At this time next year, the Wizards will look significantly different when the roster overhauls because of expiring contracts and team options on other players. What happens with coach Randy Wittman also will be a hot topic.
Two summers ago, owner Ted Leonsis gave a playoffs-or-else edict to his front office and coaching staff, and they've responded with two advancements to the conference semifinals despite lacking home-court advantage in the first rounds.
So far there haven't been any public declarations such as conference finals-or-else -- and it's hard to imagine that scenario playing out again -- but Wittman is entering the second of a three-year contract that pays him $9 million. The 2016-17 season, however, only is a partial guarantee, CSNmidatlantic.com confirmed when the deal was signed.
If not for John Wall's broken left hand and wrist, the Wizards likely would've made the East finals. They lost in six games to the No. 1 seed Atlanta Hawks. In 2013-14, they lost in six games to No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers.
Nene, Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple, Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley and Gary Neal will be unrestricted free agents. The Wizards hold options on Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair. The second year of Drew Gooden's deal is non-guaranteed.
The Wizards have stuck with their plan, and stability has played an important role for a team that had won just 29 games three years ago. They've been intent on not committing long-term to any deals with free agents, and won't consider pricey trade acquisitions, to keep them a player for Kevin Durant in 2016 while staying a competitive playoff team. And with a directive for the front office keep them below the luxury tax, they've toed that line, too (Currently, the Wizards are over the salary cap of $70 million but under the $84 million tax line).
Wittman has persevered ever since he took over for Flip Saunders in 2011. He had been hired to be fired most of the time, taking over abysmal rosters, and had never led a team to the playoffs. But ownership here wanted a no-nonsense presence who'd instill better work habits, discipline and order in the locker room. The last three seasons, the Wizards have been a top 10 defensive team.
There have been rumblings, with Leonsis criticizing the team's offense and late-game execution in blogs and Wittman being criticized for walking off the court before the final shot of a frustrating home loss to create national headlines. Players criticized each other publicly.
The Wizards went 2-11 in a crucial stretch of their 46-win campaign last season that included an unspeakable low of consecutive losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers. Wittman's job security -- despite speculation to the contrary -- never was in jeopardy. They still were in the running for a top 4 seed and based on what players actually were saying there was no hint of him ever "losing the locker room."
Wittman was given a young core with Wall and Bradley Beal and they won 44 games in 2013-14 and met expectations. He was given a veteran in Paul Pierce and they made strides last year, though in the regular season there wasn't much improvement, and fell just shy of expectations since the East finals were the logical next step.
With the likelihood that the Wizards will go with more flexible lineups this season with the ability to play big and small, and with better personnel to fit, will determine if they stick with Wittman beyond his current deal. And, of course, Durant's willingness to play for him (if he were to consider coming) could impact that decision.
Though most outside of D.C. will opine that Wittman won't be enough, Wall, Pierce, Andre Miller, Trevor Ariza, Al Harrington -- All-Stars and respected veterans who are no longer on the roster and prone to giving honest assessments -- will disagree. Still, it'll be results that ultimately determines the final answer.