With LeBron James out of the East, most think the Boston Celtics are next in line to dominate. It makes sense. They have a star in Kyrie Irving. Quality second tier players like Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. A rising young star in Jayson Tatum.
Not that long ago, it was the Washington Wizards who seemed to be in position to take advantage of a “Lebron-less” East. On paper, one would think the Wizards have enough to be a top four team in the conference and maybe they will. But after being within a game of facing LeBron and the Cavs in the Eastern Conference two seasons ago, they barely snuck into the playoffs last season. Six games later, the season was over.
Wizards went from arguing they had the best backcourt in the league, to having their franchise player calling for changes.
“It’s just figuring out what pieces we can add to our team,” Wall said. “What guys can stay and what guys can go. That make us, that really want to be here. That really want to win and really want to take that next step.”
And with that, the front office made changes. Gone is John Wall’s main antagonist, Marcin Gortat. It never made sense, how much Gortat seemed to intentionally tweak Wall. So the the shock of no one, Gortat was shipped out of town. Dwight Howard is now in DC. Even though he’s not the rim protector he once was, his athleticism will be an upgrade. Also in town is Austin Rivers. He should help a bench that could use as much help as it can get. Jeff Green should provide, what seems to be, much needed leadership in the locker room.
With all that, the Wizards are rarely mentioned as a true contender in the conference. Behind Boston you’re more likely to hear Philadelphia, Toronto, Milwaukee. All three of those teams have just as many question as the Wizards. Can the Sixers have Ben Simmons improve his jumper. Is adding Kawhi Leonard with the subtraction of Lebron enough for the Raptors not a fold in the playoffs? In theory, Milwaukee improved in the coaching department with the hiring of Budenholzer but do they have enough talent to make a run?
This is why it’s so confusing why the Wizards don’t come up in the conversation more. Despite their sometimes surly demeanor, when healthy, they are a handful especially against better teams. Perhaps unmotivated efforts in games where they’re the more talented team is being used against them. But, outside of Boston, Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard is more than competent in the East. Ernie Grunfeld likes vets over rookies so the likes of Green and Rivers should blend in well with the younger Kelly Oubre Jr and Tomas Satoransky.
The Wizards aren’t going to impose their style like a Golden State but they do have enough versatility to beat teams in a half-court game as well as a 94 foot game. On October 18th, the book start to be written. And the question will be answered.