By most measures, last season hardly went as the Washington Wizards had hoped. They failed to defend their Southeast Division championship, finished eighth in the Eastern Conference (after a No. 4 finish in 2016-17) and lost in the first round of the playoffs (after narrowly falling in Game 7 of the 2017 East semifinals).
A large part of that 2017-18 swoon could be attributed to the time All-Star guard John Wall missed after having knee surgery in January. While Washington did manage to go 15-12 during his absence, the Wizards had just seven games with Wall before the playoffs quickly began (and quickly ended) against the top-seeded Toronto Raptors.
Although the Wizards did not have much in the way of salary cap room to spend this summer, they were able to make some changes to their roster.
First, they acquired guard Austin Rivers in a trade with the LA Clippers (for center Marcin Gortat). They also reached a reported deal with veteran free agent forward Jeff Green. Lastly, days ago, they reached a reported deal with former All-Star center Dwight Howard. (Howard must first reach a buyout agreement with his current team, the Brooklyn Nets, before he can enter free agency and sign with Washington).
With All-Star Bradley Beal, versatile forwards Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. -- as well some capable depth at other positions -- already in the fold, Wall is optimistic about the Wizards' roster for 2018-19. In a interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast on NBCSportsWashington.com, Wall talks with Chris Miller about his outlook on the team's depth and potential for next season.
"Just with the starters coming back, those guys (the bench) -- hopefully everybody will come back healthy and in better shape -- we can focus and understand what we want to be," Wall said on the podcast. "It's a good opportunity where (the starters) won't have to play as many minutes ... that's the key.
"At the end of the year, you're kind of fall short because you're fatigued -- and nobody uses that as an excuse, you play and you try to get in the best shape possible. But when you play 24 minutes of the whole [first] half and 24 minutes of whole other half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off us sometimes."
Last season, Wall and Beal combined to average 35.4 minutes per game and both ranked in the top 20 in the NBA in overall mpg. The looming addition of Howard is something Wall sees as a benefit for Washington -- provided Howard can fulfill his role.
"I just feel like he's just that's trying to recreate his career. He's trying to change all the negative stuff people say about him," Wall said. "We know he likes to have fun, we know he likes to joke around and do those type of things. I think he's kind of locked-in and focused [now]. All we can do as teammates and a coaching staff and as an organization is try to make it comfortable for him and make him he's welcome, at home, and tell him the things we need him to do for our team to make us get better. He has to buy into that and not try to say it's all about him or try and do this for himself. You do this for the whole team and I think we'll be fine."
Last season, Howard averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds for the Hornets, his 14th in the league. Wall said he spoke with Howard and thinks the center still has plenty left in the tank.
"With Gortat gone, we needed somebody else to step in and be that guy for now," Wall said. "We talked and he said what he wanted and I was like, 'this is what our team wants and this is what we need.'
"Even though he's older, he's still an athletic big and still has respect in this league. He's a guy that can score in the low post. He's a guy that blocks shots. He's a guy that gets a lot of rebounds and a guy that can catch lobs and do things when teams switch against us ... If you don't crack down on him it's an automatic layup or a lob. I think that benefits us a lot."
I just feel like it’s open, that anyone of these teams can get to that spot if you go out there and play and produce."
Rivers, who turns 26 in August, averaged a career-best 15.1 points and four assists last season while playing for his father, Doc, the Clippers' coach. Wall is anticipating that Rivers will provide a consistent scoring punch off the bench while freeing up Oubre Jr. and backup point guard Tomas Satoransky.
"He's a high-volume shooter and once he gets it going, he's going," Wall said. "I think it gives us that guy we never really kind of had off the bench that can create for himself and create for his teammates at the two-guard position. He can just go out there and be the scorer for us and let Tomas [Satoransky] run the show.
He can help KO [Kelly Oubre] out in transition and then having Jeff Green is another guy that can be there for them ... I think that gives our second unit a deeper bench."
As for the biggest move of the Eastern Conference this summer -- LeBron James moving to the Los Angeles Lakers -- Wall says it changes things in the East for everyone.
"He did what he said he was going to do for the city of Cleveland. Now, I feel like this move is more important just for his family and kids. He’s going to live life," Wall said. "Boston is a tough team that’s there. You have Philly that’s there, Milwaukee, Toronto is there for sure. We’re there. Indiana is definitely there.
"I just feel like it’s open, that anyone of these teams can get to that [top] spot if you go out there and play and produce."