In quotes: Tommy Sheppard on the Wizards' season, offseason outlook

Earlier this week, Wizards president and general manager Tommy Sheppard spoke to the media following the end of the team’s 2021-22 season, addressing his evaluations of the team’s performance, the ups and downs of a regular season that included significant roster turnover and a long list of injury- and health-related absences, and his priorities for the upcoming offseason.

SHEPPARD: I think we had high expectations going into the season. Everything is kind of dictated by staying healthy all year. We weren’t able to do that. That’s something you have to struggle with throughout the NBA – we’re one of 30 teams. Everybody has the same narrative: “If we can stay healthy, then this can happen.” I feel like we weren’t able to do that…I still think the people that filled those voids got some invaluable playing time. People like Corey Kispert, Daniel Gafford.

SHEPPARD: I look at this season in almost three or four parts. We had a great start, we took on some water, hit some COVID situations, lost some tough games, we had some injuries, we had a trade deadline go in a different direction – and the result is, here we are. We’re sitting with a bad taste in our mouth not to be in the playoffs, but I look at the way we finished, some of the lineups we were able to look at gives me great encouragement for what is ahead.

Sheppard spoke highly of the job done by first-year head coach Wes Unseld Jr., who was hired last summer after years as an assistant with the Denver Nuggets. Unseld Jr. was tasked with managing an ever-changing roster impacted by injuries, COVID and transactions. This season alone, Unseld Jr. coached 29 different players on the Wizards roster.

SHEPPARD: One thing I can’t say enough is the job that Wes and his staff did in their first year…When you slide down the bench and become a head coach, it’s a totally different life. I think he weathered the storm. He had a lot of stuff thrown at him and still managed to show he is a tremendous coach. In tight games, look at our record. He did a great job with that. I think you learn a lot after that first year…You learn so much in that first year that you can apply moving forward.

Perhaps the defining question of the Wizards’ future is how the team will build around the already-existing pillars of its roster. Two of those players, Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis, never got a chance to play together during the 2021-22 season. Porzingis was acquired by Washington in a deadline-day trade that took place after Beal had already been ruled out for the season with a left wrist injury. Sheppard made it clear he has no concerns about the duo’s ability to coalesce on the court.

SHEPPARD: One of the easiest problems I have to solve is talent playing with talent. That works itself out. I think Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis will be great in the two-man game. I think both of them are creative with the ball. Both of them know how to score, both of them have great court vision.

The first order of business for Beal, however, will be getting healthy.

SHEPPARD: Later this month…that’s when (Beal’s) rehab begins. He’s been able to strengthen the other parts of his body, that wrist he’s not able to do anything with. The first thing when the cast comes off, you start from ground zero. Fortunately, it’s his left hand. Fortunately, it’s 100% healthy when the pins pop out and life begins. One thing I have marveled at with Bradley from day one: I’ve watched him go through lot of different injuries and come back time and time again. He knows his body better than anybody and he’s one of the fastest healers I have ever been around.

Looking forward to the offseason, Sheppard shed some light on his priorities for managing the roster and the biggest challenges he will face. High on the Wizards’ to-do list will be identifying a consistent presence at point guard. Washington cycled through a number of a players at the point spot this season and Sheppard spoke highly of those that saw significant action with the team, noting that the diverse skillsets were helpful in giving him and understanding of how the current core fits in different styles.

SHEPPARD: Looking at all those people, I think we need somebody that is a pass-first point guard; somebody that will be able to contain the dribble on the defensive end and help us keep people out of the paint. Those are some of the prerequisites we are going to be looking for. You have the draft, free agency and trades…There are certain ways you can build your roster and we are going to exhaust every avenue to help ourselves with that position.

Sheppard cited a number of non-point guards on the roster who helped drive playmaking this season – including Bradley Beal, Deni Avdija, Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis – as reasons the team can be flexible in what it is looking for this offseason.

SHEPPARD: We have a lot of people who can get assists. Our point guard doesn’t necessarily have to be someone that is going to come in and be a high-profile name or a high-profile performer. It just needs to be somebody that is a good fit.

SHEPPARD: (The biggest challenge of the offseason is) just to be patient. There is going to be buyer frenzy once you get to the draft. There is so little money this summer in the marketplace for free agents. There are going to be a lot of teams that want to shuffle. There are going to be some teams that do a little bit on the side and there are going to be teams that do complete restructuring. To know ahead of time what our needs are going to be, where we can fill those needs and then being patient to get the best possible deal – that’s not a challenge like I am worried about, that’s just something we embrace.

Sheppard spoke about Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert’s development and their plans for the summer.

SHEPPARD: If you follow the Wizards, you know I am a very big supporter of players playing for their national teams. (Avdija) actually has to do a World Cup qualifier and EuroBasket with Israel. I think the FIBA games, especially the world cup and EuroBasket – the level of competition in those games, the amount of fanfare – those are high level games. I believe he will get more out of that being one of the key players for Israel, will give him the kind of pressure we want him to have that probably doesn’t exist in Summer League.

SHEPPARD: We’re looking at (the possibility of Kispert playing in Summer League). He will definitely be in the camp. I know what Corey can do. We have a lot of players we want to look at…we’re going to look at lot of people. When we know what Corey can do, we can kind of safely set that to the side. I am a big fan of Summer League, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes there are opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have if we wanted to bring guys to camp, do two-ways, do Exhibit 10s, do (free agent) contracts. Those sorts of opportunities present themselves at Summer League and I want to make sure we have plenty of roster spots and shots available.

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