The Washington Wizards recently revealed the return of their home jerseys from the late 1990s and 2000s as their Classic Edition uniforms for this upcoming season. This move is in line with the team’s 25th anniversary celebration of their switch from the controversial Bullets moniker to their much less divisive Wizards name.
The team used a video centered on nostalgia to make this announcement, but it was also a reminder of this team’s constant dance between futility and averageness through the years.
Chris Webber and Jerry Stackhouse, two recognizable stars from two decades ago, made appearances in the video yet are better known for their more memorable stints with other franchises. Meanwhile, Juwan Howard, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, and John Wall all spent the best days of their career with the Wizards though they never managed to make it beyond the second round of the playoffs.
A notable omission from the video was Michael Jordan, who unretired for a second time to suit up for Washington from 2001 to 2003. The only references to the legendary icon were a courtside fan wearing his jersey and a brief appearance of his back as he was jogging away in the background of a scene where Stackhouse and Larry Hughes were high-fiving one another.
The team has only made the playoffs nine times since taking on the Wizards mantle in 1997, highlighted by a mere four second round appearances. However, their struggles go beyond the past 25 years and date back to the year after their lone NBA title in 1978. They lost in the NBA Finals to the Seattle Supersonics in 1979 and have not made it past the Eastern Conference Semifinals since.
Unfortunately, it does not seem like the tide is about to turn for them this upcoming season. While they were able to avert their fear of Bradley Beal leaving following his decision to sign a five-year $251 million max contract earlier this offseason, the outlook is not particularly rosy for Washington.
Beal’s lackluster showing during his injury-plagued ‘21-’22 campaign undoubtedly helped keep him in town as interest for the 29-year-old guard waned from the frenzy fueled by his high-scoring exploits in the two prior years. The narrative has now shifted towards whether or not Beal can bounce back and produce at the same level that the league grew accustomed to prior to last season’s debacle. His ability to return to his form that allowed him to average over 30 points per game in back-to-back seasons will be crucial in unlocking any upside for this team moving forward.
Similarly, Kristaps Porzingis, acquired at last year’s trade deadline, will also be key in determining this team’s ceiling. It has been over four years since his lone NBA All-Star appearance as injuries have taken a toll on his 7’3 frame, although he showed promise in his 17 games with the Wizards following his arrival where he averaged 22.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.5 blocks.
If Porzingis, still just 27 years old, can keep this up, a first round berth this coming season should be doable even with just a slight Beal renaissance. Holdovers Kyle Kuzma, Rui Hachimura, Daniel Gafford, and Deni Avdija have proven to be solid role players while the newly acquired Monte Morris and Will Barton are expected to carry over their strong contributions from their days with the Denver Nuggets.
It will take nothing short of a miracle though for this team to make it to the second round, given the recent strength on top of the Eastern Conference, and Washington’s direction must be reassessed if there are no positive surprises for them this year.
They have yet to fully hit the rebuild switch following the demise of their Wall-Beal centric teams from a few years ago and may have to do so soon if they want to cut their long cycle of mediocrity. Banking on Beal and Porzingis recapturing their star power is a difficult bet to make.
The team is celebrating its 25th year as the Wizards this season, but will it really be a celebration if there has actually been nothing much for them to celebrate?