- Adding Dwight Howard to a team with well-known chemistry issues seems like a recipe for disaster, but maybe the Wizards know something we don’t. Either way, it's time for Wizards fans to accept their new reality.
On Monday afternoon, the Wizards introduced Dwight Howard, the coup de grâce of an offseason that also saw the team add two polarizing players in Austin Rivers and Jeff Green. Now there's Dwight, who met reporters in D.C. and explained his career path like so, "I learned Magic for eight years. Went to La-La Land. Worked for a while with Rockets. Learned to fly with some Hawks. Got stung by the Hornets. And it all taught me how to be a Wizard."
This is real. This is happening. The 7–foot human whoopee cushion is here to lead the Wizards for at least the next 12 months. And for anyone struggling to reckon with the past six weeks of Wiz transactions and wondering whether it's time to bury this team forever, I'm here to share my experience. I have talked myself into the Wizards' offseason, and so can you. Here are the steps I took:
1. Accept everything that happened last year. God, what a nightmare. The best part of last season was when it ended.
The story of the disappointment begins with John Wall. He signed the richest contract in franchise history, called himself the best two-way guard in the league, showed up out of shape, called out his teammates, told reporters he plans to be the best shot-blocking point guard in NBA history (???), got hurt, played no defense, and was, statistically-speaking, the laziest player in the NBA. He also started a war with J.J. Barea (and lost), continued playing long enough to sign a shoe deal and make the All-Star Game, then missed most of the final three months of the regular season. After a six-game loss in the first round of the playoffs, Wall took to the podium looking like Supermax Janis Joplin and explained that next year's improvement would be up to the front office.
More generally: the chemistry devolved almost as soon as the year began. There was one day early in the year when Wall and Beal proclaimed themselves the most talented team in the East, then watched LeBron drop 57 on them in a nationally–televised loss hours later. Beal made his first All-Star Game and had stretches of brilliance, but his play fell off a cliff over the final six weeks of the season. Scott Brooks appeared powerless to fix locker room issues, and his rotations were routinely frustrating. Otto Porter was great for the first two months, then got hurt, and spent the final six months playing on an injury that became progressively more serious until a doctor finally intervened midway through the playoffs. Markieff Morris was out of shape after spending most of the offseason on trial for assault, he was injured to start the year, and he was barely-playable through long stretches of the second half. Jodie Meeks tested positive for steroids. The team finished the regular season by forfeiting the No. 7 seed (and a matchup with the Celtics) during a Game-82 loss to a tanking Magic team that had benched its starters.
This photo was how the entire year felt, and every Wizards fan was Bradley Beal:
2. Go for a long run. Breathe. Sweat. Release the toxins. Now that we are clear on last season's misery, we can also be clear on this point: nothing next season could be worse than preseason challenges to LeBron James slowly giving way to sitting alone on the couch and watching Rodney Purvis and Khem Birch seal Washington's fate as a No. 8 seed.
3. Remember that they couldn't trade Wall this summer, and shouldn't have traded Beal. Wall has a trade kicker in his current contract, and next season his supermax extension will kick in and make him one of the highest–paid players in basketball. Trading him this summer might have made sense for the same reasons trading Blake Griffin made sense for the Clippers, but it was never realistic. Likewise, there were a few whispers about Beal trades—this definitely-reliable Instagram account reported that the Lakers offered Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart—but at 25 years old with a game tailor–made for today's league, keeping Beal was probably the smart move. If things fall apart again next year, there will still be a market for a 26-year-old All-Star who can score at all three levels and defend.
4. Indulge some reasonable Otto questions. Otto Porter is very good when he's healthy, and he's spent the past few years as a darling of the advanced stats community. He's also not quite an All-Star, his scoring is uneven, and his defense is a B, not an A. He's like Joe Ingles of the Eastern Conference, except that he's paid twice the salary. There are scenarios where it might make sense to trade a player like that, particularly if there's a shot at getting one more All-Star to pair with Wall and Beal. However...
5. Be grateful they didn't trade Otto for Boogie. For nine months, there were murmurs about a potential sign-and-trade with the Pelicans that would have sent Porter to New Orleans in exchange for DeMarcus Cousins. If nothing else, that move would have made a ton of sense for the Pelicans. Otto would be phenomenal next to Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis.
On the other hand: I can promise you that Cousins, already visibly bloated, coming off the most devastating injury in the NBA, would've been a disaster in D.C. He would have arrived with more fanfare than Dwight, expectations would have quickly spun out of control, and within eight months he would have been added to a long-list of washed up Washington additions that includes no less than Michael Jordan himself. (Obviously Dwight Howard can now be added to that list instead, but at least we're heading into that era with clear eyes about what's next. Boogie would've come with a much higher upside, more sacrifice—Otto—more investment, and a much darker hangover.)
6. Be realistic about Gortat. Wall and Marcin Gortat openly loathed each other. Everyone in the NBA knew this, and everyone knew the Wizards had to make a move. So, given the lack of leverage...
The Los Angeles Clippers are trading guard Austin Rivers to the Washington Wizards for center Marcin Gortat, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 26, 2018
7. Explain to strangers on Twitter that Austin Rivers isn't good, but he's not bad. If the Wizards had to trade Marcin Gortat, grabbing Rivers as a third guard isn't the worst thing in the world. Right? It's true that Rivers has spent most of his career playing with an astonishing lack of self-awareness that has made him a punchline year after year. Actually cheering for Rivers will be its own adventure. But objectively ... 37.8% from three on six attempts-per-game last season. That's not bad! This can work. For a team that has spent decades searching for a capable backup guard, Rivers seems like a decent bet, particularly if you concede that any other return from Gortat trade would have been even more disappointing.
8. Accept that not every moment in life can be a proud moment. Sometimes you are the windshield, sometimes you are the bug. Sometimes you find yourself sincerely defending the merits of Austin Rivers.
9. Remember Ian Mahinmi could have been the starting center. This Grunfeld quote is a classic bargaining technique, where you set an extreme edge at the outset of a negotiation, such that all subsequent offers look reasonable.
And you know what? It worked! If the alternative is 82 games starting Mahinimi, almost any center on earth would be preferable.
10. Ignore the Jeff Green haters. News of this signing was met with league-wide snickering and sincere condolences to Wizards fans, but I don't really get it. Mike Scott left for the Clippers, and Jeff Green can replace roughly 85% of what he did well. There was a time when the entire league was waiting on Green to become a star, and sure, in that context, he's frustrating and inevitably disappointing. But as a role player making the veteran's minimum, he should be fine.
11. Ignore the Dwight Howard haters? This is where the challenge gets real. You may be able talk yourself into tolerating Austin Rivers, you can rationalize a low-risk bet on 15 minutes-a-game from Jeff Green, but now ...
“I learned Magic for 8 years…traveled to La La Land, learned how to work with Rockets...how to fly with Hawks, got stung by the Hornets, and through all of that it’s taught me how to be a Wizard”@DwightHoward with a tremendous quote 😂 pic.twitter.com/79t8Q2fYjV— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) July 23, 2018
Years ago, Dwight was my least favorite player in the NBA. He's alienated several locker rooms since then. His skills have eroded just as the shape of the league has made his game less valuable. Now he's joining a team with some of the most tenuous chemistry in the league. This shouldn't work and it could be miserable. It has to be conceded that the Dwight haters might have a point.
12. Wrap yourself in a Gilbert Arenas jersey and think about the end. This is part of the process. It's natural and healthy to wonder whether any of this is even worth it anymore. We're all getting older—fans, Dwight, John Wall's knees. At some point, any rational adult can conduct a quick cost/benefit analysis and see where this is going. Missing on Durant and signing Ian Mahinmi instead, that was one thing. Talking yourself into "Dwight Howard, solution" is quite possibly a bridge too far. It's normal to have those thoughts. But then...
13. Let the curiosity take over. What is it about Dwight Howard that makes him so toxic? Remember the report that Hawks players reacted with jubilant cheers when they learned he'd been traded? How can any single player be that divisive? For that matter: Why does everyone loathe Austin Rivers? Why does NBA Twitter crack up any time Jeff Green is mentioned as a credible role player? And what happens when all of these players are added to a locker room that already appeared to be coming apart at the seams for 80% of last season?
14. Think about the reality of the situation. The Wizards entered this summer with limited cap space, a ceiling that became much clearer last season, and not much room to change anything. How they arrived at that point is its own indictment of the people in charge, but the damage had been done regardless. The best anyone could hope for was an offseason that was weird enough to keep this interesting, and a few marginal improvements to help the stars.
Dwight, if he can avoid inspiring a locker room mutiny, is a clear upgrade over Gortat. Austin Rivers is better than Jodie Meeks/Tim Frazier/Ty Lawson in every conceivable way. Markieff Morris isn't on trial for assault this summer. Wall and Otto should be healthy next fall. Beal is entering his prime. There's a non-zero chance that the Wizards roster is in better shape than anyone realizes, in which case, this summer was part of that story. There's also a chance that last season was the beginning of the end for this nucleus, Wall has already peaked, chemistry will only get worse, and we're not far off from changes at every level of the organization. In that case, adding Dwight is like lighting a match in a room full of oily rags. And hey, that could be fun too.
15. Start watching old John Wall highlights. Watch him erase this game-winning lay-up and step over Kyle Lowry. Pay some respect to the best shot-blocking point guard in NBA history.
It's true that for the first time in his career, projecting Wall's future requires considering at least as much downside as upside. He is going to be making franchise-altering money as early as next season. He needs to be a better defender, a smarter scorer, and a much better leader. Some of those problems may not change. But if Wall's going to be the catalyst for everything that works (or doesn't) during this Wizards era, it helps to remember that he should be much better than he looked last season. If nothing else, health will help next season.
At his best, Wall can turn defenses inside out. He gets open looks for everyone on the floor, he's one of the fastest players on the planet, and he is relentlessly chippy in the best way. Rewatch the game-winner. Rewatch the play where he asks Dennis Schroeder what the f*** is wrong with him. Remember that Peak John Wall is great.
16. Remember the Warriors are winning anyway. There are a dozen playoff teams who will spend next season shooting 50 threes in every game, stockpiling two-way wings, and doing everything they can to keep pace with a Warriors blueprint that can't possibly be replicated. Good for them. Let Raptors fans go nuts over the switchability of OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. Let Sixers fans pretend that the process was all about winning 46 games in 2019. Let Celtics fans get drunk on 16-point Jayson Tatum games and try to convince everyone that Al Horford is an MVP candidate.
17. Ignore them all. In Washington, there are no bad outcomes. This season could work better than anyone expects, or it could go down in flames and end in wholesale changes. Either way, while the rest of the world is trying to catch the Warriors with these anodyne basketball teams, the Wizards are going to be deeply unstable, borderline offensive, and potentially great.
There has never been a better time to jump on the bandwagon. Also, please send help.