The Washington Wizards, broadly speaking, have three possible paths before Thursday's NBA trade deadline: Make a move, stand pat, punt away the season. It's time to examine each option starting with the notion that the Wizards should get aggressive.
Charles Barkley recently called the Wizards "mediocre" and "disappointing." Through 51 games, he's not wrong. After reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals in back-to-back seasons, Washington sits 10th in the East. Momentum never sticks around for long. Since matching their modest season-high winning streak of four games on Jan. 15, the Wizards are 4-9.
However, certain factors cannot be ignored. The Wizards have lost more games due to injury -- approximately 221 -- than any team in the league. At the All-Star break, Washington owns the toughest strength of schedule.
Yet, the playoffs remain in reach. With 31 games remaining, more than any East playoff contender, the Wizards are three games back of Charlotte for the eighth and final playoff spot, and four behind No. 6 Indiana.
Then again, certain holes are evident. Even if healthy and with an easier schedule remaining, do the Wizards have enough?
On nights where John Wall isn't at his usual All-Star level, the Wizards struggle. Adding another scorer, creator capable of carrying the offense for stretches would help.
Washington's primary players at the 4 and 5 positions are over 30. At times, that's quite evident especially when facing younger and springier opposition.
The Wizards have kids on the perimeter, but it's the perimeter where the Wizards have struggled most defensively. If Stephen Curry doesn't make that 45-footer before the final buzzer in Sunday's All-Star game, both the East and the West would have finished with lower 3-point field percentages than Washington allows (38.7) in a game where nobody bothered playing defense.
Here's another factor: The East, at least after the top two teams, is rather wide open this season. Atlanta may break up the team this week. Chicago lost its last four before the break. Miami is one Hassan Whiteside implosion away from dropping back.
Cleveland looks like the best bet for an NBA Finals appearance. If Washington can finish or seventh or higher, no LeBron James in the opening round.
Second seed Toronto appears formidable, but we know what happened when these teams met last season.
Boston, currently No. 3 in the East, dominated Washington during the regular season. Let's see how the Celtics handle pressure that comes with being favored in a playoff series.
Now, optimistic playoff talk for the Wizards is a bit outrageous considering what's transpired to date.
To avoid the Cavaliers and Raptors, the Wizards need something like a 21-10 finish for a shot at catching the Pacers, the current sixth seed.
But should they reach the postseason, who knows. Look at the magic conjured up in the last two years under "Playoff Randy" Wittman.
Small moves before the last two trade deadlines, acquiring Andre Miller and Ramon Sessions, certainly helped. Going bolder by say adding a stretch-4 like New Orleans' Ryan Anderson could be the missing piece this time.
Dealing any draft pick or valuable asset for an expiring contract like Anderson brings risk. So does staying pat with a roster that led to this 23-28 record.
It's also risky assuming better days are coming. Washington would enter next offseason with only 5-6 players under contract. That means more money to spend. Lots of other teams will be in similar scenarios. Dream away about the types of players that would crawl through broken glass for a shot at playing with a pass-first point guard like Wall. Of course, Mark Cuban will tell you pinning hopes in free agency doesn't always work.
That's one reason taking on long-term salary cannot be dismissed. Brooklyn's Thad Young is a 27-year-old power forward averaging 15 and 9 with a contract that pays him $25 million over the next two seasons. It's possible Phoenix's Markieff Morris and Orlando's Tobias Harris can be pried away. The extreme option is Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin, but his hand injury makes it unclear how much the All-Star forward can help this season.
If Washington doesn't want to wait another season for Kevin Durant and is therefore open to taking on money, making a move for now and the future can work. If the Wizards truly want not just to reach the playoffs, but make noise once there, making a move may be the only move they can make.