With the Washington Wizards’ training camp set to open in less than a month, supporters of the team are anxiously awaiting to watch a team being described as “hopeful.”
Many questions that the Wizards had entering the off-season were answered during the free agency period and through the NBA draft. But there are also many that remain unanswered. Who better to ask these questions than someone so closely associated with the Washington Wizards franchise, such as Emmy award winning Wizards play-by-play man, Dave Johnson. Dave Johnson was very gracious in answering a few of my questions. . .
Ben Mehic: How would you assess the Wizards last season, before and after the Nene trade?
Dave Johnson: The first part of last season was just difficult. The previous season the Wizards were close to a .500 team at home, but awful on the road. It was reasonable to assume that we could take another step forward. I think the Wizards showed that a young team really needs a training camp and a proper off season and that didn’t happen because of the lockout. It also became clear we needed veteran leadership. The arrival of Nene had a tremendous impact. Let’s face it, when he suffered a foot injury there was no incentive in the standing for him to return, but he did. I still remember Nene apologizing to me when he couldn’t play because of injury and I remember our shock and surprise when he declared himself ready to play and he returned in the win over the Bucks that was part of our late season run. In short Nene helped make this team better on and off the court.
BM: Teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, and Indiana Pacers all made strides during their third year of the rebuilding process. What are your expectations for the Wizards for this up and coming season? Do you expect them to make similar improvements, or possibly even make the post season?
DJ: I am confident. The Wizards made improvement on defense at the end of last season and the addition of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza will help them continue to make strides. I don’t think the post season is out of the question, but I think it is still important for patience. There are a lot of new pieces that have to be put together.
BM: The Wizards played their best brand of basketball in years to finish out last Season. How can they continue building on their six-game win streak?
DJ: Training camp and pre-season in October is probably going to be more interesting than it has been in recent seasons and that is a good thing. With the new additions, the Wizards have so many options. I think getting an idea of what combinations work will be essential.
BM: Of course being the play by play announcer for the Washington Wizards, you’ve witnessed the changes to the team’s core up close. With the addition of veterans such as Nene, Emeka Okafor, and Trevor Ariza, the Wizards front office personnel have done a good job of addressing some of their needs. What are some other areas that can be addressed while the off-season is winding down?
DJ: I think the addition of Martell Webster is another plus. I understand injuries have been too much a part of his career, but cross your fingers for good health and that his shooting range and athletic ability will make a difference.
BM: Drafting Bradley Beal third overall in this year’s draft out of Florida to play along side John Wall in the back court was a big addition to the team’s roster. What can Beal bring to the team that was missing last year? How will Beal affect the Wizards’ future?
DJ: Beal will give the Wizards an additional outside scoring option they did not have last year. I think the competition with Jordan Crawford will make good players better. We saw flashes of his potential in summer league, but his rookie year is still going to be a learning process. Beal is also a very good rebounding guard who can play defense. Beal is going to make it in this league and is another reason to be excited by the future. The Wizards have seven first round picks on the roster taken in the last couple of drafts.
BM: And finally, if you could give the Wizards a letter grade to judge their off-season, how grade would you give them?
DJ: I would never make it as a teacher. I am not good at letter grades, but it has to be at least a B-plus. In Beal the Wizards snared arguably the second best player in the draft. Ariza (a wing defender) and Okafor(a post defender) are great additions. The Wizards have their financial flexibility and the young players are developing. Kevin Seraphin would have been a candidate for most improved player had last season’s surge started sooner.
I want to thank Dave Johnson for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. It’s quite obvious that the majority of us are expecting better results from the Wizards this upcoming season. As Dave Johnson made a point, it’s also very important to be patient with this young roster, but it’s great that Wizards fans have a season to be optimistic about. You can follow Dave Johnson here on twitter, and also make sure to check out his work on the WashingtonWizards.com.
*Note: These questions were asked prior to the signing of Martell Webster*