The Washington Wizards have found success this season thanks to the play of their young backcourt, but sustained success in the future isn't as guaranteed as you might believe.
There's no doubting that John Wall and Bradley Beal comprise a promising core, and each player should continue to improve going forward. Honestly, out of all the great backcourt tandems around the league, Wall and Beal might be the most promising.
Although it seems like he's been in the league for quite some time, it's easy to forget that Wall is still just 23 years old. We've yet to see the best from him or Beal, so there's plenty of reason for optimism.
On the flip side, however, Wall and Beal might be the only trustworthy options the franchise has.
General manager Ernie Grunfeld's status is tenuous at best, as he's on an expiring contract. How much will the playoff appearance help him, and given his track record, is it in Washington's best interest to have him around? Head coach Randy Wittman is in a similar position, as he's on an expiring deal as well.
Uncertainty with management and coaching positions aren't the only question marks the Wizards will face this offseason.
One of the big reasons the Wizards have been able to survive another major injury to Nene Hilario is the presence of Marcin Gortat, who was acquired for a 2014 first-round draft pick this offseason. Gortat may turn out be nothing more than a rental, though. Here's what he told Kyle Weidie of ESPN.com about his upcoming free agency:
All I know is that I’m going to be a free agent. I don’t know how it is to be a player that actually is going to be able to pick the team he wants to play for, you know what I’m saying? I’m hoping that at the end of the day I’m going to be able to pick the team where I will play. I hope there will be a team, let’s put it this way first.
We still have 20 or so games to play. I’ve got to finish strong, and then we’re going to make a run into the playoffs, and then we’ll see what’s going to happen. Then I’m going to call my agent and say, "Hey, you gotta do your job. I did my job, now you gotta do your job. I’m looking forward to holidays now." So, we’ll see.
If Gortat leaves to go elsewhere, the Wizards could have quite the frontcourt problem on their hands. Nene has proven over the last four years that anything over 30 minutes a game is a stretch, and that staying healthy for a full season is incredibly unlikely. The Wizards simply can't depend on him to make it through an 82-game stretch, which is a shame since he has two years and $26 million left on his deal.
There are depth issues behind Nene as well. Backup big men Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker have been a mixed bag, and both are scheduled to hit restricted free agency. It's unclear if either will be in Washington's plans going forward.
Neither will be a huge priority, mainly because the most critical cog in Washington's 10th-ranked defense is Trevor Ariza, who is also set to be an unrestricted free agent. Ariza has really come into his own as an elite corner three-point shooter and defensive playmaker, but as David Aldridge of NBA.com breaks down, he's far from a lock to come back to the Wizards:
But they can't pay Ariza, who also pines to return to the West coast, what he'll likely ask for as a free agent. Ariza recently hired Rob Pelinka as his agent, a man not known for taking 70 cents on the dollar. It's a tough, tough call for a team that desperately needed a perimeter defender like Ariza. Yet if the Wizards let both Ariza and Gortat walk in July, they'd have enough cap room to go after a major free agent to pair with Wall, Beal, Nene and first-rounder Otto Porter, Jr., for at least two years.
While it's true that the Wizards will have right around $18 million in cap space if Gortat and Ariza both leave, there are no guarantees that a star would come into that space, particularly since that player couldn't be a point guard or shooting guard.
It's also unclear how much the Wizards can depend on Otto Porter Jr., the third overall pick of the 2013 draft. Porter has played just 257 minutes this season, posting a PER of just 4.1 in that time. He's been a complete non-factor, and while the Wizards can bank on improvement, playing him starter's minutes at the 3 might not be conducive to reaching the playoffs next season.
It's hard to paint a playoff appearance by the Wizards as being a negative thing, even if it keeps Grunfeld and the status quo in place. It just might not be as beneficial to building forward momentum as you'd typically think. While it's good for Wall and Beal to get those important minutes, this could be a completely different team next season, which would seem to diminish much of the momentum that would normally be built.
Ultimately, this offseason should mean much more to the Wizards than this postseason will.