A top four seed and advancing to the conference finals was the goal for the Wizards when they opened training camp at Towson University in Baltimore back in September. After Friday's 112-99 loss at the Detroit Pistons, reality set in. They'll be home for the postseason and won't have a winning record after winning 44 and 46 games in each of the previous two seasons.
Everything went sideways for the Wizards (38-41), who weren't able to get over .500 after being 6-5 in November. There's no one reason for this collapse and trying to reduce it to that would be incorrect. A lot went wrong and in order, and I'm counting down the issues from least significant to most:
10. Rookie development. The track record shows that first-year players find time tough to come by under coach Randy Wittman, though Beal was an exception. Kelly Oubre had a good run when Otto Porter fell injured and had a surprisingly good three-point stroke. When Porter got healthy again, however, Oubre fell completely out of the rotation. As good as he was at times defending 1-on-1, Oubre had a tendency to pick up cheap fouls and busted rotations (like Porter did as a first-year player).
This is where the lack of the Wizards having their own D-League franchise hurts, and that's not on the coach or front office. They need a better system in place that allows players like Oubre or Jarell Eddie, who might be out of the rotation, to get burn. It can keep them sharp. And if you have your own coaches hired to run the D-League team, they're getting similar coaching that they'd get if they were practicing and playing with the A-team. It serves little purpose to send a little-used rookie to an unaffiliated D-League team. This is why 2015 second-round pick Aaron White was stashed overseas.
9. Injuries. The most obvious and frequently given answer, though not nearly the primary reason. According to mangameslost.com, the Wizards have lost the third most games as of April 3 after leading in this category for most of the season (277). They didn't have John Wall for the last two games because of right knee soreness, which isn't included in the total. Bradley Beal has had multiple injuries to keep him out to the shoulder, nose/head, lower right leg and pelvis. Porter has been playing with a tear in the cartilage in his hip. Gary Neal was released because of a similar ailment. Nene and Drew Gooden had calf strains that hampered them early and often. Alan Anderson has been a non-entity most of the season because of his left ankle and then his groin.
Injuries were a factor but even when the Wizards got healthier post-All-Star break they ran into the same problems. Even after they acquired Markieff Morris in a trade. But let's clear up a wide-held myth on Anderson: He had bone spurs removed long before he was signed by the Wizards, a routine procedure that plenty of players go through every offseason and he had plenty of time to heal. It wasn't until he started working out again that he developed pain just before training camp. Taj Gibson (Bulls) and Terrence Ross (Raptors) had the same surgery and played more than 70 games this season.
8. Failed experiment with Kris Humphries. The concept wasn't a bad one, and choosing to change up to create a stretch four wasn't a mistake. Taking a risk to push the team to another level was needed. Why didn't the Wizards stick with what was working? Nene couldn't play starter's minutes and they needed to go to a power forward who could make threes.
Humphries -- and this was my opinion early in the season when, too, even after he made a career-high five threes in a win over the Orlando Magic -- could be an occasional three-point shooter, but he'd have to be around 50% for opposing defenses to take him seriously and adjust coverages to run him off the line. Had he been able to shoot near that level, and that's asking a lot for a guy who played one way for 11 years to transform himself in one season, then this would be lauded as a great move.
But it didn't work, and then Jared Dudley was thrust into the starting role when he was brought here to be a role player. Not his fault, either, that he's 6-7 and made them a bigger liability on the boards. They hope was Martell Webster, who was waived because of impending hip surgery, could slot into this spot to give the Wizards more depth. His season ended before it began.
7. Lack of consistent third scorer. How many times did you look at a game or boxscore and ask, "Where's Otto?" Last night in Detroit was a glaring example (three points in 31 minutes). That ended his streak of 14 games in a row scoring in double figures for Porter. He didn't develop a three-point shot from the corners like expected. In fact, Oubre proved to be far more comfortable in catch-and-shoot situations. Porter is now shooting a respectable 36.4% from deep but for most of the season he was under 30%.
Porter was drafted No. 3 overall but make no mistake, he wasn't being relied on to be a star or a savior. He's a role player. When Beal was out injured, Porter often disappeared in the offense and that put more pressure on Wall to score. Wall even had to yell at him to shoot when open.
Porter has to be more assertive and get more comfortable catching and shooting. He has admitted he's not comfortable shooting when he gets the ball while standing still and he has to break the habit of looking at his feet before he launches threes because he almost always misses.
6. In-game adjustments and rotations. At least in the early going, Dudley and Wall were among the most vocal players publicly about how some of Wittman's decisions with his rotations were inadequate. They weren't the only ones. Humphries was exploited by quicker stretch fours who broke down the defense. Teams such as the Boston Celtics easily anticipated how the Wizards would defend in certain situations and got easy buckets at crucial times. So did the Cleveland Cavaliers who exploited the switches to get Dudley in matchups with Kyrie Irving or LeBron James.
Whatever a scouting report said the Wizards would do, they'd do and they rarely diverted. At least 4-5 games lost could be attributed to that predictability. Maybe more. The Wizards weren't as fluid as others were which led to some of that separation.
Think of what Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle did when the Wizards, who were undermanned without Marcin Gortat and a host of other bigs when they met at Verizon Center on Dec. 6. He went to a very small lineup, with little-used Jeremy Evans, and Dirk Nowitzki at the five spot to combat the Wizards' small ball to pull out that win. Jeremy who? Exactly. Evans, who averages 2.4 points, played 20 minutes in that game and scored seven points. He might as well have scored 20. Evans only played 30 times all season and the Mavs are in the playoff hunt. This is an example of when a team hits you with a curveball, you hit them with one back. Evans' name isn't on anyone's scouting report. And it worked. The Wizards didn't do enough of that.
5. Rebounding. The Wizards have been at the bottom of the standings all season. They finished 29th, second to last, getting out of the basement only because of the addition of Morris at the trade deadline. Gortat needed help in the paint. While Gortat is a good athlete and hustles, his reaction time isn't always enough to ward off quicker-jumping smaller players and Dudley didn't provide him much assistance when he was the starter. Humphries lost his rebounding mojo playing so high out on the arc. It took almost three-quarters of the season to expire before the Wizards could solve it.
4. Redundancy. The roster was bogged down with too many bigs who did the same things, with Humphries and DeJuan Blair until both were shipped to the Phoenix Suns in late February for Morris. When both were acquired the previous year, it was because the Wizards were so thin down low. Nene is injury-prone and Kevin Seraphin, at the time, was having issues with his knee and eventually would be allowed to leave in free agency.
And for those who think the Wizards erred on Seraphin, he took less money to join the N.Y. Knicks where he hasn't played much. Seraphin wanted a change of scenery. So the Wizards stockpiled some big bodies and the game has evolved into a one-in, four-out philosophy. They needed more versatile bigs like a younger Gooden, 34, who is 6-10 but has three-point range.
3. Backcourt chemistry. You name the body part, Beal injured it. And for most of the games that he has been available, Beal was under a minutes restriction. He began the season like he was headed to being an All-Star, proving worthy of a max-salary contract when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. But his lack of on-court time with Wall ruined what could've proved to be a transformational season that pushed them to the next level.
Instead, there are more questions and there's risk involved if the Wizards have to match a max offer. It was because of Beal's health that the Wizards didn't reach terms on an extension before this season began. Still, the leverage rests with the player in free agency. That's why free agency exists. The team is constructed around Wall and Beal. Not Wall and Garrett Temple, who started all but one game missed by Beal. Both have to be at their best together like they were vs. Toronto and Atlanta in the playoffs a year ago. One can't be better without the other.
2. Defense. No one person has been responsible for the Wizards no longer being a top 10 scoring unit like they'd been the previous three years. Sometimes it's holes in the perimeter defense, spearheaded by Wall. Did Wall gamble too much? Yes. This is why steals and blocked shots can be an overrated statistic if when unsuccessful it breaks containment. Did Gortat open up too early on pick-and-roll coverages? Yes. His help could be faulty and allowed the guards to get the rim as he was caught squared up. Did Porter get bullied in the mid-post? Yes.
Only when Morris arrived could the Wizards put someone on an island to defend the likes of Carmelo Anthony, something Porter couldn't do. Individual defense and team defense aren't the same thing. A player can be good at one and terrible at the other. The Wizards were terrible at both far too often and had to rely on outscoring opponents. And that didn't work, either.
1. Leadership. Though this is a good locker room, players have been on different pages. It's a back-and-forth that has taken place for the last three seasons even when they made the playoffs. Wall and Beal proclaimed they were the leaders of the team before the season, something management was hoping to hear -- and see -- every day.
This is why they correctly allowed Paul Pierce to walk and Trevor Ariza the year before that. Pierce, brought in for a season to replace Ariza who wanted more years on a deal than the team was willing to give a player who'd be a few years on the other side of 30, is no longer a starting quality small forward.
If you can't put this responsibility on the cornerstones of the franchise, one who signed a max deal a few years ago (Wall) and the other who wants one this summer (Beal), then whom? The Wizards must re-evaluate their chemistry and how to reconstruct the roster around them to get better results. It's about more than stats, analytics and plus-minus ratings. There's an "it" factor that has been absent.