By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
It’s on you now, Bradley Beal. That’s right. It’s your team. The Washington Wizards see a reimagined future with Beal at the center of whatever transpires. That was clear when they resisted all overtures to trade their All-Star shooting guard during a frenzied free agent summer that saw all sorts of stars relocate. With John Wall expected to miss the entire season recovering from an Achilles injury, the immediate and long-term future of this franchise rests on Beal, who agreed to a two-year extension worth nearly $72 million.
The Wizards moved on from Ernie Grunfeld and promoted his longtime assistant Tommy Sheppard to steer the franchise through the reboot, which began the moment Wall went down with his injury. The reality that they were no longer chasing the top spot in the conference was tough to digest with their All-Star backcourt in a full lather in recent seasons. But everyone understands it now … Sashi Brown, infamous for overseeing the brutal reboot for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, was also added to the executive team to help navigate the process. So was longtime NBA executive Rod Thorn, who will assist Sheppard with free agency, the Draft and other basketball operations matters … Thomas Bryant signed a three-year deal to return to the Wizards after his breakout performance last season … The nation’s capital is the latest stop on the Isaiah Thomas Reclamation Tour, as the former MVP candidate tries to resurrect his career after being forced to the sideline due to injury for most of the past two seasons. He’ll start the season recovering from thumb surgery … veterans Ish Smith (free agent) and C.J. Miles (trade) were also added to beef up the ranks.
1. Reinventing the Wizards. Scott Brooks came aboard to take the Wizards over the top, not to implement the franchise recalibration that is now underway. If he wants to remain in his position, though, he’ll have to embrace the reinvention process as much as anyone in the organization. With Ted Leonsis shifting the franchise into the analytics-driven space the way it was done in Brooklyn and closer to home in the division in Atlanta, it will require a change in philosophy at every level, especially on the ground floor with the coaching staff. That has to start with Brooks, whose experience reinventing things in Oklahoma City what seems like a lifetime ago should come in handy.
2. Are Rui ready? The Japanese media is certainly ready to see what rookie forward Rui Hachimura makes of his opportunity on the big stage. He’s the central figure in a hoops renaissance in his home country and stirred up the energy with a strong summer league showing and an impressive stint in the FIBA World Cup before missing Japan’s final two games with knee soreness and fatigue. The increased attention doesn’t appear to have much of an effect on Hachimura, who will get plenty of opportunity to carve out a niche this season.
3. Health issues. Ian Mahinmi (Achilles strain), C.J. Miles (foot surgery), Troy Brown (calf) and Isaiah Thomas (thumb) are all dealing with injury issues that will slow the Wizards’ installation process to start the season. It’s not unique for teams to have such issues, but for a group as disjointed as these Wizards will be early on, it’s yet another challenge for Brooks and his staff to overcome. The injuries mean more opportunities for newcomers Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and rookie second-round Admiral Schofield to establish themselves.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis took his time figuring out what direction the franchise would take in the aftermath of Grunfeld’s departure. A full-blown culture change was promised but plenty of critics will point to the elevation of Sheppard as a continuation of what’s gone on, and some would suggest gone wrong, for years. But the hiring of Brown, Thorn and even former Wizard Antawn Jamison director of pro personnel, suggests a more introspective approach to handling the shift. All of the moves made, no matter how long they took, speak to Leonsis' underlying desire to deliver an Eastern Conference powerhouse to the District, whose fan base has been starving for a true contender since 1979.
Ish Smith | 8.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.6 apg
Undervalued and a bit undersized, but always finds a way to be effective in whatever role he’s asked to play.
Bradley Beal | 25.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.5 apg
Do-everything All-Star has turned into an iron man, played 82 games in each of the past two seasons, after dealing with injury issues earlier in his career.
Troy Brown | 4.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.5 apg
Shot 32 percent from beyond the 3-point line as a rookie and will need to improve that significantly to be effective.
Davis Bertans | 8.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.3 apg
Showed flashes in San Antonio in a reserve role and now has an opportunity for a much larger role as a floor spacer.
Thomas Bryant | 10.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.3 apg
A 53-game starter last season, Bryant will have his hands full with some of the bigs he’ll face on a regular basis.
Rui Hachimura | 19.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.5 apg (Gonzaga)
Should push for a starting role before the season's end if he’s as good as his summer exposure suggests.
Mo Wagner | 4.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.6 apg
Wagner’s fit here is better than it was during his uneven rookie season with the Lakers, but he has to step up to the challenge.
Isaiah Thomas | 8.1 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 1.9 apg
Injuries have limited him to just 29 games the past two seasons in Los Angeles and Denver.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Instead of contending during the primes of the careers of their All-Star backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards will spend this season in the midst of a transition that has no real defined destination. There’s enough talent to be competitive with Beal as their catalyst, but anything beyond that seems like a pipe dream. There’s just been too much upheaval, from the front office to the locker room, to forecast anything other than another lottery season.
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