With the Eastern Conference opening up more and more by the day, the Wizards are one of the few contending teams in the conference actually getting better. The Bulls are the only other team near the top of the conference that has added significant pieces to their team. Think about it. The Heat lost LeBron. The Pacers lost Stephenson. The Nets lost Paul Pierce. The Raptors mostly stayed the same. And while the Cavs added LeBron, they still have a young, unproven roster around him that will take time to gel.
The conference really is up for grabs, perhaps more so than at any other time in the past decade. Of course that could shift if the Cavs get Kevin Love, but at the moment, the Cavs seem unlikely to trade Andrew Wiggins. No matter who wins the Eastern conference next year, the NBA champion will almost positively come from the Western Conference. But that’s not a reason to throw the towel in if you’re in the East. Especially for a team like the Wizards who have been so starved of any playoff success in the past 30 years.
The Wizards haven’t made any earth-shattering moves this offseason, but they’ve quietly made smart moves that will keep them flexible in the long-run and competitive right now. Letting Ariza walk in free agency was the right move. Not because $8 million per season is too much for him, but because it allows the Wizards to pursue hometown superstar Kevin Durant in the 2016 summer. Replacing his value with the aging, but still effective Paul Pierce was one of the more deft moves we’ve seen Ernie Grunfeld make in his tenure with the Wizards. Even more recently though, the Wizards have signed three big men who will be key contributors for the Wizards off the bench.
Re-signing Drew Gooden was a low-key move, but will pay dividends. After Gortat, Gooden was the best big man the Wizards had in the playoffs last season. He’s great on the boards and is surprisingly skilled from the mid-range offensively. And in the past two days, the Wiz have added two dirty-work big men who hit the boards hard and hustle: Kris Humphries and Dejuan Blair. Aside from Humphries being the most hated player in the league (and for good reason), he is a very good rebounder who can come off the bench for 20 minutes and hustle. Then earlier today, the Wizards completed a sign-and-trade netting them Dejuan Blair. Only 25, Blair has been on the fringe of the rotation in San Antonio and Dallas, two of the NBA’s marquee franchises. He too can come off the bench for the Wizards and add a toughness that Kevin Seraphin and Chris Singleton, likely the two odd men out (as well as Trevor Booker who signed with the Jazz), didn’t.
Again, this isn’t to anoint the Wizards as the favorite in the East. But their roster, top to bottom, is deeper and tougher than last year. Right now the rotation will go something like this:
- Starting 5: Wall, Beal, Pierce, Nene, Gortat
- Bench: Humphries, Blair, Andre Miller, Drew Gooden, Otto Porter, Glen Rice Jr., Garrett Temple
The starting group is stronger than almost any in the East, and the bench is starting to take shape now. The glaring weakness? Wings off the bench. Pierce is 36 and probably won’t play much more than 25 minutes per game, at least if Randy Wittman is smart. Porter and Rice didn’t contribute at all for the team last season, and despite looking much better in summer league, it’s tough to trust them, especially at the end of the season and in the playoffs. The other possible weakness would be back-up point guard. Miller was fine last season, but he turns 39 next season, and who knows how effective he’ll be.