The Washington Wizards took a step forward in the 2020-21 season by making the playoffs for the first time in three years. Now, they enter an offseason with hopes of making another leap.
Here are the five biggest questions facing them in what should be an eventful summer...
Will anything change with Beal's contract?
Fresh off making All-NBA for the first time in his career, Bradley Beal is entering another summer with his contract future in question. He has two years left on his extension, which he signed in October of 2019, but the second year is a player option. Basically, he's one year away from free agency barring another extension, which could technically happen this offseason but it's hard to tell whether it will, based on how much money he can make if he waits and how unpredictably things went last time.
The Wizards continue to have no intention of trading Beal and he doesn't want to leave, but reality could set in if they enter next season with him essentially on an expiring deal. Then they would face the prospect of potentially losing him for nothing the following summer, which would not be ideal. That said, we've got a long way to go this offseason. The Wizards could make some major improvements to their roster, to the degree that Beal's decision takes on an entirely different tone.
Can they make a big trade?
With limited funds available for free agency and the 15th overall pick in the first round of the NBA Draft, if the Wizards want to make a big leap this offseason, their best avenue is probably via trade. General manager Tommy Sheppard suggested recently he's willing to be aggressive in that area after seeing his team match up with the one-seed Philadelphia 76ers in the first round where they lost in five games. The Wizards are likely to be very active seeking trades this summer, one way or another.
It could be a blockbuster for a third star to pair with Beal and Russell Westbrook. Or, perhaps it's a move to bring in several players to add depth to their rotation. Sheppard has shown he can find impact players in smaller deals as well, as he's did in trades for Davis Bertans and Daniel Gafford. Expect the Wizards to aim high first, but pulling off a major trade requires a lot of factors including the right player to become available. It's easier in theory than in practice.
Who will be their coach?
In some ways it feels like the Wizards' offseason did not begin until Wednesday when they decided to part ways with head coach Scott Brooks. Now they have to find his replacement and that process will likely take a few weeks. Expect something to be done within the next month. Anything longer would be unusual.
There are a wide range of possibilities they could explore. There are up-and-coming assistants like Wes Unseld Jr., more experienced options like Mark Jackson or someone already on their staff. They could make history by hiring the first female NBA head coach. It's early and it's an important decision to make.
What will they do at wing?
The Wizards have a few needs this summer like three-point shooting and defense in general, but in particular defense on the wing. Both of those areas were exposed by the Sixers in the playoffs, especially the latter as Tobias Harris found little resistance. The Wizards had major trouble with tall scoring wings like Harris and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics.
The Wizards at a minimum need depth at small forward, as the injury to Deni Avdija showed. But ideally, they would find a starting-caliber wing who can shoot and defend. The Wizards could use their mid-level exception, which can generally bring in a solid bench-level player. Or, they could target the position via trade. However they address it, wing is the Wizards' most important positional need. They could also use depth at other areas, including behind Beal at shooting guard.
Which veterans will return?
The Wizards have seven players on expiring deals, plus others without guaranteed contracts for next season. But four stand out in particular because they are all veterans and were all key members of the Wizards' rotation this season: Raul Neto, Robin Lopez, Ish Smith and Alex Len. All were signed as free agents by Sheppard to short-term deals and all of them proved to be excellent acquisitions.
They were good enough collectively that it will be hard to keep them all. Neto, in particular, looks poised to cash in on a career year. It doesn't seem likely they can keep both Neto and Smith as their backup point guards. If that's the case, maybe they view Cassius Winston as ready to take over the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. Lopez and Len, meanwhile, likely won't both have room in the center rotation with the expected return of Thomas Bryant from an ACL injury and the emergence of Gafford.