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Hi, Washington Wizards! How was your summer?

Bryan McDowall | Flickr

2012-13 W-L: 29-53

New Faces: Eric Maynor, Al Harrington.

New Places: Jason Collins (FA), A.J. Price (FA), Cartier Martin (FA), Leandro Barbosa (FA), Pat Connelly (Player Personnel Director to PHX; role unspecified), Milt Newton (Player Personnel VP to MIN as GM).

Drafted: Otto Porter Jr. (3), Glen Rice Jr. (35; traded from PHI for 38 + 54).

Last season feels like a million years ago, doesn’t it? No? No, it feels like it just happened to the rest of you? Hmm, maybe it just feels like the futility Wizards fans experienced last season felt like it came from an ancient place.

The glimmer of hope each Wizards offseason brings following a season of dashed hopes and expectations seems routine at this point. But this year feels different. I know we say that every year, but this year really seems different. Every other year, there’s still something lurking in the background–an albatross contract, a loose cannon, an offseason incident, a larger-than-life personality, a core player falling to injury without a contingency plan in the form of one or multiple players, a weekly special event on a Tuesday in Miami–that might derail an otherwise smooth season ahead.

The management has seemed to fix many or maybe even all of these issues already. To be sure, many of the issues were of the management’s own making, but they’ve gone a long way to put together a roster that can manage to make it through an entire season in one headache-less piece. With the unceremonious end to the Jordan Crawford era in Washington, the Wizards finally got rid of their last “knucklehead.” Do I personally believe that Crawford was given too much blame? Yes. Does it matter? No, not really. What matters was that this player–fairly or unfairly–was the last in a long line of guys whose personalities overshadowed night-to-night play at some point in the media and the locker room. And with his trade for two well-respected veterans (Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa), the Wizards exorcised themselves of all of the bad joojoo of the fingagunz, Pierres, 7DayDrays, Swaggys, stelos, and innumerable other incidents and memes that followed the team around before and after their short-lived playoff era in the mid-2000s.

As a big blue bear recently noted, the Wizards decided that they needed to invest in off-court personality as much as they needed to invest in on-court potential. They brought in veterans like Collins, Barbosa (though he was rehabbing in Rio the entire time), Nene, Trevor Ariza, and Emeka Okafor because the team was full of young guys who were steering a ship without a rudder. Apprentices without master craftsmen. For God’s sake, they literally didn’t know what playing above .500 felt like. It didn’t matter that these guys were overpaid for their age or statistics. When these guys walked into the locker room and onto the practice court, they were instantly role models. And that’s all that really mattered. The habits they brought with them were for these younger guys to model, and it has been far too long since this team has had a constructive hierarchy like that.

The team also helped itself this offseason with depth. It’s had depth before, but more in the “hey I guess five of these guys can replace the impact of this one guy if we rotate them enough” department. Unfortunately, after experiencing injuries to cornerstones Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, and John Wall over the past 4-5 years, the team did not–until this offseason–prepare themselves properly for filling holes with actual, replacement-level players. As the team saw last year how horrible its offense was without someone–John Wall–who could set other players up offensively, they needed to bring someone in who could help out in the event that Wall goes down again. Eric Maynor, one hopes, is this someone. If he’s not, Garrett Temple can run the point, and Bradley Beal is also learning to improve his ball-handling skills.

As stable as the backcourt may seem, the reality is that everyone assumes this team is a different team–dare I say, a “playoff contender?”–with John Wall. So we can’t very well assume that this team can cobble together some Voltron point guard replacement with Maynor, Beal, and Temple that will replicate Wall’s courtvision and leadership. I mean, if we do assume that, then doesn’t that mean he should not have been the player to receive the 5/80 rookie max extension? These two principles–Wall is the best, and Wall is easily replaceable–seem at odds to me, but it’s still a better outlook than this team has had in quite some time. Plus, Wall’s efforts to organize a pre-training camp mini-camp shows that he’s taking his leadership role seriously, and that in itself is refreshing.

There’s so much more you could dissect about this Wizards team–is Ariza the odd man out? Why did they let so many FAs walk? Is Beal the Real Deal? Is John Wall a star?  If they’re so good, why do they have only one national TV game? Was Martell Webster’s great season an outlier or something truly worthy of the full mid-level exception?–but, again, this year feels different.
This year, I don’t want to dissect all the things that they could have done better. I want to applaud the things they did correctly. They brought in smart veterans, they brought in young core with great upside (capped off with the surest player in the draft, Otto Porter), and they got rid of distractions.
Maybe they’ll make the playoffs; maybe they won’t. But I’m grateful for the fact that we can finally–FINALLY–judge this team for its basketball.

Amin Vafa

Amin grew up in Cleveland, lives in DC, and somehow still manages to love watching professional basketball.