30 Teams in 30 Days: Stage may be set for Washington Wizards to realize their potential
Health of star-studded backcourt, new big man Dwight Howard will matter most
That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today’s team: Washington Wizards
Who’s new: Dwight Howard (free agency), Jeff Green (free agency), Troy Brown, Jr. (Draft), Austin Rivers (trade)
Who’s gone: Marcin Gortat (trade), Mike Scott (free agency)
The lowdown: With John Wall limited to half a season because of knee surgery, Bradley Beal became a leading man and, on some nights, pushed the boundaries of stardom. If anything, he gave the Wizards confidence in knowing that, when the pair is healthy, Washington boasts a top-three-or-four backcourt in the NBA. Forward Otto Porter Jr. was third in the NBA in 3-point shooting (a blistering 44.1 percent) and served as a secondary source of scoring. However, the Wizards weren’t so clear-cut elsewhere. The frontline continued to be a source of mixed results and frustration and, other than Kelly Oubre Jr., depth was an issue. The Wizards went chilly late in the season, lost nine of their last 12 games and dropped to the eighth seed.
In some ways, the Wizards are on the clock. They must seize the opportunity to win big while Wall, 27, and Beal, 25, are still in their primes. Yet they’ve rarely stayed healthy together and besides, nothing is promised. Remember, the Toronto Raptors broke up the sterling DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry backcourt this summer when their patience finally ran out.
Also, keep in mind the cost. Wall’s super max deal doesn’t begin until 2019-20. Beal is due $80 million the next three years, roughly the same money Washington will pay Porter Jr., who’s a good (but perhaps overpriced) complimentary player.
For the time being, the Wizards will put their frontcourt faith in Dwight Howard, who arrives about five years past his prime, but should be an upgrade over Gortat. Howard, 32, came cheap after his Brooklyn Nets buyout and remains a deluxe rebounder (12.5 per game last season).
The decision to bring in Howard could be the banana peel in the path of progress, however. This is his fourth team in four years. His “act” — being easy-going, goofy and fun-loving — didn’t play well with some previous teammates, including, among others, Kobe Bryant and James Harden.
Howard is headed to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and anyone who believes otherwise is foolish — the man did carry the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals. For a seven-year stretch, he was one of the game’s biggest impact players. Yet his twilight is bewildering, which is not surprising. Howard never developed his offensive game (namely a go-to move or mid-range shot) and as a result, he’s a dinosaur in a changing environment, someone who shrinks considerably when he strays six feet from the basket. Plus, he’s not the defensive demon of before, although he stays in tremendous physical shape and still runs the floor.
There’s also the matter of his personality, which might be overstated to a degree, yet was an issue ever since he left the Magic. Howard appears to be on a mission to please everyone and in the process, tends to ruffle some feathers along the way.
Finally, he often becomes irritated when he doesn’t see the ball in the low post. He won’t get many touches on a team with Wall and Beal taking upwards of 35 shots a night. (Ball movement and sharing was a complaint Gortat voiced at times in the past, too.)
Over the summer, Wall said he will do whatever he can to make Howard comfortable … because what’s the alternative? Since Beal joined Wall in 2012-13, they have won three playoff series together — but have never reached the East finals. However, the East is wide open this year with LeBron James out West.
The Wizards chose not to trade Oubre Jr. in the offseason, but this situation bears watching. He’s a developing player at a stacked position, and the swingman spot became even more crowded when the Wizards drafted Brown, who’s cut in the same mold. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Wizards move Oubre Jr. or Porter Jr. by the trade deadline if the right deal comes along, simply because Washington can’t pay both. Plus, Oubre Jr. is eligible for a contract extension next summer.
Brown, 19, brings court vision and a reliable handle, but it’s hard to see him playing much given the bodies in front of him on the depth chart. After all the quality big men and point guards were gone (and they passed on picking Michael Porter Jr.), Washington was in a weird position at No. 15 in the Draft. They could either trade the pick or Draft a wing-type.
They traded Gortat for Rivers, who’s listed at point guard but lacks the court vision and ability to create for others to see much time at the position. Rivers is more of a 3-point shooter, and he did well enough (37.8 percent) last season to ably bring that element off the bench.
For the most part, the Wizards made minor moves this summer, none of which are expected to dramatically change the complexion of the club. It should be enough to keep them in the playoff mix, especially with LeBron gone. From there, their hopes will be tied to their health.
Coming Next: Milwaukee Bucks
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