If there is one word that can be used to describe the overall feeling in the Nation’s Capital, that word would be uncertainty. From national politics amidst one of the most bizarre Presidential elections in history down to the local sports franchises, there are more unknowns than not.
In mid-October, sports fans in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia – or DMV – are fully invested in the Washington Redskins. It has been, and will probably always remain, the most dominant and followed sport in the region. The Washington Nationals brought some excitement as they made the playoffs after a disappointing 2015 campaign, but their season came to an abrupt and heartbreaking end with a game five elimination at home. Fans that have an interest outside of the Redskins usually start to perk their ears up and follow along as the Washington Wizards regular season kicking off, as well as the Capitals beginning their journey towards the playoffs.
However, the interest and excitement that usually begins to grow for the Wizards has been tempered. A big influence is the fact that the longtime dream of many fans to have Kevin Durant on the team dissipated before it even had a chance of coming true. This was supposed to be the season that the lineup of John Wall, Kevin Durant, and Bradley Beal took the Eastern Conference by storm, propelling themselves to NBA Final contenders.
It didn’t happen. What followed were moments of confusion, an uncertain identity, and a somewhat loss of direction.
The Wizards re-signed guard Bradley Beal to a max deal – 5 years for $128 million. Mind you, this was after a season in which he played in a career low number of games and minutes. The move was met with a general sense of apathy. What else was management really supposed to do? Let him walk and break up whatever chance of an All-Star backcourt they had? That would undoubtedly lead to a worse record, lower attendance, and the potential of frustrating superstar guard John Wall to the point of leaving when his contract is up.
They let Nene walk, choosing to add new role players such as Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith, and hoping that Otto Porter Jr. would turn into the third star (or second) star that they desperately need to be competitive.
With new head coach, Scott Brooks now in the fold, it is not clear what this offense is going to look like. It’s not clear what the defense is going to look like. It’s not clear how many minutes the starters as of day one will end up playing. What if Beal gets hurt – again? What if Porter simply cannot compete on the level needed to as a starter? What if Gortat doesn’t fit in Brooks’ strategy?
Owner Ted Leonsis has built up plenty of goodwill among D.C. fans. The level of excitement increased tremendously when they reached the playoffs and advanced, coming only a stone’s throw away from a conference title birth – something the city hasn’t had in any sport since 1998. John Wall’s elevated play along with Paul Pierce’s heroics gave professional basketball a new life in this town. But that was two years ago. Instead of building on it further in 2015-16, the team took not one, but two steps back.
The roster has seen plenty of turnover, is led by a new coach, and the general manager is on borrowed time. The Wizards had also been immune to locker room angst but signs of that began in the summer when it seemed that Wall was irked by Beal’s $128 million deal compared to his $84 million; and who could blame him? To be fair, he has denied that it bothered him, and if it really didn’t, then he is a saint. I know that it would have bothered me. How that plays into this season is yet to be seen.
The goal for 2016-17 isn’t to win 41 games and miss the playoffs. It is improve from last year and make the playoffs, which means you need to win probably 45 or 46 games at minimum for the chance at the eighth seed. But two years ago when they were on the verge of making the eastern conference finals, who would have thought that having Wall, Beal, and Porter with two more years of experience under their belts would mean a regression? D.C. fans certainly didn’t, which is why the onus will fall on Leonsis and management to ensure that the team remains competitive. If it looks like the wheels are falling off by the All-star break and the team is not going to be in playoff contention, a quick trigger will need to be had at the trade deadline. They can’t afford to wait things out for another year. Patience is running low.
The Wizards didn’t get a real chance to sign Durant in 2016, and that has led to much of the uncertainty to begin the season. The KD2DC project failed. But if you think that’s bad, imagine if Wall – one of the biggest stars not only of the region, but in the country – opts to sign elsewhere after the 2018 season when he’s at the prime age of 28. The franchise has two years to right this ship and steer it in the direction of growth, development, and above all, results.
Because if not, then who knows?