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A tip for the Washington Wizards: Don’t panic

Fully Funded Wall Will Provide No Defense.

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Washington’s Wall, though fully funded, will provide no defense for the foreseeable future. “Wall shall not pass,” in Washington, D.C. speak.

The costly John Wall (who has yet to begin his mega extension) requires maintenance on crumbling foundations, and he will miss the remainder of the NBA season. Until Wall stands proudly once more, Freedom’s Team, the Washington Wizzle-Wazzle-Wizards, will have to survive without his vaunted defense and his stoic leadership. It’s now possible that the Wizzle-Wazzles, the noble defenders of Liberty’s undying flame, will miss the NBA postseason. I know: I can’t believe it, either. The Wiz are only 8 games under .500! They were basically a lock for the #1 seed in the East! What will they do now without their fearless leader?

Real talk: The Wizards are in 11th place in the East, they have a negative point differential, and they’ve lost games to the Hawks, Cavs, and Bulls (three teams you just should not lose to). Washington’s 9-14 in the Eastern Conference and they’re 4-16 on the road (same as the New Orleans Pelicans, btw). We’re nearing the halfway point of the season. Records are, perhaps already, indicative of the true nature of teams. This may be who Washington really is (though, again: Wall’s been injured and Dwight Howard has been out).

The Wizards—who are expensive and accomplish nothing of consequence, and thus are the perfect team for Washington, D.C.—were considered contenders and one of the four best teams in the East before the season began. Wall was healthy, Brad Beal was in his prime and awesome, Otto Porter, Jr. was expected to continue improving as a young 3-and-D wing—ditto Kelly Oubre, Jr.—and Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris were going to hold down the front court, and provide defense and toughness. Also, Ian Mahinmi was there. Folks felt like that lineup could compete with the seemingly ascendant Boston Celtics, the probably good Toronto Raptors, the improving Philadelphia 76ers, and the New York Knicks (just kidding).

Since the start of the season, we’ve maybe all changed our minds: the Celtics, Raps, and Sixers are elite in the East, and they’re joined by the super badass Milwaukee Bucks and the Greek Freak, MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, as well as the dominating Indiana Pacers, and future MVP Domantas Sabonis (as well as some guy named Victor Oladipo). Everyone else in the East basically sucks, especially the Wizards. Again, they’re 9-14 in their conference. Which is the Eastern Conference. The one in which only 5 teams have winning records, and only 7 teams have positive point differentials. Only one team in the West, the Phoenix Suns, has below 17 wins this season; FIVE EASTERN TEAMS DO! The East suuuuuuuuuuucks.

And, now the Wizards will have to compete without their “best” player, Dr. John Wall. Wall’s line this season was a spectacular 20+ points per game, 8+ assists per game, and 3+ rebounds, 1.5 steals, and nearly 1 block per game, on 44% shooting from the field, and 30% from three, none of which are career highs for Wall. In isolation, Wall is a wonderful basketball player: fast, creative, smart, generous (sometimes), he’s everything you’d want in a young point guard.

Except, he’s 28.

He’s about to become mega expensive and his defense and effort is, to be civil, of an inconsistent quality (though he can be an excellent defender when he wants to be). He’s still a top 10 point guard in terms of scoring: he’s one of only 10 PGs to average 20+ PPG this season, and he’s top 3 in assists (only Russell Westbrook on OKC and Kyle Lowry on Toronto average more assists). For four seasons, 2013-14 to 2016-17, he averaged 77+ games played, and around 19 PPG and 9 APG, with multiple steals thrown in. He was absolutely one of the best point guards in the league. However, injuries have weakened Wall over the past two seasons, and he’ll have played in only 73 games total since June of 2017 once next season starts.

Sans Wall, what is Washington? Brad Beal is one of the best 2-guards in the NBA. What else is there?

I have some bad news. Otto Porter, Jr., Ian Mahinmi, Trevor Ariza, Markieff Morris, and Dwight Howard cost a combined $70 million. Not a single one of those players has a positive plus-minus on the year (Dwight’s barely played). Ariza is shooting 37% from the field, and 32% from three. No one likes Otto Porter, Jr. apparently. Mahinmi’s contract is a war crime. Markieff can’t be your third best player, if you’re a serious contender. And Dwight Howard is Dwight Howard.

What is Washington without Wall? A mediocre team, exposed as such.

If we want to turn Washington into the contender they think themselves as, they need at least two stars, like most other serious contenders (we’ll see if Giannis can be the exception to that rule this season). Beal certainly needs some help if D.C. wanted to keep competing this season. So, who’s available and could Washington acquire them?

Let’s think about it this way: If the Wizards were able to add the absolute best player, regardless of whether it’s realistic or not, would that one player put them over the top as legit contenders? If you added LeBron James to this roster, would this team win the East and possibly challenge Golden State? How about Giannis? Or, Durant? Or, Kawhi? Or, Anthony Davis?

Beal isn’t a superstar, but he’s one of the best players in the NBA. Acquiring a genuine star to pair with him would give the Wizards a fighting chance, in my opinion.

The problem is, there aren’t any stars available. Odds are that any player Washington can acquire will be a player on a losing team, since all the possible playoff teams want to try and, y’know, use their best players to make the playoffs and win some games. Is Washington one Aaron Gordon away from being competitive? Are they one Kent Bazemore away from beating Kawhi or Giannis? Is Enes Kanter the missing piece? Larry Nance, Jr.? (Let’s not even consider Kevin Love, since who knows if he’ll play this season.)

The serious difficulty about all of this is the timing. The Wizzle-Wazzles have no time to spare. They’re 4-6 in their last ten games, and they’re two games back of the Magic, who are in 10th place. They need to string together some wins. If they can’t find victories soon, then their decision on whether to compete or tank will be made for them. They have a narrow window, not much time, and not many good options. Happy New Year!

(And, I mean, get real: this year’s Wizards team was depending on Jeff Green. Red flag, y’know?)

Is the right thing to do to sell and tank? Wall’s injury could be treated as an opportunity, not a disaster. Losing Wall for the season is an excuse, a good excuse. You can’t win without your best player! That’s entirely understandable. Washington could lean into this: trade players, try to lose, and improve their chances for next season, and the seasons after that. You don’t need to trade Wall or Beal; they’re both wonderful players, still young enough to build around, despite being expensive.

But, Beal is a real chip, and Porter will become one as we approach the NBA’s trade deadline (3-and-D wings, even expensive ones, are always valued by playoff teams). Markieff Morris is a good player on an affordable contract; he should be able to fetch an asset or two.

In my opinion, there are few scenarios that could possibly occur to allow the Wizzle-Wazzles to compete for a trip to the NBA Finals. You’d need to get through Kawhi, Giannis, Boston, Dipo. That’s a tall order for a team whose second best player with Wall out might be an older, returning-from-injury Dwight Howard.

(Can you believe that Dwight Howard hasn’t really been involved with this team, so far? How can all of this dumb shit have happened on a team with Dwight Howard, and yet not include Dwight Howard?)

I think it’s probably best to just bite the bullet, trade Ariza, trade Dwight (if you can), trade Markieff and Satoransky, trade everyone EXCEPT Wall, Beal, and Porter (unless you get something really nice for Otto). Wall and Beal together does work; we’ve seen it work! When the Wizards are at their best, they’re a most dangerous team. Plus, I’m skeptical that this franchise can attract an elite free agent, even if they did have tons of cap space, so keeping their young, good players should be paramount, even if they are expensive.

Washington should try something that they don’t generally do: be patient. It’s not the end of the world if DC misses the playoffs this year—again, their best player went down! This is a good opportunity, based on a totally legit reason, to NOT make panic trades this year, to NOT trade draft picks or young players, to NOT go all in. Rather, plan for the future. Remember that Mahinmi’s awful contract will actually be a valuable expiring contract next year; remember that there were reasons (shaped like Wall, Beal, and Porter) for optimism before the season began. Has Wall’s injury really changed that much about the Wizards’ future?

Anyway, it’s Washington, so people will probably go nuts no matter what happens, even though Wall’s injury probably doesn’t change much regarding the NBA’s Big Picture. The Wizards weren’t going to go to the NBA Finals this year.

In that regard, nothing has changed.