic change could be on tap. The beginning has ended, now it’s time to write a new chapter.


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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 currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.