Don’t look now, but Washington suddenly is more attractive than the homely NBA outpost it resembled for 35 years.
Now, instead of being a punchline, the Wizards can punish opponents. Instead of being dismissed and forgotten, they can command respect and attention. Instead of lacking sizzle and star appeal, Washington can trot out one of the league’s best backcourts.
And in an Eastern Conference landscape that might lose Mount LeBron next summer, the Wizards are poised to be serious threats over the next several seasons.
Thank you, Ted Leonsis. By digging into your pocket and signing John Wall to a four-year, $170 million extension, you bought a level of relevance and competence that’s been rare for your franchise.
With the speedy point guard in uniform for at least the next five seasons, playing alongside sweet-stroke shooter Bradley Beal for at least four, Washington has positioned itself as a destination. Imagine that.
Pay them and others will come.
Top free agents have been drawn to the Wizards like rubber bands to magnets. For all the social and cultural attractions that should rank D.C. high among desirable places to play, the basketball squad has served as a repellant.
Wall, who averaged 23.1 points and 10.7 assists last season, makes teammates better. His drive-and-dish game leads to open jumpers and easy layups. His pass-first mentality ensures that every able-bodied scorer has a chance to get buckets.
He’s the type of player that others want to run with. Current Wizards are the beneficiaries but prospective teammates are taking note. With Beal on the arc and Otto Porter in the corner, Washington has locked-up a solid young core with room for a couple of dynamic pieces.
The Wizards’ starting five is among the NBA’s top half-dozen or so. And there’s good reason to believe Wall, Beal and Porter are still improving. Prime years are ahead for Beal and Porter and Wall just got there, a fact that makes Washington tantalizing to proven veterans.
One such player is five-time All-Star Boogie Cousins, Wall’s former teammate at Kentucky. While I’m not positive I’d want Cousins on my team, the presence of Wall and coach Scott Brooks – who previously handled the volatile Russell Westbrook – might convince me to take a stab. Perhaps that duo could keep the talented big man focused and in line.
Cousins reportedly has been open to reuniting with Wall for a long time. The college Wildcat connection is strong, but Wall’s rise among the NBA elite will entice non-Wildcats as well. The Wizards arguably are one player away from a super team!
When more ballers express interest, general manager Ernie Grunfeld will be tasked with securing the upgrades and making them fit. Granted, that’s less than inspiring.
But we’re not here to bash Grunfeld.
We’re here to celebrate the next phase in D.C.’s basketball makeover, five more seasons of Wall and the new head-turning Wizards.
— Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.