We are almost a month into the NBA season and there has been plenty to talk about: Jimmy Butler took a franchise hostage, we may have gone back in time to 2011 with the way Derrick Rose and Tyson Chandler are playing, and the fall of the Warriors finally might be starting as KD (real-life KD not his burner account) and Draymond Green have been arguing to the point where the Warriors had to suspend Draymond for a game.
Even with all these storylines to talk about, the way the Washington Wizards season has started has been one of the most hotly discussed topics in the NBA.
After starting the season 2-9, the Wizards have quickly become one of the laughing stocks of the NBA. “They need Jesus,” one NBA exec said when was asked how the Wizards could solve their problems. After the slow start and a lot off the court drama, many of the ‘Zards faithful were declaring it’s officially time to tear down this team.
Despite all that is wrong with the Wizards, it’s too early to blow this team up.
Only two years ago, Scott Brooks began his first season in Washington with an eerily similar 2-8 start. Back in 2016, there was a plethora of drama and internal issues, as fans began to wonder if the core of the team needed to be split up. Sound familiar?
Amid all of the outside noise, that team was able to overcome the slow start and won 49 games behind the strong play of Wall and Beal. In fact, they were a Kelly Olynyk fourth-quarter explosion away from the Eastern Conference Finals.
This team has shown the capabilities to overcome a slow start before. While wins against the Heat, Magic, and Cavaliers are usually nothing to get excited about, it marks the Wizards first “winning streak” of the season, improving their record to a still-woeful 5-9.
Although, it’s what Bradley Beal said after the Wizards 117-109 win against the Magic that should excite Wizards fans.
This past week John Wall received media scrutiny for being spotted in a DC nightclub despite the Wizards horrible play. Beal, however, did not mind the scrutiny; in fact, he was happy to hear it and he explained why: “Y’all pissed him off. It’s y’all fault. He’s going to come out playing like Wolf Wall. So, that’s what we need him to do and I am happy y’all kinda lit a little flame under him.”
Beal and Wall have had their off-court relationship questioned before so it was encouraging to hear Beal talk so highly of his partner in crime.
Beals assessment also might be right as we may be seeing the return of #wolfszn. In three of his last five games, John Wall has gone for a double-double and is averaging 20.8 PPG and 10 APG over that span (those numbers include the Cavaliers game where he only played 20 minutes due to the blowout).
Wall has shown that elite quickness and blazing open court speed that he seemed to be lacking a year ago after knee surgery. If Beal is right and we are seeing the return of Wolf Wall, this season is far from over.
Let me make myself clear this is a talented roster, from top to bottom; it is a playoff basketball team especially in the East. However, the holes that have haunted the Wizards in years past still lurk: they rarely play defense, the bench has yet to see a true improvement despite adding depth, and at times it looks as if the players don’t even like each other.
Are the Wizards better off playing the season out hoping their roster can mesh or fully embrace the tank? To answer that question we’d first have to figure out what a Wizards tear down would look like.
The contracts and financial components of the team do not favor a roster blowup. They are financially committed to this roster; John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter are all flexing max deals.
In order for the Wizards to be able to tank with teams such as the Cavs, Hawks, and Suns, they would likely need to trade at least two of those players. That is easier said than done.
John Wall is a proven superstar in this league and there would certainly be teams interested in him — at the right price. When Walls supermax contract kicks in, he will be owed 170 million dollars over 4 years. That is a hefty price for a 28-year-old player who relies so much on his athleticism to produce.
Trading Wall is not impossible, but the Wizards would not likely receive great value for the five-time all-star because of that contract. It is hard to see the Wizards trading their franchise player for a discount.
Otto Porter is 25 years old, a good defender, and an excellent three-point shooter. On the surface, it seems like a contending team would be salivating at the chance to land Otto. It’ll be tough to find a buyer for his contract. Porter is making 26 million dollars this year and is set to make over 28 million in the coming years.
Porter, who on a cheaper contract would have value on the trade block. Yet, with his max-contract, a realistic trade involving Otto Porter would look more like a salary dump than a blockbuster. At this time, salary dumping Otto for almost nothing in return is not what the Wizards want to do. However by the All-Star break, if the Wizards have not turned it around, a Porter trade may be their smartest move.
This leaves us with Bradley Beal, who is without a doubt the Wizards’ most attractive trade piece. He is still only 25 years old and has shown superstar scoring potential. Trading Beal could net the Wizards an excellent return, but how would it help the Wizards in the future?
Moving Beal for young assets without trading Wall or Porter would plunge the Wizards even deeper into mediocrity. Without Beal, the Wizards would essentially be the Miami Heat, a fringe playoff team with no direction. They would not be good enough to compete in the playoffs for years to come without Beals scoring and shooting ability, and they would not be bad enough to receive prime draft positions because of the talent they would still have on the roster.
And with the Wizards horrible front office, do you have any faith in them to successfully rebuild on the fly without any top picks?
For the Wizards there is no obvious solution. However, the front office has invested too much financially into the core of this team to give up on it now. In an ideal world, this team will gel together and make a run as they did back in 2016. If they are unable to do so it will be up to GM Ernie Grunfeld to turn this franchise around…yikes.