What history tells us about the Washington Wizards’ 2021 offseason situation

Bradley Beal #3 and Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Bradley Beal #3 and Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /
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Washington Wizards Ish Smith.
Washington Wizards Ish Smith. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The Teams that Made Upgrades

Of the 30 teams, we already looked at 11 of them that stayed the course. Five of the remaining 19 teams made “upgrades.” Three (3) of those five teams endured long rebuilds in the ensuing years:

  1. 1995 Boston Celtics
    The downfall of the Boston Celtics was a slow burn. Larry Bird left after 1992, Kevin McHale after 1993, and Robert Parish after 1994. Reggie Lewis tragically passed away during the 1993 offseason. By 1995, the team reached the playoffs (despite a 35-47 record) with a totally different group – led by Dee Brown, Dino Radja, and a 35 year-old Dominique Wilkins. Then they signed all-star Dana Barros and went six years in the dark. They went 36-46 twice over that span, and those were the good years. A failed pursuit at the Tim Duncan sweepstakes occurred in 1997. Rick Pitino happened. At least they wound up nabbing Paul Pierce through all of this.
  2. 2009 Detroit Pistons
    When it was over, it was over. The Detroit Pistons of the 2000s had an incredible run – winning an NBA Finals, making other one, and appearing in six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. But by 2009, Ben Wallace was gone, Chauncey Billups was exchanged for Allen Iverson, and Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace were older. The following summer, Joe Dumars re-imagined the team around Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and young point-guard Rodney Stuckey; bringing back Ben Wallace and inking Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to massive free-agent deals. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to label this as the worst offseason in NBA history. The Pistons haven’t been close to relevant since.
  3. 2012 Philadelphia 76ers
    Arguably one of the best eight-seeds ever (5th in the league in Net Rating in 2012 at +4.7), things were looking up for the 76ers. The team had an intriguing cast of experienced players (Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala) and young guys (Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Nikola Vucevic, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young). And then it got crazy. Iguodala was swapped for Andrew Bynum — who was coming off an all-NBA campaign at age 24 –, and it spiraled into a total fiasco. Philly ended up under-performing their preseason over/under by 13.5 wins. On May 10, 2013, the franchise hired Sam Hinkie to run the team, and the rest is history.

Two (2) of these five teams rebounded in the ensuing years:

  1. 1994 Miami Heat
    Much like two years prior, a Heat team led by Glen Rice and Steve Smith was first-round cannon fodder in 1994. At the beginning of the 1995 season, they acquired for Billy Owens and traded Smith for Kevin Willis. The moves didn’t take, and by 1996, Pat Riley arrived in South Beach, while the entire roster got flipped upside down. Miami turned into an Eastern Conference power in the late 1990s, and has been a model franchise ever since.
  2. 1996 Sacramento Kings
    In 1996, all-NBA shooting guard Mitch Richmond carried the Kings to their first playoff berth in a decade. Basking in this brief hit of success, the team acquired Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf – only to drop back into the lottery in 1997 and 1998. After that, Sacramento steadily rose to dominance. They poached Chris Webber from D.C. for Richmond (Wiz!), drafted Jason Williams, and signed Vlade Divac. Getting Peja Stojakovic with the #15 overall pick in 1996 was huge as well.

So how do these “all-in” teams apply to the Washington Wizards’ situation?

The lesson: it’s hard to upgrade the roster in a meaningful way when the franchise is stuck in the middle. None of the teams made the playoffs the following year, as all of these moves ended up blowing up in their faces. If the Wizards were to somehow figure it out like the 1994 Heat or the 1996 Kings, history tells us that it will be with a completely different cast of characters.