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 Russell Westbrook Bradley Beal.
Washington Wizards Russell Westbrook Bradley Beal. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

The Teams that Made it Work

That leaves us with 12 teams. Six (6) of these were up-and-coming teams with a young nucleus and future all-star(s), like the 2007 Magic and the 2010 Bulls, which doesn’t apply to the Wizards. Neither do the four (4) who simply experienced one-year blips (1991 Knicks, 1997 Suns, 2014 Hawks, 2016 Rockets) but immediately vaulted back into contention.

The remaining two (2) teams managed to finagle themselves into a good situation, thanks in large part to clever maneuvering by the front office:

  1. 1993 Los Angeles Lakers
    Following Magic Johnson’s sudden retirement in 1991, the Lakers appeared to be in a bind after an unprecedented 12-year run of dominance. By 1993, Sam Perkins, Byron Scott, and James Worthy were all 31 years old – the later a season away from retirement – and Vlade Divac was the only young player of note on the roster. So how did they find their way out of this predicament? The greatest GM of all time, Jerry West, worked his magic. He snagged Nick Van Exel in the second round in 1993, then in 1994 picked Eddie Jones #10 overall and traded a future first-rounder for Cedric Ceballos. Just like that the Lakers became exciting again, and we all know how the rest unfolded.
  2. 2004 Boston Celtics
    In 2004, the Boston Celtics had a 26-year old Paul Pierce surrounded by…pretty much nothing (unless you’re the biggest Ricky Davis fan this side of Zach Harper). Trader Danny Ainge got to work, though, accumulating assets by working the margins (seriously, look at all of these transactions), and nailing the draft (in 2004: Al Jefferson at #15, Delonte West at #24, Tony Allen at #25, and swooping in for Rajon Rondo in 2006). Just three years later, the Celtics had enough ammo (with the assistance of one Kevin McHale) to trade for both Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

So how do these two teams apply to the Washington Wizards’ situation?

Again, not much unless Tommy Sheppard is the second-coming of Jerry West or Danny Ainge. Hitting on the draft is critical (duh), and the jury is still out on Sheppard’s history there. Another idea: “taking a swing” may be undervalued in this era of asset hoarding. Look at how the Cedric Ceballos trade worked out for Los Angeles. Dealing future pick(s) may not be so perilous, as long as it’s for a true difference-maker (unfortunately, the protections of the 2023 pick from the Wall-Westbrook swap make this a bit tricky). Ben Simmons qualifies as that, but I’m not sure who else does that would potentially be available. Jerami Grant? Kristaps Porzingis? One of the Indiana guys?

Overall, the track record of teams in the same spot as the Wizards is bleak, just not as bleak as I originally thought. In all likelihood, Washington will be forced to undergo a rebuild in the coming years – no matter what they do this offseason. That said, there are paths back to relevancy or semi-contention; the margin for error is just close to zero. Nobody on the roster (not even Bradley Beal) should be untouchable. That same mentality with the Bucks and Michael Redd left them in the toilet for the better part of the 2000s. He’s done decently around the edges, but Sheppard can’t be wedded to his past beliefs – i.e. that Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura are building blocks, that Thomas Bryant is the center of the future, or that Russell Westbrook is the savior. The fact that the Masai Ujiri buzz has died down speaks volumes to where the franchise believes it’s at. Let’s see what happens next; step one is bringing in a competent head coach for the first time in over a decade.

Next. The Wizards can learn a valuable lesson from the Trail Blazers. dark