Wizards Emerging as NBA’s Latest Purgatory


The Washington Wizards find themselves rolling.

They have won 10 of their last 14 and — outside of a three-game losing streak — have been solid on both sides of the ball in that time. The streak is among the better ones in the league right now and has left them with the amazing result of barely making the play-in threshold?

The Wizards are in the middle of doing what the franchise has done best for the past decade— being mediocre.

While that might sound a bit harsh, the team pretty much decided to be cool with winning enough games to be in the mix for the final seeds in the postseason.

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Mistakes Made Over The Years

Over the last few years, Washington’s management has made numerous mistakes.

The Lead’s Dominic Chiappone described Bradley Beal‘s contract last offseason as the team dooming itself. Their tenth overall pick in the 2022 draft, Johnny Davis, has struggled to make a big impact in the G League. Other recent lottery picks have just been disappointing.

They even traded their No. 9 selection of the 2019 draft (Rui Hachimura) for a few second-round picks and a contract.

When it comes down to it, the Wizards have proven to be a poorly-ran franchise when compared to most of its peers. The question of how they got here shows the people in charge of the team are the ones to blame for their lack of success.

All problems the Wizards have faced stem from decisions general manager Tommy Sheppard and company have made. Ever since he took over the position in 2019, the team has made a series of bad, short-term decisions that sacrifice any type of hope for the chance to — once again — barely make the playoffs.

Short-sighted leadership

Take this season for example.

The 2023 draft class promises to have one of the deepest and most-talented selections of young players the league has seen in years. Highlighted by projected first- and second-overall picks Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson, most draft-focused basketball analysts love the potential these players display.

The Wizards have not been great this year. Players like Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma have been good, and Beal has been his usual self (when he plays), but the rest of the roster around them has not been up to par. As a result, Washington looked to be a lottery team and could have been close to a top-five pick.

This led many teams to show interest in Kuzma, as his game this season has proven he can be a great fit in most contenders as a versatile wing.

The trade deadline passed, and Kuzma remains a Wizard. Instead, the franchise gave up on Hachimura and kept all their “big” pieces to continue trying to make the play-in games. While there is something to be said about the lack of competence showcased when they missed on the Hachimura pick, the decision to keep Kuzma instead of him indicates the real problem.

Washington would do anything they can to get a team they feel can win any random regular-season game. They seem to be making rushed decisions without looking at future consequences. Keeping Kuzma will help the franchise get an extra five-to-ten wins this regular season, and maybe even helps them make the postseason.

Two things are inevitable, however. First, if they manage to make the postseason, the Wizards will likely lose in five games against whoever they face. Then, the franchise will either have to overpay Kuzma to keep him or will lose a valuable piece for nothing.

The likeliest outcome here — the one fans fear most — is the team barely misses the playoffs, loses a solid rotation piece for nothing when he should have been traded, and ends up with the tenth pick (again). This not only keeps the team running in place, as their fate from the last few years repeats itself, but also adds a new layer of pain for fans of the franchise that has proven to be bad at drafting.

Draft picks

The number of players who are currently playing solid-to-important roles for their respective teams and the Wizards passed on is sad.

Since 2019, the Wizards have passed on players like Tyrese Haliburton, Tyler Herro and Cam Johnson— those are just lottery picks.

Washington’s management has selected the following players in the last five years: Troy Brown Jr., Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert and Johnny Davis. All of those were drafted in the lottery, or right outside of it.

To give management some credit, there is a clear idea here. These selections show a blueprint to surround Beal with wings, some more athletic or versatile than others, in their pursuit to remain competitive. The Wizards want to stay competitive while retooling around their maxed guard.

Putting aside whether the idea of building around a flawed “superstar” who cannot defend or win enough to get his team far is good or bad, the execution has definitely been disappointing. None of the selected players have really paid off for the Wizards as either win-now pieces or future projects. In a league where every team needs versatile wings, the Wizards have failed time and time again to get the right ones.

The youngsters have mostly disappointed since day one. This is made worse by Sheppard and company’s decisions to either draft new players of the same positions/roles or bring in veterans who need to play. Decisions like the aforementioned hinder a prospect’s growth, making sure the rookies fail to develop into capable or above-average rotation players.

Not only does this demonstrate a critical problem with the franchise’s scouting department, but also a flaw in team building.

Just ‘okay’

The Wizards want to make the playoffs.

They want to be competitive to a certain extent. It should be respected when a franchise tries to avoid tanking as a way to get future stars, but it can’t come at the expense of having a shot at being a contender.

Not trading Kuzma, who is set to become a free agent this offseason after probably denying his option for $13 million, means the franchise likely plans to extend him. This means fans will have to continue dealing with the mediocre output this franchise has produced for years. Porzingis also has a player option, but he should be expected to stay with the Wizards, as no other team should realistically consider him worth more than the $36 million he would earn.

Beal, Porzingis, Kuzma and Co. sounds like an okay team. That is exactly the problem here, however, as the Wizards seem comfortable with just being okay, stuck in no man’s land and going nowhere.

The Washington Wizards are nowhere close to winning the Larry O’Brien for just the second time in franchise history, but management seems to be fine with just staying put and striving for the eight seed.

About Jesús Feliciano-Batista

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