Wizards roller-coaster season comes to an end with higher hopes for next year

Jun 7, 2021 | Deni Avdija

The Washington Wizards 2020-21 season came to a close on June 2 after a truly never before seen compressed season over a six-month span. Shortly after drafting Deni Avdija ninth overall in the delayed 2020 NBA draft, the organization pulled the trigger on moving on from decade-long franchise point guard John Wall for future Hall of Famer Russell Westbrook. After a 0-5, 3-12, 6-17, and 17-32 start to the season, Washington ended the regular season a whopping 17-6 as they finally started to click and took advantage of lesser competition.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

After losing to the Boston Celtics in the play-in tournament, the Wizards took care of the Indiana Pacers to secure a first-round date with the Philadelphia 76ers, but with Bradley Beal (hamstring) and Russell Westbrook (ankle) not 100 percent healthy, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference completed a gentleman’s sweep, 4-1. Three years removed from their last playoff appearance in 2018, the Wizards season could be viewed as a small stepping stone success, but Tommy Sheppard made clear during his end-of-season media availability that just making the playoffs will no longer be enough (as it shouldn’t be).

Scott Brooks’ five-year, $35 million contract inked in the crazy spending summer of 2016 is set to expire and the always close to the vest Sheppard said the organization would go through a “thorough evaluation” process before deciding whether Brooks would be re-signed to coach the Wizards next season or not. Brooks got a stellar endorsement from his close point guard Russell Westbrook, which is not to be unexpected as Brooks has always given Westbrook a long leash to play his game that at times can be detrimental to overall team success with high volume turnovers and low-efficiency offensive possessions ending with a mid-range jumper early in the shot clock.

With limited money to spend, although Sheppard indicated that team owner Ted Leonsis would be willing to enter the luxury tax if conducive to team success, the only way for Washington to make a big swing would likely be through trade. If they cannot add a third star to the roster before next season, as much as Sheppard said it will not be a “run it back” season, the impactful core would be the same with a few smaller tweaks around the edges. Washington would have to hope for big jumps from Rui Hachimura, Daniel Gafford, Thomas Bryant returning from a partially torn ACL, and of course Deni Avdija returning from a right fibular hairline fracture.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

“With Deni, he’s in Week 6 of an injury that we think he’ll be cleared after 12 weeks,” Sheppard said on Thursday just 12 hours after the team’s season ended. “So the most important thing to me is therapy today. Deni was with us on this last road trip. I watched his therapy, watched him out on the floor, very pleased with his progress. Our hope is to have him 100 percent healthy by the time Summer League rolls around, but it’s not imperative that he play in Summer League. We’ll make that evaluation at the right time.”

Bradley Beal – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

The Wizards remain committed to keeping Bradley Beal in D.C. for the rest of his career, but with him entering the final year under team control before a player option for 2022-23, they will have to show him that he can indeed contend for a championship in Washington. Otherwise the so-far loyal and patient All-Star guard may request a trade elsewhere throwing the Wizards into a rebuild that Leonsis has previously and infamously stated that the organization will never tank. This summer will certainly play a major role in what direction Washington goes moving forward after several years spent in NBA purgatory.

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