More than four years ago in the 2017 NBA playoffs, the Washington Wizards fell to the Boston Celtics in a thrilling seven-game Eastern Conference Semifinal match-up that had its fair share of memorable antics both on and off the court.
It was a disappointing finish for a Wizards team that had higher aspirations, but it was also their third second round appearance in four years. For this lowly franchise whose most memorable moments in its recent history were two years of an aging Michael Jordan and the roller coaster Gilbert Arenas saga, this stretch of postseason success was also their best run since the 1970s.
Amidst all the hoopla, the Wizards rewarded their starting point guard and multiple-time NBA All-Star John Wall with a four-year, $171 million supermax extension in the 2017 offseason. Wall was coming off his first All-NBA appearance and the Wizards were hopeful that they could continue their upward trajectory with him leading the way into the future.
What their crystal ball failed to tell them was that Wall was soon to crumble and their fortunes were about to go downhill after that series against the Celtics.
With the ink of his supermax deal still fresh, Wall proceeded to miss half of the ‘17-’18 season with a myriad of injuries before he eventually ruptured his Achilles in the early goings of the ‘18-’19 campaign. The Wizards continued to spiral and implode before finally dealing Wall and his seemingly untradeable albatross contract to the Houston Rockets in December 2020.
The catch, however, was that the cost for unloading their former franchise icon was another mammoth supermax contract that belonged to a man named Russell Westbrook.
The league’s MVP in 2017 and a nine-time NBA All-Star, Westbrook’s resume dwarfed Wall’s and it was a solid move on paper. In recent years though, his name had begun to sour following a lack of playoff success and questions about his fit next to other high-usage players.
While at Washington, Westbrook broke the record for the most triple doubles all-time, but his first, and eventually only, season with the Wizards was relatively uneventful. They lost in five games in the first round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia 76ers and a few months later, he was shipped to the Los Angeles Lakers.
In less than one year, the Wizards’ front office managed to trade two of what were perceived as the most undesirable contracts in the league which is no small feat. Their roster has been in a state of flux and distress over the past few years, especially these past few months with their transactions involving marquee names, yet there has been one constant bright spot through it all.
Now entering his tenth year in the NBA and with this Washington team that drafted him third overall in 2012, Bradley Beal has slowly matured into one of the best three-level scorers in the world. It is no coincidence that his first of three NBA All-Star appearances came in the ‘17-’18 season when Wall was first saddled with injuries.
The 28-year-old guard has put up at least 22 points per game over the past five seasons and has challenged for the league’s scoring title in these last two years with nightly averages of 30.5 and 31.3 points, respectively.
He has been involved in much trade speculation over the past few months, though it seems like the Wizards are keen on keeping him and he has a player option to remain with the team in the ‘22-’23 season. Come the 2022 offseason, Beal will be eligible for a five-year $235 million extension if he chooses to re-sign with Washington.
His decision will be largely influenced by the outcome of this coming season for this Wizards team that has clearly been his over these past few years. They have finally acknowledged that in full with their most recent offseason moves which is a positive development in their hopes of keeping their superstar.
In exchange for Westbrook, who was as recognizable a name as they come yet an extremely poor fit next to Beal, the Wizards received a handful of useful role players from the Lakers instead of the expected superstar. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell will come in and contribute immediately for a Wizards squad that lacked depth last season. The first two played crucial roles in the Lakers’ 2020 title run in the NBA Bubble and Caldwell-Pope in particular should fit in nicely alongside Beal.
The defensive-minded guard has the length at 6’5 to match-up with the best perimeter scorers in the league while his ever-improving three-point shot (Career-best 41.1% from three last season) will provide Beal with the floor-spacing that Wall and Westbrook could never give him.
Meanwhile, Kuzma and Harrell will give them an additional scoring punch–ideally off the bench–that they have sorely lacked. They will join the returning sharpshooter Davis Bertans, third-year forward Rui Hachimura, and last year’s prized midseason acquisition Daniel Gafford in what is suddenly a pretty deep Wizards front court.
The promising tandem of Hachimura and Gafford should make further strides this season and their development could very much determine Washington’s ceiling in this upcoming season.
Former starting center Thomas Bryant is also expected to return sometime this coming season from a torn ACL that he suffered this past January while last year’s ninth overall pick Deni Avdijia is anticipated to make further strides in his sophomore campaign.
In addition to these three former Lakers, the Wizards also acquired Spencer Dinwiddie to fill their need at point guard. He suffered a partially torn ACL last season while playing for the Brooklyn Nets, though he should be ready for the start of this season.
The former second round pick averaged a career-best 20.6 points and 6.8 assists per game in ‘19-’20 while with the Nets and much will be expected from him in what will be his first full-time starting role in the NBA.
Their moves were hardly as flashy as their trade that netted them Westbrook last year, yet this coming season looks to be an intriguing one for Washington. Their front office has finally embraced Beal as the heart and soul of their franchise, as shown with how they retooled their roster this past offseason to cater to his talents.
They are far from competing for the Eastern Conference title and a trip to the NBA Finals, but this team will be right in the mix for one of the lower seeds in the East with the potential to go on a run akin to that of the Atlanta Hawks in the most recent postseason if everything falls into place.
Beal’s scoring ability gives them a chance to win on any given night and now that he finally has a supporting cast that amplifies–instead of hinders–his strengths, the Wizards might finally be able to continue on their journey to relevance that went on an abrupt detour a few years ago.