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This is a Make-or-Break Year for the Washington Wizards

Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Wizards aren’t necessarily against a contender clock like the Chicago Bulls and their core could be perceived to be, or even the Oklahoma City Thunder (more on them later), but this could be a huge year for the future of the Wizards. They’re coming off a 46-36 season and a relatively successful postseason run considering the circumstances.

The Wizards stomped out the Raptors in a first-round sweep, then had Paul Pierce call game in the second round before bowing out to the Hawks in six games. That series was mostly played without All-Star guard John Wall, who was having one heck of a postseason run himself, but Bradley Beal once again showed flashes of the kind of player he can be. Beal averaged 25.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists (41.9 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from three) in the Atlanta series, and averaged 23.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists the entire postseason.

The Wizards have reloaded a bit this offseason. They lost Paul Pierce to the Los Angeles Clippers, but did a solid job of replacing him, at least on paper. They swung a draft-night trade for Kelly Oubre, a high-potential swingman out of Kansas. In addition to Oubre, Washington signed versatile utility wing Alan Anderson and combo guard Gary Neal, in addition to trading for Jared Dudley.

This is on top of already having 2013 lottery pick Otto Porter, who showcased his defensive versatility as well as an improving jumper in the latter part of last season and the postseason. For a team that finished 27th in three-pointers attempted last year despite having the prototypical drive-and-kick point guard at the helm in Wall, adding Oubre (35.8 percent from three at Kansas), Neal (career 38.1 percent from three), Anderson (career 34.6 percent from three) and Dudley (career 39.6 percent from three) should theoretically make the Wizards a more difficult team to guard.

As it stands, the Wizards are set to run a rotation of Wall, Beal, Porter, Nene and Marcin Gortat with Ramon Sessions, Neal, Anderson, Dudley and Kris Humphries off the bench. That top 10 is deep enough to run with just about any team in the East, and that’s leaving out Oubre and veteran big man Drew Gooden and forward Martell Webster. It’s not totally inconceivable that, with a more imaginative offense (because Randy Wittman…yeah), the Wizards could be in the running for an Eastern Conference Finals run for the first time since 1978, the same year they won their last title. If there was a year the Wizards needed to make a deep run, it would be this one to have some momentum heading into the free agency bonanza of 2016.

With the cap set to jump to around $90 million, the Wizards have very little guaranteed money (about $33 million) currently on the books for next year — that’s not counting the team option for Porter ($5.89 million), and the cap hold or multi-year extension that’ll likely (read: DEFINITELY) be given to Beal.

With Kevin Durant set to hit free agency in 2016, Washington will have the ability to carve out max cap space for a chance at the hometown hero. If Beal is willing to wait to ink his deal, kind of like how the Spurs handled Kawhi Leonard with the LaMarcus Aldridge ordeal, the Wizards could potentially sign Durant to a max deal starting at around $27 million, then go over the cap to max out Bradley Beal — if they choose to do so.

Beal is a talented shooter and scorer, but his career has been hampered by ankle, leg and wrist injuries. Personally, I don’t think we’ll really see Peak Beal until the Wizards get themselves a better head coach, but either way, I’d be weary of giving the guard over $20 million a year with his injury history. But with so many teams having cap space next summer, the Wizards will pretty much be stuck paying him anyway.

Back to Durant.

Thinking that players want to play for their “hometown” teams is typically overblown, and even Durant has said that Oklahoma City feels like home to him. However, it’s hard not to see the appeal of Durant heading to the Wizards. There’s no question that if he does in fact decide to leave the Thunder, the Wizards should be considered the front-runners to land him. There’s the whole thing of being near family — which could be a gift and a curse, and then there are the basketball reasons. Can you think of a recent PG-SG-SF trio better than the one Washington could run on the court with Wall, Beal and Durant?

That would be the most talented young trio we’ve seen since…well…Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Durant — ouch. But anyway, that would be a trio that could contend for years to come and would really put Washington in position to bring home a title for the first time in nearly 40 years. From a casual NBA standpoint, how could you not love the potential of seeing Durant’s Wizards vs. LeBron James‘s Cavaliers in the playoffs for the next half-decade? It would be absolutely glorious.

None of this could even be talked about without the Wizards’ success last year and last postseason. Durant-to-Washington wouldn’t be considered as realistic as it is without the Wizards building on their year by having a good draft and an even better free agency period, And Durant-to-Washington won’t become a reality if the Wizards don’t go hard this upcoming season. The dynamic backcourt of Wall and Beal is set, and there are plenty of veterans on the roster to complement them.

Now is the time for the Wizards to make a deeper postseason run. If so, it might just be enough to convince Durant to come home, and that might be enough to take the Wizards back to the promised land in the immediate future.

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