Washington Wizards Exiting All-Star Break in Basketball Limbo

Washington Wizards (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

With just 24 games left in the season, the Washington Wizards face a tough decision. Do they try to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoff race? Or is it time to focus on the future?

For many teams in the Eastern Conference, the 2018-19 season marked an era of renewed hope. LeBron James was finally gone. The East’s top spot was there for the taking. It was time to rebalance to power.

For the Washington Wizards, that era of hope didn’t last very long. From day 1, this season has been defined by injuries. Whether it be Dwight Howard or Markieff Morris or John Wall, the Wizards simply haven’t been able to stay healthy. Or win.

Now, with just over a quarter of the season left, the Wizards are in a tough spot. Make their final playoff push, or tank for next year?

Pushing for the Playoffs

To Wizards owner, Ted Leonsis, the choice between playoffs and tanking is simple: “We will never, ever tank.”

Or at least that’s what he told the Washington Post last month.

And why should they? According to Leonsis and others close to the team, players inside the locker room are confident that this group can still make the playoffs. Clawing back into things while just 3 games out of the 8th seed with 24 games left isn’t an impossible task. Far from it, actually.

Besides, tanking is not an exact science. Especially for an organization that has been less than stellar in the draft process. Remember Jan Vesely?

Other than rookie Troy Brown, the only current Wizards to be drafted by the team are Wall, Bradley Beal and Tomas Satoransky. And with his contract up soon, Sato could be gone from that list before next season.

After all, it’s far too late to get into the tanking game. The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks have fully committed to the Zion Williamson sweepstakes for awhile. Right now, Basketball Reference projects the Wizards as a long shot for a top five pick. They’re more likely to get the 9th or 10th pick instead.

Getting better through free agency is less of a gamble than the draft. But for any of Bradley Beal‘s All-Star Game recruiting to pay off, Washington has to show that it is a viable and competitive team. Even if John Wall is on the bench.

What better way to prove that to free agents than to make a playoff push without their all-star point guard?

Time to Tank

While making the playoffs may be a great silver-lining at the end of a tumultuous season for the Wizards, what is it really worth? Remember what happened when Washington slid into the playoffs last season? A prompt 4-2 defeat by the Toronto Raptors. And that year, they did have Wall.

There’s no real reason to believe the Wizards would do any better this season. They currently have losing records to all the Eastern Conference playoff teams but one. The Charlotte Hornets.

That’s if they even make the playoffs. Currently sitting at 11th in the East, Basketball Reference gives the Wizards just a 6.4% chance of making the playoffs. The Detroit Pistons, the current 8th seed, have a 54.5% chance.

So the playoffs are more of a pipedream than anything. With Wall out for most—if not all—of next season, they probably won’t be a reality then, either.

The obvious solution would be to go out and buy some talent via free agency this summer. The only problem is the Wizards won’t have much money to spend. While the Otto Porter trade did free up some cap space for the off-season, there are still bad contracts on the books (Ian Mahinmi, Dwight Howard). D.C. has never been a big free agent destination. With little money to spend, making attractive offers to the top tier free agents will be difficult.

Well then what better way to get cheap value than the draft? For a cash-strapped team that could have its two all-stars together again in the backcourt by the 2020-2021 season, adding a top tier prospect and letting him develop seems like the best step forward. Especially if you can add a player that contributes from day one.

Next. In defense of drafting Otto Porter over Giannis Antetokounmpo. dark

Whether the Wizards decide to pack it in after the break is still yet to be seen. If they opt for a playoff push, get ready. We could be in for a wild final stretch. For what it’s worth, exactly half of their remaining opponents are current playoff teams.