Eastern Conference Preview: Can the Washington Wizards return to the playoffs?


Can the Washington Wizards return to the playoffs, and what about a DeMarcus Cousins trade?

Jan 3, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) dribbles the ball past Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson (8) in the third quarter at Verizon Center. The Heat won 97-75. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) dribbles the ball past Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson (8) in the third quarter at Verizon Center. The Heat won 97-75. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s been a crazy off-season, and the Miami Heat isn’t the only team to face major changes this summer. The landscape in the Eastern Conference has shifted, a Super Duper Team has been created out West and the Cavaliers are gearing up for another title run. Here at All U Can Heat, we will be talking with some of the experts from around the NBA and the FanSided network, getting their takes on the teams they cover as well as the Miami Heat. To cover the Washington Wizards, we were joined by Ben Mehic of Wiz of Awes, who was kind enough to answer a few questions.

All U Can Heat: After missing out on the playoffs last season, how are you feeling about Washington’s chances of making the post-season in 2016-17?

Ben Mehic: As long as they stay healthy, which they failed to do this past season, the Wizards should make the playoffs. There’s a lot of parity in the Eastern Conference, but not many teams have a backcourt like the Wizards.

Assuming John Wall recovers from the knee surgeries he underwent this summer and Bradley Beal manages to stay on the floor, the Wizards could have two All-Stars this upcoming season.

Plus, the coaching change will be huge too. Scott Brooks is a proven winner and has already spoken about wanting to develop Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre.

If things go according to plan–meaning they stay healthy–then the playoffs should be a certainty.

AUCH: Before last season, the Wizards lost in the semi-finals in six games in each of the previous two seasons. They seemed to be just on the cusp. What do they need to do to make it back to the semi-finals, or even the conference finals?

Ben: They need to return to playing defense. During their two playoff runs, the Wizards were a top-10 defense and Wall made the All-Defensive Team in 2015. This past season, the team decided that defense was going to be optional. Playing small on a full-time basis changed the Wizards’ identity and they suddenly went from being a big, bruising squad to a small, 3-point shooting team.

It’s not a coincidence that they became a top-10 defense during the second half of the season once Markieff Morris replaced Jared Dudley in the starting lineup. Morris embraced the physicality of the game and completely altered the entire feel of the team. Having him for a full season should definitely help them return to being an elite defensive club.

Regaining that toughness on defense should be the first step for Washington. Once they make the playoffs, the rest should take care of itself. You can’t make the semi-finals or conference finals if you’re not in the postseason. Take care of business during the regular season, then worry about the playoffs later. That’s what they did when they made the second round for two straight seasons and that’s what they should do in 2016-17.

AUCH:. Okay, tell me, how worried are you about the John Wall-Bradley Beal chemistry issue. Be honest.

Ben: I’m not worried at all.

Look, you can’t have chemistry with someone when you don’t share the court. Beal has been injured a lot. How can they possibly build a relationship when they’re rarely on the court together?

I’ve used this comparison before, but here it is again: imagine getting a school assignment that requires you to have a partner. You and the other “smart” kid team up. Except, your partner never shows up to class, and you’re forced to do most of the project alone. Beal is the absent person in that scenario. Sure, he’s talented, but his talent is useless when he’s not playing. Wall is understandably frustrated. He’s dropping 20 points and 10 assists per game, but has no help on the court.

The situation was overblown because news is slow in August. Wall and Beal have no problems with each other, and I’ve been told that the issue was benign by a player who was on the team this past season. Beal just needs to stay healthy. It’s that simple.

AUCH: You’re the GM of the Wizards and the Kings come calling. They are offering DeMarcus Cousins. Who do you tell them is untouchable, and what’s your offer?

Ben: “Hey, Vlade. Wait, really? You’re offering Boogie? Take anyone not named John Wall.” That’s what I would tell Divac.

You need stars to win in the NBA nowadays. Currently, the Wizards only have one star. That doesn’t mean that Beal, Otto Porter or Kelly Oubre won’t become All-Stars or high quality players, but they’re just not there yet.

I would offer a package around Beal, Porter or Oubre and one of the big men.

Wall and Boogie have a real friendship that formed during their short time at Kentucky. They spend time with each other away from the game, and if there’s one player who can get the most out of Boogie, it’s Wall.

Here’s a tough trivia question: can you name all of the point guards Boogie has played with since he entered the league in 2010? The list is tremendous. Neither player has had an All-Star teammate yet. That problem would be solved instantly in Washington. They were meant to be together. It’s a match made in NBA heaven.

AUCH: What grade would you give the Wizards’ off-season? Which addition will make the biggest difference?

Ben: I would give them a C, just because they failed to deliver a star player. They came awfully close to convincing Al Horford to join the team, but “awfully close” doesn’t matter.

Ian Mahinmi will make the biggest difference. He had a top-10 defensive rating this past season with the Pacers and will help the team regain their defensive identity. As awesome as Marcin Gortat has been in Washington, he’s never been a outstanding rim protector. Mahinmi will likely close games for the Wizards and deliver key stops down the stretch. His numbers probably won’t reflect it, but Mahinmi will play a sizeable role in Washington. The team wanted a defensive force inside and they got one in Mahinmi.

AUCH: As an outsider, what do you make of Miami’s off-season?

Ben: It looks bad, man. You can only hardball for so long before it comes back to bite you in the ass. They should have paid Dwyane Wade, even if they knew that his decline was coming relatively soon. He deserved to become the highest paid player on the team; something that he never was before joining the Bulls.

And how did they replace Wade and Luol Deng, for that matter? By adding Dion Waiters and Derrick Williams. I’m all about positive pixels, but I’m afraid there are none to be found here.

Maybe Hassan Whiteside will have a monster season and they somehow build like the Trail Blazers did last year. I’m glad they re-signed Whiteside and Tyler Johnson. I’m also super high on Justise Winslow. But man, they had a rough summer.

Thanks to Ben Mehic for taking the time to answer our questions. You can follow him on Twitter @BenMehicNBA and read him over at Wiz of Awes, covering the Washington Wizards for FanSided.