This is the first installment of a new series highlighting the rays of hope for fans of non-contending or fringe playoff teams.
With the acquisition of Marcin Gortat (first cast as Dwight Howard’s backup with the Orlando Magic, then as a starter for a Phoenix Suns' franchise with seemingly no direction), the Washington Wizards are looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. After five straight seasons of less than 30 wins each, Ernie Grunfeld might finally have the pieces to do so. Spoiler Alert: Gandalf isn’t one of them.
In July, No. 1 pick of the 2010 NBA Draft and human cheetah John Wall signed a max contract extension worth $80 million. The frontcourt is solidified with Nene (signed through the 2015-16 season) and the aforementioned Gortat (likely to be re-signed since Washington also sent over a top-12 protected 2014 first round draft pick in the Emeka Okafor trade to get him, a good indicator that he factors into their long-term plans). The remaining pieces will need to develop into legitimate players for this team to make a postseason run, but the future is encouraging.
The second-year shooting guard is looking to take the next step after a very successful rookie campaign, which included a selection to the 2013 NBA All Rookie First-Team and a Wizards franchise record for most three-pointers made by a rookie (91, in only 56 games!). After averaging over 20 points per game this preseason, Beal is only feeding the hype machine. Wall and Beal seem to fit together effortlessly, given Wall’s ability to penetrate and Beal’s sweet stroke. The pair is unquestionably one of the best young backcourts in the league.
Some may suggest that the Wizards’ front office made a bit of a homer pick when they selected Georgetown’s Otto Porter with the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. However, a look at Porter’s college credentials should quickly put that theory to bed. The 6’9’’ small forward averaged 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his sophomore season, and was named the 2013 Big East Player of the Year. He was also a finalist for the Naismith and Wooden Men’s College Basketball Awards. While Porter’s preseason performance may have tempered people’s expectations a bit, the skill and talent are undeniable.
The recent transactions by the Wizards (the Gortat trade, declining the fourth year options of Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton) will give them $15 million in cap space in the summer of 2014, making them major players in free agency. That exact amount also depends on what they choose to do with Gortat. While all the sorcery in the world won’t bring LeBron, Carmelo or Bosh to the nation’s capital, a playoff run this year will make this squad more of a draw for lower tier free agents. After a half decade of basement-dwelling drudgery, the Wiz faithful finally have reason for optimism.