WASHINGTON — If you’ve spent any length of time spectating the NBA Finals, or these NBA Playoffs for that matter, two patterns have emerged: the Warriors are better than the Cavaliers, and these are the best two teams in the league.
Both are troubling realities for the league’s 28 other teams, and for the Wizards, an all-too-familiar reality is beginning to emerge. For four straight years, the Gilbert Arenas-Caron Butler-Antawn Jamison-led Wizards made the playoffs. They only made it out of the first round once (2004-05), and three times were exited by young LeBron’s Cavs.
The current Wizards, led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, have made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, and, albeit with three series wins under their belts, they too have failed to make it out of the second round.
The difference between the two iterations of the club is clear: barring any unforeseen boneheaded decisions by a star player, there’s no reason to dismantle these Wizards prematurely. But will the results be any different?
This is a question Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld should undoubtedly ask himself before recommitting to Otto Porter this summer. It’s also a question Wizards owner Ted Leonsis should ask himself before recommitting to Grunfeld as team president.
Antonio Daniels, a member of those mid-aught Wizards, was asked during an interview with The Sports Junkies Monday if Porter’s contract situation presents a particularly challenging quagmire for the Wizards.
“Are you stuck?” John-Paul Flaim asked. “Because if you do give him all that money, you know you’re not going to get to Golden State, Cleveland level, but maybe you have to give it to him. What do you do?”
“If you’re not going to give Otto Porter that money, then you better have somebody in mind that you plan to bring in here that is going to replace him, and you’re going to basically elevate that position,” Daniels said. “That’s really what it comes down to.”
“I think if you have somebody that you can bring in here that can replace Otto Porter, and you elevate that three-position, which is very difficult to do, or even somebody else outside, maybe a sign-and-trade or something like that, that you know can take the Washington Wizards to that next level, you have to bring him in and give it a look,” he added. “But if not, you stay pat and keep trying to grow slowly but surely.”
Eric Bickel took issue with the suggestion that another level even exists for the Wizards.
“There is no next level,” he said. “That’s my point. There is no next level, I don’t think, for this team the way the league is right now. They’ve kind of peaked. I think they basically have peaked.”
“No. The next level would be Cleveland status,” Daniels rebutted. “The next level would be a big-time free agent who understands what you have in John Wall and Bradley Beal, or what you have in coach Scott Brooks. That’s the next level. The next level may not be in one year. It may not be in two years. The next level may be in three years when LeBron James starts to decline a little bit.”
This may be the philosophical truth impeding the Wizards, that their entire existence — whether it be the Arenas- or Wall-era — has been overshadowed by LeBron James. It may be that there is no solution to getting to that next level, in the way no solution existed for Charles Barkley or Karl Malone in the age of Michael Jordan, as long as LeBron’s reign in the east continues.
“So don’t spend the money on Otto,” Bickel said. “God bless him, just let him go. Save the money. Save your firepower. Save your bullets.”
“I get that,” Daniels said. “But if you’re saving the money, who and what are you saving the money for, is the question.”
“Specifically on this team, you would just hope that Kelly Oubre develops like Otto did,” Flaim said. “Defensively, similar, very long, can knock down a three. You just hope that he develops.”
“All I’m saying, if I was a businessman, I would look at this and go, ‘Well, I have no chance of winning a championship in the next three to four years. No chance. Literally zero. So why am I going to go nuts and spend all this money?'”
“Are you going to give [$25 million] to a spot-up shooter?” Flaim said.
“Saying you have no chance…. now understand that the Washington Wizards were a game away from being in the Eastern Conference Finals,” Daniel said. “Once you get to the Eastern Conference Finals, anything can happen.”
“C’mon,” Flaim rebuffed.
“They weren’t going to beat the Cavs,” Bickel said.
“What if LeBron gets hurt that year?” Jason Bishop said.
“Don’t hear what I’m not saying,” Daniels said. “I’m not saying that they would beat the Cavaliers, but you remember two years ago when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love got hurt. Every team in this league is one sprained knee or ankle away from the whole series changing.”
“Honestly, that’s a players’ perspective, though,” he said. “You may know that a team is better than you when you go into that series, but to understand that they still have to beat you four times, and what can happen within those seven games, I don’t know. That’s my perspective.”