The Washington Wizards are spiraling into a foreseen demise, and now, after a 5-11 start, the team seems ready to make some drastic changes. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Wizards are opening up the floodgates and making everyone available, including John Wall and Bradley Beal.
“I’ve been dealing with this for seven years,” Beal said in what was noted as a volatile practice, according to The Athletics’ Shams Charania. Yikes.
The Wizards pitted themselves into a corner over the past few years, rolling the dice with short-term moves that flopped. Now, they’re lost.
The good news for fans is hitting an all-time low should force change, which is better late than never. The franchise needs actual structure.
Everything starts from the top down in Washington — yes, we’re still talking about basketball —and at some point the program has to realize that its decision-makers have come up short in multiple ways. The search for a capable leader to guide the team out of its misery should happen before a change in personnel.
Here are five steps the Wizards should take to steer the ship back on course.
1. Re-evaluate the front office
Since general manager Ernie Grunfeld stepped in during the 2003-04 season, the team is 541-689, with no appearance past the conference semifinals or even a single 50-win season. That’s … a long drought. Yet somehow, Grunfeld has kept his job amid a long stretch of mediocre-to-bad results.
There have been a number of questionable decisions made at the top over the last 15 years to get to this point:
- Re-signing Gilbert Arenas to a six-year, $111 million deal in 2008, after he had his first serious knee injury.
- Trading the No. 5 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. Stephen Curry was picked No. 7
- Selecting Jan Vesley at No. 6 in the 2011 draft, ahead of Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Tobias Harris and more. The Wizards had three of the first 34 picks in the draft and ended up with Vesely, Chris Singleton, and Shelvin Mack. Oof.
- Trading a 2016 first-round pick (top-9 protected) for Markieff Morris in 2016. Morris has been OK and the pick was No. 18 overall, but it’s exactly the kind of short-term move that has characterized Grunfeld’s tenure.
- Signing Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith, and Andrew Nicholson for a combined $105 million in the summer of 2016. Mahinmi and Smith are anchors on the team’s salary cap, while Nicholson’s flop led to …
- Trading a lottery-protected 2017 first-round pick to the Nets for Bojan Bogdanovic, as a means of getting off Nicholson’s money. The Nets used that pick on Jarrett Allen, their center of the future.
No amount of player skill or coaching can overcome a poorly constructed roster, and as Washington enters yet another era, it needs to think about who it wants calling the shots.
2. Set a vision and clear it with Scott Brooks
Washington needs to decide if it wants to begin a long rebuild or try and remain competitive in the interim. The priorities for every team aren’t championship-or-bust, so this is not an easy decision. Whatever the Wizards decide, they’ll need to clear its vision with Brooks while also being realistic.
Brooks hasn’t gotten the fairest shot in Washington, having a fine season a year ago with the same crumbling roster he has now. If Brooks and the Wizards front office can agree on where the team is headed, maybe he stays. If he isn’t looking to lead a rebuilding team poised to lose 50 times, maybe the fit isn’t right, even though he still has almost three years and $21 million left on his contract.
3. Trade John Wall
Wall’s been the heartbeat of the team since he joined in 2012, but the fit isn’t right any longer. He’s playing out the remaining years of his prime, but the Wizards aren’t ready to contend. It’s noticeable how that’s taken a toll on Wall — who gives lackluster effort in defensive spurts and is visibly as frustrated as his co-workers.
A move to ship Wall out for young assets or future picks makes sense for both parties, though it won’t be easy with Wall’s supermax contract not kicking in until next year.
4. Trade Kelly Oubre
Oubre is set to entire restricted free agency next summer, and the Wizards have little reason to retain him. They’ve invested a big-money deal in another player of the same position in Otto Porter, and Oubre hasn’t proven to be more than a role player just yet.
Trading him before losing another former first-round pick for nothing would be wise, even if he only yields second-round picks in return. Washington needs to stockpile assets where it can get them.
5. Adjust the rotation to project towards the future
The Wizards two youngest players, 2018 first-round pick Troy Brown and 2017 second-round pick Thomas Bryant, average five minutes per game each. It’s time to bump their playing time up to try and determine if they could be part of this team’s long-term vision. The same goes for Tomas Satoransky, a former second-round pick that played well last season, but has fallen behind Austin Rivers in the rotation this year.
While in rebuild mode, overplaying past-their-prime guys in their 30s is a waste. We know what they can do. But maybe Brown and/or Bryant can surprise his way into becoming a meaningful rotation piece. There’s only one way to find out.
And there’s still time to work with 25-year-old Beal and 23-year-old Otto Porter. If an offer is too good to pass up, they should be on the trading block, but Washington can take time to fully evaluate its next-highest paid stars as well. With big-name free agents unlikely to sign in the summer, the financial implications are a secondary concern. It’s time to take rotation chances
The Wizards are going no place quickly, but hitting rock bottom and forcing themselves to rethink mediocrity might be the best way to heal. And maybe prevent hearing boos at home at halftime.