What’s the Plan? is a weekly series where we look at the long-term outlooks for teams that aren’t immediately contending for a championship. Today, we’re looking at a team that could be the third- or fourth-best team in the East, but that may not be enough for a serious shot at the NBA Finals.
Washington is a team that’s right at the line of teams contending for a championship berth in the East. Unfortunately, they’ll need to go through the Cavaliers to get there, as well as the other top teams in the Eastern Conference. It’s hard enough to imagine the Wizards beating a healthy Cavaliers team, but then expecting them to beat whichever team comes out of the West afterwards isn’t a reasonable expectation for a team that finished fifth in the East last year and lost their starting small forward in Paul Pierce.
There are reasons to think the Wizards will be better this upcoming season. Otto Porter showed improvement toward the end of last season, and they’ll be looking to him and new addition Jared Dudley (when he recovers from his back injury) to replace a lot of what Pierce gave them. The big development last season was the Wizards’ use of smaller lineups in the playoffs, and these two will be instrumental in executing these lineups if the Wizards want to continue their success going small.
The Wizards will also be hoping to see continued development from Bradley Beal (who’s eligible for an extension this summer) and John Wall. Wall’s wrist injury in the playoffs last year significantly hurt their series against the Hawks, and the Wizards are looking for him to bounce back and take yet another step. At only 24, there’s no reason to think Wall won’t keep getting better. Beal is only 22 and also has plenty of room to grow into a more dynamic, efficient player. These two are the cornerstones of the Wizards’ future, and as they get better, so will Washington.
While time is on the sides of Wall and Beal, the same cannot be said of the Wizards’ big men. Nene will be 33 at the start of next season and has battled injuries throughout his career. While the implementation of smaller lineups will help mitigate the Wizards’ need for Nene, losing him to age certainly won’t make the team better. Marcin Gortat is also on the wrong side of 30, and while he’s been able to play at a consistent level for the Wizards, he won’t be around forever to wait on the development of Washington’s younger guys.
As Nene and Gortat’s skills deteriorate from their battle with Father Time, the Wizards will need to fill the holes that result from their loss. While the team should have some urgency to capitalize on the time they have left with these players, they should be aware that they’ll have future needs as well and not mortgage their future to get better now when it probably won’t be enough to push them past Cleveland. LeBron is allegedly a human being and the Wizards are in a good position to wait it out until he starts to age. They’ll also be relatively competitive in the meantime.
Of course, none of what I just said matters if they can sign Kevin Durant next offseason.