With about half of their roster featuring new players and a brand new coaching staff, it's possible the Wizards will not click as a group immediately as the regular season begins. One of those new players, Kyle Kuzma, put it in honest terms during his walk-off interview with NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller after Tuesday's game against the Knicks, a loss that dropped them to 0-3 in the preseason:
"Don't expect it in Game 1, Game 10. It might take about 20 games," Kuzma said. "It's all for us to build habits and be able to play with each other offensively and defensively. We're making strides, but we're a long ways away."
After Thursday's practice, a few of Kuzma's teammates and head coach Wes Unseld Jr. were asked about that notion, that it will require some patience early on for the Wizards.
Some agreed with the assessment, some didn't.
"I agree it will take some time. Hopefully not 10 or 20, but I think it will take some time for us to coalesce as a group," Unseld Jr. said. "Keep in mind we do have a new group of players, but also a completely new staff with new terminology and new philosophies, all that combined. We also only play four preseason games. So, we’re just trying to get it all in, it’s tough. So, it will take some time, but we’ll try to make this progression happen sooner than later."
Montrezl Harrell saw where Kuzma was coming from, but didn't agree that it could take 20 games. He is on his third team in three years and understands the challenge of a new-look team rounding into form, but is optimistic it won't take very long for Washington.
"No, I don't think that's accurate... I don’t think that we’re gonna have to wait 10-to-20 games to [gel]," he said.
New players or not, the Wizards have had some trouble getting off on the right foot in recent seasons. They haven't had a winning record after their first 10 games since 2015-16 and started 2-8 in three out of the last five years.
Harrell also added a new wrinkle to the discussion. When asked whether there was any pressure to start the season off strong, he honed in on the word 'pressure,' saying it doesn't really apply to this year's Wizards team.
"To be honest with you, bro, we don’t have a lot of pressure on us, man. To be honest with you, man, nobody is expecting us to do anything really. Reporters, the league; nobody expects us to do anything," he said.
Harrell continued: "Brad [Beal] has said it many a time since we’ve been around here: ‘We’re the Washington Wizards, bro, it’s a team that’s been overlooked for how many years now?’ We’re just looking to come in here and change the culture of that. Honestly, we’re looking to come in here with a winning mindset and just get that spirit, get the District and the whole city back to a state of belief, man."
Beal would know how the Wizards have been overlooked in the past, but this year it is happening perhaps to a different degree. While the organization was mostly praised by fans and local media for their offseason moves, oddsmakers and national outlets view them very differently. The consensus by prognosticators, both in the media and betting markets, seems to be that they will not only miss the playoffs, but possibly the play-in tournament altogether.
The Wizards traded away a very good player in Russell Westbrook after making the playoffs last season, but also got deeper with proven veterans. Thomas Bryant and Deni Avdija are back from injuries and they still have Beal leading the charge.
Perhaps they can prove the predictions wrong. As Spencer Dinwiddie put it, they hope this season speaks to the bigger picture of a franchise moving in the right direction.
"We have aspirations of turning this thing around and starting to lay the foundation for an upward trajectory. That’s no secret, I think everybody’s talked about that. To do that, we have to be accountable to our specific jobs and hopefully it rounds into shape," Dinwiddie said.