It has not been easy rooting for Wizards over the last decade. After losing in the opening rounds of the playoffs for four straight years, Washington hit its lowest point in the 2008-2009 regular season, finishing with a 19-63 record. This set the franchise’s all-time worst record. However, hope was restored to Wizards’ fans after the 2010 NBA Draft Lottery. After the Wizards finished as the 26th worst team in the league, the Ping-Pong balls were drawn in their favor and they were awarded the number one overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft. It was a good year to receive the number one overall pick, as one young point guard separated himself from the rest of the prospects with his explosive athleticism and quickness. John Wall, the freshman star from Kentucky, was the talent Washington needed to turn around a seemingly hopeless franchise. Although Wall wasn’t able to turn around the team immediately on his own, the front office was able to build around Wall, and create a playoff team within four years.
Washington took care of their biggest issue coming into the 2010 season in December when they traded away Gilbert Arenas and his six-year/$111 million contract to the Magic for Rashard Lewis. This was one of the final pieces of clearing out players from last year’s roster in order to rebuild. The Wizards had already traded Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson and Dominic McGuire to clear cap space. Although Lewis’ six-year/$118 million contract that he signed with Orlando in 2007 didn’t help the salary cap situation, the Wizards were lucky to find a team willing to take Arenas. Arenas was a problem for Washington ever since he signed his big contact in 2008. His character and productivity were questioned when he faked multiple injuries and brought out a gun into the Washington locker room. Trading Arenas allowed Wall to have an opportunity to thrive as a starting point guard, and not have to wait his turn behind a player who the franchise had wanted to get rid of for a couple of years. In addition, Lewis provided production immediately at small forward, and gave Wall a shooter to play along with. In February, the Wizards made another move by trading away Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong for Mike Bibby, Maurice Evans, Jordan Crawford and a 2011 first-round pick. Although Bibby and Evans’ tenures in Washington were short, the main move of the deal was to acquire young talent. Washington did so by adding a first round draft pick and a rookie in Crawford. The Wizards finished the season with a 23-59 record.
During the offseason, the Wizards’ main goals were to extend the salary cap, doing so by not re-signing seven-foot center Yi Jianlian. One of the only and biggest moves of the season was done in March when the Wizards traded JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Ronny Turiaf in a three-team deal. In return, the Wizards received Brian Cook and a second-round pick from the Clippers, and more importantly, Nene from Denver. McGee and Young both were effective scorers for Washington, but neither ever developed into a team player or a consistent enough player to lead the Wizards to the playoffs. Nene was an intelligent and effective center with playoff experience, and easily filled the center role when McGee left. The Wizards finished the season with a record of 20-46.
The Wizards were quick to make moves at the beginning of the 2012 offseason. In June, the Wizards traded Rashard Lewis to the Pelicans for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Washington wanted to get rid of Lewis and his contract to free cap space for future roster moves, especially after only playing 28 games the previous season. In doing so, Washington added an immediate presence down low in Okafor and a versatile player at the small forward position in Ariza. In July, the Wizards amnestied Andray Blatche to drop him as a distraction for future roster moves. By using the amnesty clause on Blatche, the roster was completely clear of players from the roster just three seasons ago when Arenas brought a gun into the locker room. Washington’s biggest move of the offseason was seen in the 2012 NBA Draft, when the Wizards selected Bradley Beal with the third overall selection. Drafting Beal added another young guard to build around in the backcourt with Wall, and was especially significant when the worst news came to the Wizards in September. Just a month before the season started, John Wall was diagnosed with the early stages of a non-traumatic stress injury in his knee. Wall ended up only playing 49 games in the 2012-2013 season due to his injury. The Wizards continued to make moves throughout the season in order clear more cap space and roster spaces. Brian Cook was waived by the Wizards in October, and Shelvin Mack was released in January. In February, the Wizards traded Jordan Crawford for Leandro Barbosa and Jason Collins, both of whom had low, expiring contracts. This eliminated a character issue from the locker room in Crawford, and cleared cap room as well. The Wizards made a run at the end of the season when Wall returned, and finished with a 29-53 record.
After rebuilding for years and offering John Wall a max contract worth $80 million, the Wizards were ready to win and be a playoff team in the 2013-2014 season. The Wizards first move of the offseason was signing Al Harrington to add veteran experience. Trading for Marcin Gortat in October was the last move that set up the roster to have the talent to make a run for the playoffs immediately. Despite getting to a slow start at the beginning of the season, everything started to click for the Wizards by mid-season. John Wall was proving to be worth his max-deal, and along with Bradley Beal, the duo played as one of the most high-energy and dominant backcourts in the league. Not only were the Wizards dominant in the backcourt, but Gortat and Nene combined to be one of the best frontcourt tantrums in the league. Nene’s athleticism and blocking ability worked smoothly with Gortat’s post skills and big frame. In addition to the starters for the Wizards, other players from the roster from the year before stepped up to make a playoff run. Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza played as knock-down shooters and reliable players on both ends of the floor. Trevor Booker also stepped up as a reliable back-up power forward when Nene was out with injury. In order to add more depth to the bench, the Wizards continued to make moves throughout the season. In February, the Wizards traded Jan Vesely and Eric Maynor to complete a trade for Andre Miller. The Wizards were missing a reliable back-up point guard before then and found one in Miller. In March, the Wizards signed veteran Drew Gooden to add depth to the front court. The Wizards continued to win games down the stretch and ended the regular season with a 44-38 record, securing the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards defeated the Chicago Bulls in the first round, and continued onto the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Unfortunately, the Wizards did not move on to the Eastern Conference Finals after losing to the Pacers, a round that they haven’t been able to reach since 1979. However, the Wizards showed a sign of promise, a sign that hasn’t been seen in Washington for basketball since Gilbert Arenas played ball without bringing guns into the locker room.
The Wizards have already started to make moves this offseason to continue to build around the young, talented backcourt. Washington has brought in Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair to add depth in the frontcourt, and have also added Paul Pierce to replace Trevor Ariza at small forward, after losing Ariza to free agency. In addition, Washington has kept all their other important pieces from last season, and signed a new 5-year deal with Marcin Gortat.
Although three years ago the future did not look so promising for the Wizards, Ernie Grunfeld and the Washington front office found the right players to build around, saved cap space to add more talent and put the right role players around the starters in Washington. As long as the Wizard’s young backcourt stays healthy and continues to improve, and the front office continues to add talented role players to the roster, the future is bright for Washington basketball.