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Can the Wizards Build a Contender?

Can they?

With the euphoria of the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup victory starting to die down, attention turns to Capital One Arena’s other tenant. The Washington Wizards. If ever an organization has displayed being lost in the desert for 40 years, it’s the Bullets/Wizards.

The Nation’s Capital has gone through two generations without seeing their basketball team make a significant move in the NBA. The closest they have come was two seasons ago when the John Wall led Wizards came within one game of going to the Eastern Conference Finals. Wall has been to the Wizards what Ovechkin was to the Capitals prior to this year’s magical run. A guy good enough to get the franchise a playoff series win but not two. The most damaging had to be the year the Wizards were up 2-1 over the Hawks in the second round only to lose three straight.

So how does a capped strapped organization get help for Wall and his running mate Bradley Beal? Through the draft. Unlike other sports, it’s very hard to get cap relief in the NBA without finding a team to take bad contracts. The Wizards have Wall, Beal and Otto Porter at high cap numbers so don’t look for any of three to go anywhere soon. The most trade friendly player on the roster is Kelly Oubre but there is no reason for the Wizards to trade a young contributing player at a reasonable salary.

This means Ernie Grunfeld must do something he hasn’t been really good at… making draft picks count. Grunfeld hit on Wall but that was a no-brainer. No matter who got the first pick, Wall was slotted for that position. And you can make a strong argument that he hit on Beal. The only guard taken in the first round of the 2012 draft that has outperformed Beal is Damian Lillard. The Trailblazers star was selected four slots after Beal at number seven.

It’s Ernie’s other picks that has bombed and that’s putting it nicely. With each NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, cap management becomes more and more important. So, though Grunfeld had early success on a couple of deals, he has done more harm than good. Whether it’s drafting the likes of Oleksiy Pecherov and Jan Vesely or out and out trading lottery picks, Grunfeld has been a disaster.

This is why the Washington Wizards are in the cap situation they’re in. In this year’s draft, the Wizards have the 15th pick in what many believe is a deep draft. This would the time that the Wizards could get a reasonably good player and an affordable salary. Sounds easy doesn’t it? But, according to Sports Capitol’s Ben Standig, the Wizards are willing to move the pick if a team will take on an existing contract.

This, in a nutshell, is why the Wizards are in this situation. They are constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul. If the Wizards move down, more than likely, Grunfeld would use the pick on a player who will stay in Europe like Bosnian Dzanan Musa. What good does this do? How does it improve the team in an Eastern Conference that has Philadelphia and Boston on the rise?

With the 15th pick, Washington could get someone who could contribute right away. It’s projected that the likes of Kevin Knox (Kentucky), Robert Williams (Texas A&M), and Miles Bridges (Michigan St.) could be available. Any of the three would contribute right away as a rotation player.

Williams is the most intriguing if he’s still on the board. He would give the Wizards a much needed rim protector and would also give them flexibility in dealing Marcin Gortat. Moving Gortat is sorely needed considering salary, age and his constant passive-aggressive criticisms of Wall. Not only would the Wizards get younger and better but they would do it at an affordable price. The Wizards could build a contender around Wall, Beal, and Williams with support players like Porter and Oubre. They wouldn’t look all that different than this year’s Celtics team (without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward).

This is how you have to manage rosters in the NBA. A franchise doesn’t have to lose intentionally, like the Sixers, they have to be smart with their draft picks.

Washington D.C. is a basketball town but not a Wizards town. Owner, Ted Leonsis, if building a practice facility in D.C. and is bring a G-League team there. He’s making all the right moves to build a fan base similar to how he did for the Washington Capitals. Leonsis walks on water among Caps fans because he tried in earnest to build a winner. It took longer than many thought but he did it and the fans were there to say “thank you”. The Wizards could do the same starting with Thursday night’s draft. They aren’t as far off as many think they are.

In order for that to happen, the fan base has to trust Grunfeld to do the right thing and no one is ready to do that. So to all the Wizards fans out there, on draft night have an adult beverage handy… just in case you hear “… and the Wizards select Dzanan Musa”.

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