The Washington Wizards had a moderately successful 2020-2021 season. After getting off to a slow 17-32 start, they ended the season on a 17-6 run to snag the eighth and last playoff spot in the eastern conference playoffs. While seeing everything come together towards the end of the season was fun for the fans, and making the playoffs is nothing to complain about, this team had relatively high expectations going into the season after signing Bradley Beal to a max contract and trading for former MVP Russell Westbrook. The organization agreed that expectations were not met as they were willing to let the head coach who piloted their comeback effort, Scott Brooks, leave the team this offseason after being unable to agree to terms for an extension. Now, with a new forward-thinking head coach at the helm in Wes Unseld Jr., the Wizards once again enter a season with expectations to be a good competitive team. But after ranking 17th in offensive rating, 19th in defensive rating and dead last in points allowed per game, there are a lot of areas of the roster that could be easily improved. So, without further ado, here are three moves Washington could make to have an ideal offseason.
Trade Russell Westbrook
The triple-double king has reached the end of his prime, and it was evident for anyone who watched more than a handful of Wizards games this past season. While he did deal with a quad injury to start the season, he put up his lowest points per game total since the 2013 season and took a career-high 58.6 percent of his shots in the midrange area despite making just 37.8 percent of these shots. On top of that, his game failed to translate to the playoffs in yet another season. He shot 33 percent from the field and 25 percent on 3-pointers over the Wizards’ five-game series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
None of this is meant to slander or disparage Westbrook, he is an excellent player who will undoubtedly be a Hall-of-Famer when his career ends. However, it should be clear for all to see that Westbrook is, and has always been, a floor-raiser not a ceiling raiser. Want him to elevate a mediocre team to borderline playoff status with his do-it-all style of play? He is the guy. But if a team is looking for a player to pair with the still young Beal to ascend to more competitive levels, they need to start looking elsewhere. Westbrook is an aging, inefficient point guard who has never been able to shoot jumpers, has poor shot selection and is seeing his athleticism diminish by the season. Do not waste these years of Beal’s prime by making him play with a guy who has clearly reached the end of his. Even if it means you just get picks in return, off-loading his $44 million salary allows the Wizards to sign key role players to forge a more well-rounded roster. Potentially signing one of the marquee point guard free agents to replace him is an avenue worth exploring as well.
Sign Mike Conley or Kyle Lowry
Yes, the chances of either of these signings actually happening are low, but not impossible. Conley could be looking for a fresh start after a disappointing second-round loss to the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers and a chance to play in a larger market than he has up to this point playing in Memphis and Utah.
Additionally, this will be one of the first times Conley will be able to truly control his own destiny as a free agent. He has re-signed with Memphis before in the past as a free agent, but largely out of a sense of loyalty. With that loyalty gone and just two years under his belt in Utah, Conley could really look to test the waters.
Lowry, on the other hand, would probably like to join a more competitive team as he is 35 years old and the Raptors failed to make the playoffs last season. Not enough can be said about his game. He is the perfect point guard for any team looking for a leader who elevates his teammates with unselfish play. Lowry is a terrific passer and pick-and-roll operator who also is a sniper off the dribble from three and an immovable wall on defense due to his dense frame. He would get a chance to play with one of the NBA’s best scorers in Beal while also getting a chance to mentor a talented young team with a bright future.
Obviously, either of these players would fit perfectly alongside Beal, and their passing and ballhandling ability would enable Beal to play more efficiently as an off-ball scorer. Just by virtue of having one of these guys run the offense, Beal’s shot selection and efficiency would instantly improve. Both signings are a long shot, but they would be super exciting and perfect for the roster.
Re-Sign C Daniel Gafford
While this potential move may feel much smaller in magnitude than both of the previous suggestions, it is of paramount importance nonetheless. Gafford is a freak athlete who simultaneously showcased his potential and proved he deserved playing time this past season.
After being acquired midseason from the Chicago Bulls, where he barely received playing time, Gafford made the most of his opportunities with the Wizards. He averaged 20.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per 36 minutes in 23 games and also shot 68.1 percent from the field. Team staff and coaches ranted and raved about his absurd athleticism, size and length all season. Former head coach Scott Brooks said of him “Gaff, is to me, like a lottery pick. We got like a top-five pick.”
With all the physical tools Gafford possess, the sky is truly the limit. The Wizards struggled with their front-court depth all season as well, so his addition was a much-needed spark. Hopefully, the Wizards are smart and give him a new deal now before he inevitably becomes expensive after a few years of high-level production.
All stats courtesy of Pro Basketball-Reference, NBA.com and ESPN
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