The Washington Wizards are an emerging power in the Eastern Conference. Buoyed by the stellar play of John Wall, a potential stud in Bradley Beal, and a deep front-court rotation, it's no wonder the Wizards have reached the 2nd round of the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. Last year, they whooped our boys in a 4-game sweep to further legitimize their claim as a threat in the Eastern Conference.
But with a quiet offseason and in an improved conference, questions remain as to where the Wizards go from here. What happens to Bradley Beal's contract? What do they do with Nene? Does Kevin Durant really want to go there? Washington has had the luxury of keeping most of their core together, while building on their depth with pieces like Kelly Oubre, Jared Dudley, and Alan Anderson.
So what's the outlook like in America's capital? We talked to Mitchell Northam of Bullets Forever to get his take on all things Wizards heading into this season.
1) The Wizards had a relatively quiet offseason. How would you grade your offseason out of 10 and why? What moves did you like and dislike?
The loss of Paul Pierce really hurt, especially considering how big of a factor he was for the Wizards down the stretch and in the playoffs. But then the Wizards front office quickly turned that around and signed Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson and Gary Neal, and then they drafted Kelly Oubre. Wing depth was a big need for the Wizards heading into the offseason and they addressed that. I loved the Dudley move, and he is someone who isn't hitting the big shots like Pierce did, but is a very versatile wing who is not only younger and cheaper than Pierce, but also a better defender. I wrote about why I like him so much here.
I personally would have liked to see them trade Nene, but that didn’t happen and well, that’s okay. The big man, when healthy, can still play and provides this young group with the presence of a veteran. The Wizards didn’t make a splash in free agency, but they kept their check book in line so they can make a big move next offseason.
Scale of 1-10? 7
2) After two consecutive seasons with playoff series won, what are fans’ expectations for the coming season? What would fans consider to be a step forward?
The Wizards have had two seasons in a row where they have advanced to the second round of the playoffs and, considering how abysmal the Wizards were before this, the fans love it. But the fans would like to see a bit more. I think the fans looked at the Pacers’ series in 2014 and the Hawks’ series last year as very winnable. Considering how bad the East might be (again) compared to the West, it would be nice to see the Wizards get over that hump and make it to a conference finals. I think as long as fans can see improvement from the Wall, Beal and Porter, and the Wizards reach the conference finals, that would be a big step forward.
3) The elephant in the room is the pending free agency of Kevin Durant, and Washington looks like one of the favourites should he leave. Are fans being level-headed about this possibility?
To some fans, everything about this season and this coming summer is going to be about #KD2DC. Some Wizards fans are going to be watching every Thunder game just as closely as they watch Wizards games. I think when you consider LeBron doing the whole "I'm going home" thing combined with Durant’s love for D.C., fans have been more excited than ever before about the possibility of Durant putting on a Wizards jersey and sharing a court with Wall and Beal. However, Durant has shown loyalty and commitment to OKC and I think that while you might see some fans go crazy on Twitter with the #KD2DC stuff, deep down, they know that Washington is still a long shot.
4) John Wall is a flat-out star. Bradley Beal has shown some flashes of brilliance, and Otto Porter put together a really promising sophomore season. How do you see those guys performing this season?
I expect John Wall to continue to perform at an All-Star level as one of the league’s top five point guards. I think this the year where a lot fans and NBA folks are expecting Beal to make "the leap" into being one of the league’s top shooting guards and they are expecting Otto Porter to take a step forward. Porter almost has to, seeing as how the Wizards couldn't bring back Peirce, and I don’t think a lot of people are going to get excited about Dudley starting over Porter if he can’t improve.
5) Toronto addressed a lot of its defensive concerns by picking up DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo, and drafting Delon Wright. What do you think about the Raptors this season compared to last year?
A lot of turnover for the Raptors this offseason (I think I counted seven players out and eight new ones in?) but that’s not a bad thing. DeMarre Carroll was my favorite pickup that the Raptors made and he will help tremendously on the defensive end. Biyombo and Joseph provide solid depth and I really liked the Anthony Bennett pickup just simply because there isn't a ton of risk there and he’s a young player who has a chance to turn it around. If Lowry keeps playing at a high level, if DeRozan keeps improving, if Jonas Valančiūnas can take a step forward (and I think all of those are very realistic things) then the Raptors should be a playoff team again in the East this year.
Give us a prediction for how both the Raptors and Wizards will do this year (regular season and playoffs):
Raptors – First place in the Atlantic Division: 49-33 - fourth seed in the playoffs, first round appearance
Wizards – Second place in the Southeast Division: 47-35 – fifth seed in the playoffs, second round appearance
Wizards top the Raptors in the first round again, this time in six games. Wizards run up against the Cavaliers and lose in six games.
A big thank you to Mitchell for taking the time to answer our questions. You can follow him on Twitter @primetimeMitch, and be sure to check out our friends over at Bullets Forever. What are your thoughts on the Wiz?