It’s December 2, 2020. The end of 2020 is approaching and you and your family are getting ready for the holidays. You make a nice breakfast, start your work for the day, and you’re locked in. Then, you go to the bathroom and come back to a couple of new notifications on your phone. You look, and you see two things: “Russell Westbrook has been traded to the Washington Wizards”, and “John Wall has been traded to the Houston Rockets.”
At first, you think, “huh?”
But THEN you start to imagine the possibilities.
“Westbrook AND Bradley Beal together? Now Westbrook can get back to playing his game. Wow!”
That combo sounded awfully entertaining, right?
Wrong. Nobody in their right mind should have thought Washington would be a contending team.
Here are a few reasons why the Westbrook experiment in Washington isn’t working, and why everyone should have seen this coming.
The Surrounding Roster
First and foremost, the Wizards roster surrounding Beal and Westbrook is laughable, even for the Eastern Conference.
Let’s take a look at some names around the two superstars:
SF Deni Avdija
PF Rui Hachimura
C Robin Lopez
C Thomas Bryant (currently out for season)
PG, SG Raul Neto
SF Troy Brown Jr.
PF Davis Bertans
Really? Did anybody really think that was a playoff-contending roster?
Granted, this is the current roster as of January 14, 2021. But as we know, the Westbrook trade was the last transaction Washington made. The Wizards have yet to even make a move in 2021.
Anyways, the only player on that roster that adds value to the team is Robin Lopez, the lesser of the two Lopez brothers. Besides launching up ill-advised threes, Robin Lopez is good for double-digit rebounds just about every game.
However, I can admit that Thomas Bryant was playing relatively well, averaging 14.3 pts a game and 6.1 rebounds, but as noted above, he was ruled out of the rest of the year due to a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Other than that, the Wizards roster is just a bunch of filler pieces, devoid of any substance at the forward and center positions.
With that being said, of course, this team was not going to have success in the long run.
The East was (and is) constantly evolving
Before the Westbrook deal even happened, several other blockbuster trades and notable changes happened in the Eastern Conference. So here’s a brief recap:
Charlotte Hornets: drafted LaMelo Ball, signed Gordon Hayward
Brooklyn Nets: signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in 2019
Miami Heat: acquired Jimmy Butler in 2019 and made the finals in 2020
Philadelphia 76ers: rebuilt their core without losing Embiid or Simmons
Boston Celtics: acquired Kemba Walker, signed Tatum to a max deal
All of those teams listed above were primed with better rosters and had more potential upside to start the 2020-21 NBA season compared to Washington. There’s no question about it.
Even if we assumed in December when Westbrook signed that they wouldn’t finish ahead of those teams, that would have put the Wizards at a projected 7 spot going into the playoffs…not good.
Westbrook + another superstar = playoff exit at best
Since Westbrook has been in the league, he has always had at least one bonafide superstar alongside him. With the Thunder, he had Kevin Durant, James Harden, and even Paul George later on.
None of those Thunder teams came close to making the finals besides the 2012 team. Inevitably, Oklahoma City got stomped by LeBron James and the Miami Heat that year.
After that, he signed with Houston in 2019 and was reunited with James Harden. That only lasted one season, and for a good reason: you can’t have two ball-dominant players on the same team and expect to go anywhere.
Sure enough, that Rockets team got bounced early in the playoffs last year.
I’m a Westbrook fan myself, and everyone knows he’s a historic, hall of fame kind of talent. He averaged a triple-double for three straight seasons.
But more importantly, he has only been on one team that reached the finals. For whatever reason, general managers and coaches alike have been unable to build a championship-caliber team with Westbrook as the centerpiece.
There was not going to be any emphasis put on defense
Lastly, people forget what made the Wizards successful in the past. It wasn’t just the heroic play of Wall and Beal, it was the defensive philosophies of those successful teams.
Back in 2018-19, the Wizards roster didn’t jump out at you. However, they did have an all-pro defender in Dwight Howard, a fiery defender in Markieff Morris, and Trevor Ariza who could defend well at that point in his career.
Meanwhile, at the end of 2020, the Wizards no longer had any of those players and added a mediocre and borderline defender in Westbrook.
Even if people thought Beal (awful defender) and Westbrook could score plenty together, how could they ever imagine that the two superstars would defend anybody?
‘Good’ does not mean great
Even though the Wizards currently sit at 3-8 and it does not appear to be getting any better for them, I can understand the thinking and logic that went behind the deals that Washington made.
Unfortunately for Washington, nobody could have foreseen the Knicks doing as well as they have been, nor could anybody have imagined that the Wizards would be giving up 121.27 points per game to opponents this year.
That’s ranked 29 in the league, and it will likely remain around that number by the time the 2020-21 season is over.
At this rate, the Wizards are probable to miss the playoffs, and everybody should have seen this coming.