This summer will be a transformative one for the Washington Wizards. Whether that transformation is positive or negative will depend on the choices of a front office that is at its biggest crossroads since the waning years of Gilbert Arenas and the arrival of point guard John Wall. Cap space is open, older veterans’ contracts are up and the remaining talent is enough to inspire some confidence for next seasons. Yesterday’s official hiring of Scott Brooks as head coach is a step in the right direction, but more decisions need to be made correctly for this team to grow properly.
But ultimately, questions remain. Re-signing guard Bradley Beal will be an expensive risk for ownership, but a tempting one if he can stay healthy. The head coaching position is not a place where the franchise appears comfortable taking a risk. And finally, to round out the pressing issues, the Wizards have ostensibly cleared the aforementioned cap space in the pursuit of a marquee free agent — including one in particular whose time in Oklahoma is coming to an end — and it is unclear how the front office will fill that cap space.
That last issue is the elephant in the room, the debate that has swirled around the Wizards for years. Will Kevin Durant come to D.C.? I hesitate to say no. I will put my bias out front — I am a D.C. fan through and through, and superstitious enough that I do not want to give a definitive answer. But the odds are stacked against the Wizards. If Durant does decide to leave Oklahoma City, it will be because he sees a better shot at a championship elsewhere. The 2012 season was a great run, but it has been four years since Durant has played in the NBA Finals, and time marches on.
Washington is built to be an above average team, and the addition of Durant — with tweaks elsewhere in the roster — would certainly boost the Wizards into the upper echelon of the NBA. But it just is not enough of a sure thing. I am confident that at some point in his career, Durant will come home to play for his city. He is too much of a Washington fan not to — he is seen on the sidelines of seemingly every Redskins game or wearing Nationals gear. But it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for that to happen now.
I still lend credence to the idea that Durant will spend another year in Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook and play the free agent game next summer, when more money will be on the table thanks to changes to NBA contract and cap rules. That line of thought stems from my hope that the Wizards can prove themselves worthy of Durant given one more year, but I also like to think it is reasonable.
The first step for the Wizards in terms of proving themselves is hiring a quality coach. I agreed with the line that seemed to be coming from management and ownership on this front, that what the team needed was an experienced, defensively minded leader. Former Oklahoma City Head Coach Scott Brooks, now stepping up to the helm, checks both of those boxes.
Brooks caught flak during his time with the Thunder for lacking a dynamic offense and inefficiently using talent, but his defenses consistently ranked among the best in the league, and he ultimately made relative success out of an often difficult situation in Oklahoma City. Brooks also has the Durant connection, which cannot hurt in a future pursuit of the player. The Washington Post has reported that Durant enjoyed his time with Brooks and respected the coach.
Signing Brooks on a five-year, $35 million deal proves that Washington is committed to spending on and building a defensively respectable team that can improve on this year’s disappointing performance.
The Wizards must confront their roster. Beal is the first concern. Despite injury risks, he needs to be re-signed. He has shown that he works extremely well with Wall when healthy, and provides stability on a team that will be otherwise marked by turnover. Beal, Wall, center Marcin Gortat, forward Markieff Morris, forward Otto Porter and a few others will stick around.
However, the Washington Post explained last week how much change will occur deeper in the roster: “Washington has, by design, eight players that will become unrestricted free agents this summer. ”
The Wizards have a chance to define themselves as a team this offseason. The money is there. Talent is already present. The outlook does not have to be grim for these Wizards.
At the same time, when so much is up in the air, it cannot be said with any certainty that things will work out. Bad choices lurk. Next fall, the Washington roster could again be populated by past-their-prime vets who always have a shot at a strong season but continue to leave the future in jeopardy. Wall is a luxury who needs to be appreciated and well employed while he is here. The time has come to invest in talent that will stay in the District, more than just Band-Aids while we pursue greater things. If the current foundation is well complemented, this team can make some sustainable runs at success.