Highlights from the 2017-2018 Wizards Schedule Release

After giving us a peek of what the opening day and Christmas Day games would be, the NBA released the rest of the schedule for the 2017-2018 season on Monday evening. For the first time since 2011, The Washington Wizards will open the season at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on ESPN. Here are some other highlights from the schedule release:

The Wizards will play 18 nationally televised games

John Wall and Bradley Beal have gone on the record stating that the Wizards don’t get enough national attention. Finally, they get their wish. The Wizards will play on National TV 18 times this season with marquee matchups against the Cavs, Warriors, Thunder, and Celtics. And for the first time since 2014, the Wizards will play on Christmas Day as they’ll take on the Celtics in Boston.

When will the Wizards go out West?

Unlike season’s past where Washington didn’t have their west coast road trip(s) til later in the season, that will be different as the Wizards have two west coast road trips in the first six weeks of the season this year. Washington will head out west to take on Denver, LA Lakers, Golden State, and Sacramento immediately after their first two home games to start the season.

Washington will then head out west again in the beginning of December to take on Utah, Portland, Phoenix, and the LA Clippers for their second road trip.

The front-end of the Wizards season is filled with many road games so if they can hold steady through the beginning portion of the season, that will help immensely when jockeying for playoff positioning as the month of March is stacked with home games.

When do the Wizards play the Celtics first?

Washington will head to Boston on Christmas Day for the first of four meetings this season against the hated Celtics. I don’t think there will be a bunch of holiday cheer that day between the two teams.

How many back-to-backs will the Wizards play this season?

Washington will play in 16 back-to-backs this season in addition to playing four games in five nights on just one occasion. The NBA prolonged the schedule this season in an attempt to limit back-to-backs as well as instances where teams played four games in five nights. This will benefit the Wizards as they were not very good last season in games on the second half of back-to-backs.

When do Kevin Durant and the Warriors come to town?

After playing Golden State in California early in the season, the Wizards will have to wait until February 28th to take on the Warriors at home. Ironically, that will be one year to the day that the Wizards beat the Warriors and when Kevin Durant injured his knee last season in Washington.

Beginning of April is no slouch

Assuming playoff seeds have not been secured by this point, the Wizards got no help from the schedule makers. Washington will play four of their final six games on the road to end this season including matchups in Houston, in Cleveland, and against Boston at home. The schedule makers hope that the teams will have something to play for down the stretch as most are predicting Cleveland, Boston, and Washington to finish in the top-3 of the Eastern Conference.

A Way Too Early Ranking of the Eastern Conference

So much for a calm and quiet offseason.

With the NBA a draft a distant memory and free agency coming and going; we’ve now officially reached the dog days of the NBA offseason, or so we thought. Now that all major free agents have re-signed or found a new home, let’s take a look at how the Eastern Conference stacks up.

*These rankings were made under the assumption that Kyrie Irving plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers next season*

Tier 1: Still the best in the East until proven otherwise

Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Additions: Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, Jose Calderon

Key Losses: None

The Cavs have won the Eastern Conference for the past three seasons and LeBron James has won seven straight Eastern Conference titles dating back to his Heat days. Rumors swirled that Kevin Love was on the trade block in hopes of landing either Paul George or Carmelo Anthony but neither of those deals materialized. And recently, Kyrie Irving has requested a trade out of Cleveland as he no longer wants to play alongside LeBron.

In addition, it’s been rumored that LeBron is less than thrilled with Cleveland’s management and may be peeking ahead to the summer of 2018 when he’ll be an unrestricted free agent, again.

The Cavaliers are on the brink of implosion and are hanging on by a thread but even with all the turmoil, as long as LeBron is on the roster, I’m not betting against them.

Tier 2: The Contenders

Boston Celtics

Key Additions: Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum, Aron Baynes

Key Losses: Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk

After beating Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Boston’s luck quickly evaporated as they ran into Eastern Conference Buzzsaw also known as LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, Isaiah Thomas got injured early in the series but even so, it was clear that they needed to make a move this summer to compete with the Cavs.

They did just that by signing Gordon Hayward in free agency. Hayward will be reunited with his college coach Brad Stevens in Boston, which will now boast one of the best starting units in the NBA. However, to make the deal work, they had to trade Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris to clear the space to sign Hayward. It also worked essentially a future salary dump since Bradley is projected to get a max or near-max deal next summer.

Boston will count on young players like Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum to step in and contribute right away in what should be one of the NBA’s best offenses. However, the Celtics didn’t address their rebounding, which was one of their biggest issues last season. And if we’re looking really far ahead, it’s going to be harder to hide Isaiah Thomas on defense in next year’s playoffs now that Bradley is gone.

Regardless, I believe that the Celtics have taken a minor step in closing in on Cleveland (although that probably says more about the Cavs than the Celtics). Yes, they made a huge addition with Hayward, it’s just hard to ignore that they also traded away an All-NBA defender.

Washington Wizards

Key Additions: Tim FrazierJodie MeeksMike Scott

Key Losses: Bojan Bogdanovic

Unlike many other Eastern Conference foes, the Wizards pretty much stood pat during this offseason and locked in their core trio for the long haul. After reaching the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the third time in four years, the Wizards made a Hail Mary attempt to rent Paul George for a year but it was all for naught and probably for the best.

One thing was clear though: The Wizards had to do something to beef up their bench that was non-existent for most of the year. Washington didn’t make any huge splashes but traded away their second-round pick to get Tim Frazier, and shore up a position that has eluded the Wizards over the years. In addition, they signed Jodie Meeks who has proven he can be a reliable scorer off of the bench, when he’s healthy.

Even though none of the offseason additions seem like much of a big deal, the bar for the reserves has been set extremely low. So things can only go up from here, right?

With many Eastern Conference All-Stars leaving for Western Conference teams, standing pat wasn’t all that bad for the Wizards and they still find themselves in a pretty damn good position entering next season.

Tier 3: The Fringe Contenders

Toronto Raptors

Key Additions: C.J. Miles

Key Losses: Cory Joseph, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll

After an impressive regular season where the Raptors won 51 games, their campaign came to an anti-climactic ending as they Cavs made quick work of them and swept the Raptors in four games. Despite the underwhelming finish, the Raptors locked in Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to three-year deals to keep their key players together.

Even with Lowry, DeRozan, and Ibaka intact for the foreseeable future, it feels like their window of opportunity to win the Eastern Conference has already closed. They lost some of their muscle in P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson, and traded away backup point guard Cory Joseph for C.J. Miles in hopes that he can produce a scoring punch off of the bench. In addition, they got rid of DeMarre Carroll who has struggled since arriving in Toronto.

Once again, this team appears to be constructed for another successful regular season, but it’s hard to see them making a deep run in the playoffs.

Milwaukee Bucks

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: None

Writers and fans everywhere were already salivating over Giannis Antetokounmpo after he was named to an All-NBA team and also won the Most Improved Player award. Expect that trend to continue and for the Milwaukee Bucks to be the trendy team expected to make a big jump this season. On the flip side, they didn’t add any free agents that will move the needle. That means this team will only go as far as Antetokounmpo and their young core will take them.

Thon Maker figures to make strides in his second NBA season while guys like Malcolm BrogdonMatthew DellavedovaJohn HensonKhris Middleton, and Tony Snell continue to be very serviceable role players. The big question for the Bucks is can these role players improve their level of play to get them over the hump?

Miami Heat

Key Additions: Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo

Key Losses: Willie Reed, Josh McRoberts

After an 11-30 start to the season, most people wrote off the Miami Heat and you couldn’t blame them. But lo and behold, they turned things around going 30-11 over the second half of the season, and narrowly missed getting into the playoffs. No team would have wanted to see the Heat in the postseason, if they had gotten there. They were the best team in the East over the second half of the season and would have been a very bad matchup for anyone had they made the playoffs.

The Heat ranked fifth last season in defensive rating and that probably won’t change all that much as long as Eric Spoelstra is there. The Heat are bringing back all their key players from last season and added Kelly Olynyk to mix as well.

Even though they missed out on Gordon Hayward, who would have been a seamless fit in Miami, they’re in a good spot. They still have a solid core with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. Justise Winslow will be healthy at the start of the season and they also drafted Bam Adebayo out of Kentucky who looks like he’ll be able to contribute right away for Miami.

Tier 4: Not a contender but not a complete mess either

Charlotte Hornets

Key Additions: Dwight Howard, Malik Monk

Key Losses: Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli

After winning 48 games in 2016, Charlotte missed the playoffs entirely with a disappointing 36-46 record, even though Kemba Walker was an All-Star for the first time in his career.

To try to turn things around, the Hornets sent Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli to Atlanta in exchange for the now journeyman, Dwight Howard. In addition, the Hornets nabbed Malik Monk, who should be able to help right away, with the 11th overall pick.

Charlotte needs to clean up their defense a bit as they ranked dead-last in three-point defense. But like the Heat, I would be very surprised if Charlotte also didn’t make the playoffs next season; especially in such a watered-down Eastern Conference.

Tier 5: Because eight teams have to make the playoffs

Philadelphia 76ers

Key Additions: Markelle Fultz, J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson

Key Losses: None

The 76ers were able to trade up to get the top overall pick in this year’s draft in Markelle Fultz to complete their young core alongside Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons. Philadelphia will undoubtedly be a League Pass favorite throughout the season.

However, there will inevitably be a learning curve as the average age of these players is 21 and only Embiid has played in any regular season games. The 76ers signed veteran J.J. Redick to a one-year deal to take some of these younger guys under his wing as they go through their growing pains, but he won’t solve everything.

Philadelphia will be extremely fun to watch next season, no doubt about it. But before we pencil them into the playoffs, just remember all of the hype surrounding the Timberwolves prior to last season.

Detroit Pistons

Key Additions: Avery Bradley

Key Losses: Marcus Morris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Aron Baynes

Like some of the teams mentioned before them, the Pistons underachieved in many people’s eyes missing the playoffs last season. As a result, Stan Van Gundy dangled Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond to gauge interest from other NBA teams as Jackson has issues staying healthy and Drummond is almost unplayable down the stretch of games due to his poor defense and horrific free-throw shooting.

On the other hand, Detroit was able to upgrade at the shooting guard position as they traded for Avery Bradley, even though it cost them Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Bradley isn’t as potent of a scorer as Caldwell-Pope but is one of the best defenders in the league.

With Detroit, it all boils down to if they can stay healthy while keeping the drama out of the locker room. On paper, they have a roster that should be good enough to get them to .500, but can they leave their baggage at the door? If not, there could be more roster shuffling on the way in Detroit.

Tier 6: Take your best guess

Orlando Magic

Key Additions: Johnathon Simmons, Johnathan Issac, Shelvin Mack

Key Losses: None

Doesn’t it feel like the Magic are always in rebuild mode? Orlando had a decent start to the season last year only to watch it fizzle away resulting in a 29-53 record and missing the playoffs for a fifth straight year. However, Orlando was able to lure Johnathon Simmons away from the Spurs in free agency as a key piece to their core.

The Magic have some young talent in Aaron GordonEvan Fournier, and Terrence Ross. The issue is, will it ever gel together? If things work out for the Magic, I can see them being a fringe playoff team. But at the same time, it wouldn’t surprise me either if they were on the outside looking in at the postseason, again.

Brooklyn Nets

Key Additions: D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, Timofey Mozgov

Key Losses: Brook Lopez

Yes, the Nets were the worst team in the NBA last year but look to be trending in the right direction. After mortgaging away their future in the Billy King era, Sean Marks is starting to navigate this team out of the woodworks with some nice moves that help the team immediately and down the road. Brooklyn traded away Brook Lopez for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. They also absorbed DeMarre Carroll in exchange for a pair of draft picks from the Raptors.

There’s room for the Nets to grow this season. Outside of Lin, Brooklyn’s core players – Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LaVert, and Isaiah Whitehead – are all under the age of 25. Plus, the team will have Jeremy Lin back this season. You could argue that the Nets wouldn’t have been a complete mess last year had he been healthy. The team was a more respectable 13-23 when he was on the floor last season.

They probably will not make the playoffs, however, this team has a ton of young talent on the roster now and cap space that will be freed up in the years to come. Of the non-playoff teams, Brooklyn has the brightest future of the bunch.

New York Knicks

Key Additions: Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina

Key Losses: Derrick Rose

With new management in place, there seems to be at least a little bit of stability in New York. Kristaps Porzingis is no longer dodging ownership and management and the team signed (and overpaid) the ultimate microwave scorer in Tim Hardaway Jr. Ironically enough, Carmelo Anthony, who has stated that he wanted to stay in New York even though it was against the former management’s wishes, now says he wants to leave the team which doesn’t mesh with the new regime’s plans.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what will sting the most for the Knicks. I believe passing on Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk in the draft in favor of Frank Ntilikina (Phil Jackson’s draft pick) will haunt the Knicks for years to come.

While it’s hard to see the Knicks making the playoffs, Porzingis should keep things fun, and there should be a couple of nights in the Garden where Hardaway Jr. explodes for 30 or even 40 points.

Tier 7: From playoffs to tank mode

Chicago Bulls

Key Additions: Zach Lavine, Justin Holiday, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Key Losses: Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo

The Bulls have officially pressed the reset button as they traded away Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves on draft day. The Bulls drafted Lauri Markkanen, a 7-footer who can knock down threes as well as do the dirty work down low. Zach Lavine, who is still just 22 years old might be the most athletic player in the league but is coming off a knee injury which could stall his comeback.

The Bulls have hints of talent scattered throughout the roster which could result in a few upsets this season, but outside of that, it’s going to be a cold winter in Chicago.

Atlanta Hawks

Key Additions: Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli

Key Losses: Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Scott

Three years ago, Atlanta won 60 games and made the Eastern Conference Finals. Last year, the Hawks got the fifth seed and pushed Washington to a six game series in the first round.

With Al Horford and Paul Millsap gone, and Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince, and Kent Bazemore as their core players; it’s safe to say there will be some growing pains this season. Atlanta has made the playoffs for ten-straight years but it looks like that streak is about to come to a screeching halt.

Indiana Pacers

Key Additions: Victor Oladipo, Cory Joseph, Bojan Bogdanovic, Domantas Sabonis

Key Losses: Paul George, C.J. Miles, Monta Ellis

This summer could not have been worse for the Pacers. After reportedly passing on a lucrative package from the Boston Celtics for Paul George on draft day, George informed the team that he intended on joining for the Lakers in 2018, and the Pacers wound up getting pennies on the dollar instead in their deal with Oklahoma City.

Now, the Pacers will have to hope for the best as Victor Oladipo returns to Indiana, where he played his college basketball. Other than that and Myles Turner, there isn’t much to get excited about. Bojan Bogdanovic will revert back to being a good scorer on a bad team, just like his days in Brooklyn, and Darren Collison is a big downgrade from Jeff Teague. It could be a very long year in Indiana.

The Wizards’ struggles in Summer League are symptomatic of bigger issues with developing talent

Don’t blink, because if you did, you would have missed the Wizards’ Summer League play in Las Vegas just this past week. Washington went 0-3 in league play, got bounced in the first round of the Summer League Tournament, and then lost their consolidation game.

It’s important not to focus solely on the team’s uninspiring 0-5 record as Summer League rosters are a hodgepodge of rookies, younger talent, G-League players, and players playing professional ball overseas. And coaches aren’t running things in an effort to win games, they’re focused on putting players in positions to grow and develop, even if that means struggling during games.

However, when you get past the record, the lack of talent that the Wizards put on the floor is just as eye-opening and is a microcosm of team’s struggles to develop talent outside of the can’t-miss players the Wizards took with top-three draft picks.

This Wizards’ Summer League roster featured four players who spent time on the regular season roster last season: Sheldon Mac, Chris McCullough, Daniel Ochefu, and Danuel House. It also included two players – Michael Young and Devin Robinson – who will factor in the future as the team’s two-way players.

Of these six guys, Mac was the only one who looked like a legitimate NBA player. He was overpowering in attacking the hole and averaged 13.2 points per game over the tournament. His jump shot isn’t a thing of beauty yet, but he made up for it by overmatching defenders with his size.

Mac’s performance was very reminiscent of Kelly Oubre’s 2016 Summer League efforts, as Mac was the clear leader of this team. Sometimes he forced the issue, but that’s what you want to see, since he’s the player who has the best chance of being asked to create offense for the Wizards next season.

Daniel Ochefu raised some eyebrows with his play too. He wasn’t as flashy or nearly as athletic as Mac but was able to muster 7.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in just 21.2 minutes of action per night. Ochefu showed some bounce that we hadn’t seen before and some nifty post moves that generated easy baskets for himself and others, as he shot a very impressive 70 percent from the field in the tournament and averaged 1.6 assists per game out of the post.

However, when he was matched up against the up-and-rising talent in Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat, Ochefu turned in his worst game of the tournament while Adebayo put up a rock solid 16 point, 7 rebound performance.

Even with Ochefu’s solid play, he’s in a poor situation as he’s currently the third or fourth center (if you consider Jason Smith a center) on the Wizards’ roster. So even though he showed some promising signs, he’s still low on the pecking order for this upcoming season.

Chris McCullough, the Wizards’ “first round draft pick” is far from a finished product entering his third NBA season. There’s no denying his athleticism is second to none, but that’s where the buck stops. He only shot 29.2 percent from the field and struggled on the defensive end, especially with more physical players.

His struggles were best exemplified when the Wizards played the Chicago Bulls in the third game of league play. McCullough was overmatched against Bulls’ rookie Lauri Markkanen. He knocked down some early threes which stretched McCullough out of his defensive comfort zone, and then used the spacing he gained to push the third year player around on the glass, as he grabbed four offensive rebounds in that game.

McCullough has the tools to become a solid NBA player, but this Summer League tournament was an indication that he still has a long ways to go. If he truly was a rookie, that would be understandable, but it’s harder to stay patient with a player going into their third year, especially as the team has to make a decision on whether or not to pick up the team option on the fourth year of his rookie deal for next season.

Michael Young averaged 9.4 points per game and showed that he can be a physical presence on the offensive end while finishing in traffic, but still has to work on his jumper before he can be a serious NBA threat. Devon Robinson has an even longer way to go. He is a very bouncy player with a jumper that might be even worse than Chris McCullough’s, but he still has time to grow.

So why does this all matter?

For starters, this shows that the Wizards have very little young talent to develop on their roster. As mentioned, Sheldon Mac was the leader and far and away the best talent on the roster but outside of Mac, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about. The lack of draft picks from previous seasons looks to be catching up as not one player on the Summer League roster was drafted by Washington. Some of the other guys might be interesting if they can develop, but it’s harder to do that properly when you don’t have your own G-League affiliate where you can manage player development.

The Wizards have had their troubles drafting outside of the obvious, top-three picks they made and have failed to turn young talent taken later in the draft and develop them into productive players. Those struggles came full-circle this summer with the lack of talent on display in Las Vegas.

Yes, it’s just Summer League, but the team’s struggles and lack of talent that was evident on this team’s roster just reiterated three areas that the front office has struggled with for years: keeping draft picks, hitting on draft picks, and developing young talent.

The Wizards acquire Tim Frazier in hopes of boosting their bench

The Washington Wizards acquired point guard Time Frazier from the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday evening in exchange for their second round pick, the 52nd overall. Although Frazier has only been in the league for three seasons, he’s bounced around but has made his mark as a reliable backup point guard.

If you watched the Wizards this year, you know that they desperately need a backup point guard as Trey Burke was a flop, Brandon Jennings didn’t provide much, and Tomas Satoransky has yet to come into his own in the NBA. As a result, John Wall was forced to play heavy minutes during the regular season and in the playoffs.

Frazier comes in hoping to take some of the burdens off of Wall. He isn’t the best shooter but can attack the rim and keeps his teammates involved evidenced by his 5.2 assists in just 23.5 minutes this past season with the Pelicans. He probably won’t leapfrog Satoranksy right away in the pecking order, but will have plenty of opportunities to do so as the season rolls along.

Trade Grade: A-

This trade was a huge win for the Wizards as they acquired a pretty reliable backup point guard for next to nothing. Most second round players never make it to an NBA roster let alone provide a spark for a team. So the fact that the Wizards were able to give up a low-level pick for a reliable player making just $2 million per year makes this trade a big win for the Wizards.

Yes, they won’t have a pick in this upcoming draft, but hopefully, they’ve filled a void that they’ve been searching for, for a very long time.

The Warriors are sitting back laughing as the rest of the NBA is in scramble mode

The Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time in three years on June 12th. And ever since that day, every team not named the Warriors is scrambling to try and play catch up. The blueprint is out on how to win a championship. Just years ago, a “Big 3” would be enough to get the job done. But as we just recently saw, having three all-stars including LeBron James, was barely enough to keep the Cavaliers from getting swept which would have been the ultimate embarrassment.

A “Big 4” is now required to compete for a championship. And as a result, teams are in full-on scramble mode in trying to orchestrate a team that will give them a fighting chance against the Golden State Warriors over the next few years.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have made three-straight finals appearances and won one of them. However, in the owner, Dan Gilbert’s mind, that plus “disagreement on the direction of the future” led to the termination of General Manager, David Griffin.

Let’s think about that. A General Manager who made the finals three straight times and under extreme circumstances (having to consult LeBron James on every decision) still wasn’t enough to warrant an extension.

Now that Cleveland is aware that a “Big 3” of LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving isn’t enough to compete with the Warriors, they’ve started reaching out to the Pacers and Bulls to gauge the interest of Paul George and Jimmy Butler respectively.

Even with Cleveland’s success, the Cavaliers are still left scrambling as they were trying to acquire star Jimmy Butler from Chicago. After it felt like Kevin Love had found his niche with the Cavs, he’ll now be the centerpiece in all trade talks that the Cavs are involved with.

And remember the Lakers? The lowly Lakers who finished 26-56 this past season? Well, they’re just as much in the mix as Cleveland is. Just last night, The Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov (salary dump) to the Nets in exchange for Brooke Lopez and their first round draft pick.

This is significant because with the Lakers expected to draft Lonzo Ball on Thursday night’s draft, they’ve now cleared up roughly $60 million in salary cap space which will allow them to sign one and potentially two max deal free agents in the summer of 2018.

Now that Paul George has made it clear that he’s leaving the Pacers after next year to go to the Lakers, teams are in a bind debating whether they should take a shot on the all-star for one year knowing that he’ll leave or just stay away altogether. About a half a dozen teams are interested in George but realistically, he’s going to be in either a Pacers, Cavaliers, or Lakers uniform next year.

And remember that Lebron James guy? He can also opt out of his deal in the summer of 2018 and has been linked to the Lakers on several occasions. Now the Lakers have the cap space necessary to sign both James and George next summer including other aging stars if they are willing to take pay cuts to form yet another super-team.

To recap: A GM who won a title just one year ago has been fired. The best player in the league is unsettled with the firing of his GM and now looks more likely than ever to leave for L.A. after next year. A perennial all-star has demanded out of his current situation. The Lakers have cleared an enormous amount of cap space to make a run at one, maybe two more free agents. And the NBA season ended just nine days ago.

Not to mention, the Celtics could potential land Blake Griffin or Gordon Hayward. The Clippers are now shopping De’Andre Jordan. And the Knicks (yes the Knicks!!!) have started shopping Kristaps Porzingis to gauge the interest level of other teams.

And why all the chaos? Because how the hell else are you going to beat the Golden State Warriors?

What should we make of the Washington Wizards season?

As the Golden State Warriors made quick work of the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday night winning the championship in five games, we can officially put a bow on the 2016-2017 season. Yes, the Wizards’ season ended weeks ago but rather spitting out a bunch of hot takes after their Game 7 loss to Boston, I decided to let the tide settle to take a clearer, more holistic approach.

Was the Wizards’ season a success?

The short answer to this question is no. Now before you line up at my apartment with pitchforks, let me explain. The entire offseason, Wizards’ players, mainly Wall, kept stating that the goal of this season was to make the Eastern Conference Finals. However, for the third time in four years, Washington was bounced by the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals. So based solely off of Wall’s statements, I wouldn’t call this a failure but rather the Wizards did come up short of their goal of appearing in the Eastern Conference Finals.

With that being said, although the season wasn’t a success by the team’s standards, there were many improvements that they can tip their cap on. Some of these improvements include a career-high 52-point scoring outburst by John Wall against the Magic on December 6th, Bradley Beal turning into a borderline All-Star AND staying healthy for an entire season, a 17-game winning streak at home, Otto Porter ranking in the top-5 of three-point shooting for the season, capped off by the team winning 49 games, the most since 1979.

What do we make of the current roster?

John Wall and Bradley Beal are the cornerstones of this franchise as they’ve proven that they can lead and carry a team. But what about everyone else? It took a while but patience paid off as Otto Porter made the fourth season of his young career the best and is now likely looking at a max deal this summer (more on that later). Markieff Morris showed that he can be a very nice role player when motivated and engaged the issue is, keeping his motor turned on. And lastly for the starters, Marcin Gortat’s production dropped this season but the numbers indicate that it was more so due to his lack of touches and offensive opportunities rather than his sheer production.

And that brings us to the bench. The bench unit wasn’t just bad this year, they were historically bad. In what looked like a move to finally find that ever coveted backup point guard that the Wizards have been missing for years, that flopped as Trey Burke quickly found himself out of the rotation before the new year. After whiffing on Al Horford and Kevin Durant this offseason, the front office overpaid Ian Mahinmi in hopes that he could be a rim protector for the second unit. Unfortunately for Mahinmi, he was riddled with injury and played in just 31 regular season games and five of 13 playoff games without having much of an impact.

Jason Smith had a very slow start to the season but had his moments midway through the year where he was nearly automatic from the midrange only to go AWOL in the playoffs. While Kelly Oubre showed signs of improvements but clearly has a long ways to go still in his development. After overpaying for the last guy on in the bench in Andrew Nicholson, the Wizards were able to unload his deal but had to give up their first round pick in the process. Lastly, Bojan Bogdanovic, who was the other player in the Nicholson trade, showed that he can score in bursts but isn’t the most consistent player nor does he enjoy playing defense all too much.

What should the Wizards do this offseason?

The Wizards enter one of the most important offseasons in the franchise’s history with very little cap space to maneuver many deals. It’s possible that we might look back at the 2017 summer and say to ourselves “that was the offseason which kept the core players intact” or “that was the offseason which ultimately led to John Wall’s departure”.

With the cap expected to jump again to $102 Million, the Wizards already have $89 Million tied up in roster salaries. Assuming the Wizards cut Trey Burke, the Wizards would have roughly $85 Million tied up in roster salaries with Otto Porter and Bojan Bogdanovic set to hit the restricted free agent market.

Washington needs to re-sign Porter and do so before another suitor offers him a max deal (which the Wizards can match) but will likely be much higher than the Wizards original deal (remember Brooklyn’s offer to Allen Crabbe in 2016?). Porter has proven to be a knockdown shooter as he connected on 43 percent of shots from distance this season, the fourth-best in the league. And ultimately, he’s proven to be the ultimate glue guy who doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t need plays called for him, makes all of the hustle plays, and still manages to stuff the stat sheet.

It isn’t ideal that the Wizards give him a max deal as he doesn’t fit the mold of a typical max player, however, if the Wizards don’t re-sign him, they’ll have a huge hole to fill.

What’s the biggest question mark going into next season?

The bench, and more specifically, how do the Wizards upgrade their reserves without spending a ton of money? If Porter receives a contract for say $20 Million per year, that would put the Wizards roster at $98 Million, just 4 million under the cap. They’d still have to figure out what to do with Bogdanovic as well as what to do at the backup point guard position, as that position has been vacant for years.

Rather than throwing a ton of money at Bogdanovic, the Wizards would be best suited in trying to sign a veteran point guard to back up John Wall. In Game 7 of the Boston series, Scott Brooks clearly didn’t trust Brandon Jennings enough to play him at all in the second half forcing Wall to play the entire second half. Wall looked gassed and we all know how that ended.

Therefore, outside of Porter, the Wizards main offseason agenda item needs to be getting a productive backup behind Wall so he’s not forced to play an exhausting amount of minutes.

Where do the Wizards rank in the Eastern Conference?

The Wizards have solidified their spot as the third or fourth best team in the Eastern Conference behind just Cleveland and Boston. Unfortunately for the Wizards, Boston holds the number 1 pick in this year’s draft and also has the cap space to sign a max player like Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin. The Cavs on the other hand, will do whatever they need to, to try and compete with the Warriors. It’s likely that these two teams will get better this offseason while the Wizards will essentially stand pat at where they are.

If the Wizards can manage to re-sign Porter at a reasonable price and get a durable and productive backup point guard, that will solidify the Wizards as the third best team in the Eastern Conference heading into next season.

Marcin Gortat had an underappreciated, but uneven season with the Wizards

As the NBA evolves into a shooter’s league, traditional centers are quickly becoming extinct and Marcin Gortat is no exception. Once the Wizards traded for Markieff Morris during the 2015-2016 season, it was clear that the Wizards were shifting their focus away from muscle to spacing. And just this offseason, the Wizards made a run at Al Horford in hopes of putting four shooters around John Wall.

Even though traditional centers are fading away, Marcin Gortat managed to turn in his best season as a Wizard averaging a double-double for the year with 10.8 points and 10.4 rebounds. On top of that, the 33-year-old was the only Wizards player who played and started all 82 games this season.

Gortat was rock solid for a majority of the season. However, he went through a bit of a slump in late February and March as his numbers dipped to 7.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest. This happened to coincide with the Wizards’ team struggles so like years past, Gortat became the punching bag for Wizards faithful.

Things didn’t get easier for Gortat when the Wizards entered the playoffs as he had arguably the hardest individual matchups in both rounds. First, he had to guard the bruising Dwight Howard and then he had to try to lock down the rangy Al Horford.

Gortat struggled to score in the Atlanta series but managed double-digit rebounding numbers in four of the six games (including 18 rebounds in Game 4). In the second round against theCeltics, he was able to move more freely on the offensive end. He notched three double-doubles in the series with double-digit rebounding efforts in six of the seven games.

There’s no denying it, Gortat is getting older, but he’s adjusted to the evolving NBA. He’s not a stat stuffer anymore but performs many little things that don’t show up in the box score. This season, Gortat led the NBA in screens leading to baskets. So although he doesn’t get an assist per se, he’s accounting for a minimum of 12 additional points on a nightly basis.

He continues to make the most of his touches around the rim, making 68.9 percent of his attempts there this season. The issue here is that his touches and shot attempts went down from previous years. He only attempted 8.2 shots per game, the fewest of his career since arriving in Washington.

As the Wizards switched their offensive scheme, Gortat received fewer and fewer touches in the post as most of his points either came on pick-and-rolls or putbacks. In the rare instance that Gortat would get the ball in the post, it often felt like he needed to take the shot as he wasn’t sure when he’d touch the ball next. He struggled on those opportunities, shooting 46.2 percent in the paint and 40.9 percent in the midrange area.

Gortat isn’t in an ideal situation as he’s on the wrong side of 30 playing a position that is slowly dissolving. He mentioned in his exit interviews that he’ll talk with his agent this offseason to see if Washington is the best place for him as it’s clear that the Wizards are looking to get younger and more athletic at the center position.

His season didn’t end on a high note as he became less and less involved in the offense as the season wore on. However, his durability, rebounding, and ability to do the dirty work can’t be questioned.