Front office needs to step up in building the Washington Wizards

By: Kalilu Jawara, Columnist

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

The Washington Wizards entered this past Thursday’s game against the Utah Jazz facing the all-too-familiar sense of impending dread that has followed them throughout this season. The highs of a successful month of February, one that saw the team bounce back from a brutal start to the season by rattling off seven wins in eight games, has begun to wear off. 

The team lost seven of their last eight games, including a five-game losing streak coming out of the All-Star break. Less than 24 hours after a 121-119 loss to Sacramento Kings (16-24), any momentum picked up from the last month waned with playing the NBA’s top team this season, a Jazz squad that has turned heads and ascended to the No.1 seed in a stacked Western Conference. So naturally, in typical Wizards fashion, they won that game.

The 131-122 victory may have been a surprise to the untrained eye, but to anybody who’s followed the Wizards this year, this was almost expected. Losing to a team with virtually no hope of making the playoffs and then defeating the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference the very next night is exactly the kind of stretch that sums up the 2020-21 Washington Wizards season: a dramatic series of highs and lows, equally inexplicable on both ends of the spectrum. Against the top-6 seeds in the Western Conference, Washington has achieved a record of 7-2. Adding in their wins over the championship-contending Brooklyn Nets, it becomes a staggering 9-2 record against several of the NBA’s elites. However, against the rest of the league? Their record is 6-23.

Of course, there’s context to that. Russell Westbrook was traded to the team with little time to get acclimated and was playing injured for the majority of the season, leading to him playing some of the worst basketball of his career. The team itself was shut down by a COVID-19 outbreak early in the season that left them working with a patchwork roster for weeks. These setbacks did not help them in the early goings of their 2021 campaign. However, they certainly didn’t help themselves either. Defensively, the Wizards ranked either last or in the bottom-5 of almost every metric before the aforementioned 7-1 run in February, where they were statistically a top-10 unit. 

It can also be argued that Head Coach Scott Brooks has also cost the team a fair share of victories. His curious lineup decisions to distribute play and play time between different players like Westbrook, point guards Raul Neto and Ish Smith, Bradley Beal, Rui Hachimuras has caused poor results. 

With all the volatility, there’s only one thing that can be reasonably deduced from their season thus far—this is a talented basketball team, far from the perceived barren wasteland of talent that many of the media pundits spearheading the #FreeBeal movement made it out to be. 

However, it also happens to be one finding themselves stuck at a bit of a crossroads in terms of how the team is constructed. The Wizards meanwhile, are an enigma. While many think trading Beal and fully committing to a rebuild would be the correct move, he’s made it clear that he wants to remain in the nation’s Capital. When a player of that caliber, who is currently averaging 32.5 points per game on ridiculous efficiency, expresses that he wants to remain on your team, you don’t move him under any circumstance. However, in building around Beal, the Wizards find themselves forced to rely on internal development due to a lack of financial flexibility. 

The only three major contracts on the roster belong to Westbrook, Beal, and occasional sharpshooter Davis Bertans. Westbrook and Bertans’ contracts are difficult to move for any real assets. Meanwhile, Beal’s is the one they don’t want to move. This leaves them relying on recently drafted players and cheap bargain bin pickups. The results of this have led the Wizards to where they are now: well below .500, but also very much in contention for a playoff spot in a very turbulent Eastern Conference.

Regardless of what the result of this season winds up being, whether they make the playoffs or find themselves picking in the lottery for a third straight year, changes must be made for the team to progress to the next level. Management has largely stood pat in both coaching and roster construction lately.  General manager Tommy Sheppard trading franchise icon John Wall for Westbrook  has been the only big change. For the most part, they’ve been making moves a rebuilding team would be expected to make but it’s time for them to step up their game. 

The front office needs to be more aggressive in building a team that can consistently compete, rather than shock teams in short spurts before falling back into mediocrity. If it means giving up assets that they typically would have held onto in years past, so be it. They’ve been straddling the line between rebuilding and attempting to stay competitive over the past season and a half, but with Beal set to turn 28 years old next season and Westbrook set to turn 33, this is the summer where they will have to commit hard to a certain direction, and pull out all the stops to turn this into a winning program. 

The Wizards, for better or worse, have been the most confusing team in the NBA this year. Their unpredictability has been the only thing predictable about them, and accepting that for at least the rest of this season might be the only way to remain at least somewhat sane during their games. Beyond this year, however, the front office needs to finally put action to their words and lay the groundwork for winning games consistently.

The only three major contracts on the roster belong to Westbrook, Beal, and occasional sharpshooter Davis Bertans. Westbrook and Bertans’ contracts are difficult to move for any real assets. Meanwhile, Beal’s is the one they don’t want to move. This leaves them relying on recently drafted players and cheap bargain bin pickups. The results of this have led the Wizards to where they are now: well below .500, but also very much in contention for a playoff spot in a very turbulent Eastern Conference.


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