Going into and during the season, it was vocalized by both the front office staff and coaches alike that the Washington Wizards’ goal for this season was to make the playoffs. Indeed, teams do not trade away their best player for a former MVP in Russell Westbrook with the intention of tanking. On paper, they seemed to have the roster to make this happen. Bradley Beal would finally have a healthy backcourt partner shouldering some of the load on offense, and they had some intriguing young pieces in Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Thomas Bryant.
The season quickly went downhill however, as the Wizards started the season 0-5 and dropped two games to the lowly Orlando Magic. It was immediately evident from the start of the season that they just did not have enough defensive pieces to consistently win games. While their offense was and is solid (13th overall in points per game), and propelled them to victories over the Brooklyn Nets and Utah Jazz earlier this season, it is too dependent on Beal and Westbrook creating opportunities, and flounders when they sit.
There was a brief period earlier in the season where the Wizards went on a five game win streak to move to 14-20, and the playoffs looked within reach. However, they followed this bright spot with a 21 game stretch in which they went 6-15. They are now 17-32 and are closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference then they are to the eighth seed. At this point, the Wizards are at a critical crossroads regarding their season, and they need to make a decision soon.
Weighing the Options
While the commitment to winning by the front office even as the losses pile up is somewhat admirable, general manager Tommy Sheppard and company need to realize that they are fighting a losing battle at this point. The Wizards currently have the fifth best lottery odds, and would be better off embracing a tank then straggling along in the wallows of below-averageness. It is tough to make this call when you have two veteran All-Stars on the roster, but they could perhaps take a leaf out of the Carmelo Anthony playbook and have surgery to fix some nagging long term injuries and shut things down for the remainder of the year. They would be eliminating the risk of injuring themselves during a season that is ultimately inconsequential for both of their careers, and their absence would be an opportunity for the Wizards to evaluate some of their young players. Perhaps with Beal and Westbrook out, Avdija would finally get some reps as a ball handler, and Hachimura would get to create his own offense more than he was previously.
Ultimately, making the decision to embrace a tank is difficult in any situation, but especially so with two All-Stars on large contracts. It might make Westbrook and Beal unhappy, but the Wizards have far more to gain from a tank as opposed to continuing whatever it is they are attempting to do right now. It would give them a chance to evaluate players that will be important for the future as well as give them a chance to draft a fortunes-changing player such as Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham. In order for this to happen however, head coach Scott Brooks would likely need to get the boot, as he is one of the biggest cheerleaders within the franchise for trying to continue to win games. Regardless, the Wizards have an important decision to make down the stretch of this season, here’s to hoping they have the perspective to make the one that makes the most sense.
All stats courtesy of Pro Basketball Reference and ESPN