The 2010s for the Washington Wizards can best be summed up in terms of expectations. Within the context of franchise history, it was the best decade for the team since the 1970s. From 2013 to 2017, they reached the second round of the playoffs three times. They had only done that twice in the previous 34 years.
Expectations were subsequently raised as the Wizards inched very close to reaching the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1979, but fell short. They got within one game in 2017 and in 2015 may have gotten there if it weren't for an injury to John Wall's wrist.
While raising expectations to their highest point for the franchise in decades, and by not reaching their stated goals, the Wizards left many with the impression they underachieved. With two All-Star guards in Wall and Bradley Beal and a payroll that ventured into the luxury tax, they probably should have made it further in the playoffs than they have to this point.
But that's what happens when the bar is raised and by simply doing that over the past 10 years, the decade could be seen as a clear success. Just consider how it began.
In Jan. of 2010, the first month of the decade, the franchise unraveled due to a scandal involving star guard Gilbert Arenas bringing guns into the locker room and threatening a teammate. It was a blemish the organization needed years to overcome and one that ultimately led to Arenas' exit.
The controversy was big enough to set the franchise on an entirely new course with an acute awareness of public perception. The Wizards had long been one of the least successful teams in the NBA, but the gun incident made them a laughingstock for entirely different reasons and influenced the way they built their roster in the years ahead.
The Wizards had even more reason to consider the character of players and how they would represent the organization. They were fortunate enough to find luck in the draft lottery and land franchise cornerstones like Wall and Beal, who beyond turning into NBA All-Stars also became perfect ambassadors for the team.
Those were the Wizards' biggest hits as they went through a lengthy rebuild after trading Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and others. But there were plenty of misses as well, ones that limited the team's ceiling as it evolved into a perennial playoff contender. Drafting Jan Vesely in 2011 was a colossal error and so was signing Ian Mahinmi to a four-year, $64 million free-agent contract in the summer of 2016.
Though Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. became solid rotation players, they never fully reached their potential in Washington. And both were ultimately traded away for packages that the team essentially now has nothing to show for.
Still, the decade as a whole was much better than anything the Wizards/Bullets franchise had produced in a long time. And that success culminated in a 2016-17 season that saw Wall earn All-NBA honors and the Wizards win 49 games, their most since 1979.
Injuries to Wall and mistakes by the front office led to a downward trajectory after that season. Wall missed 41 games in 2017-18, then 50 in 2018-19. And during his 50-game absence, he suffered a torn Achilles that has him out long-term as the Wizards prepare to start another decade, the 2020s.
Wall's injury, combined with a supermax contract that began with the 2019-20 season, helped set in motion widespread changes in the organization. They overhauled their front office in the spring and summer of 2019 and flipped their roster to go younger and cheaper.
Now Beal stands tall as the face of the franchise while Wall works his way back. Meanwhile, the team is developing a group of young players, including 2019 first-round pick Rui Hachimura, hoping they can reach new heights once they return to playoff contention.
The franchise has new decision-makers and a new philosophy, one with an infusion of analytics both in the front office and on the coaching staff. They are starting over, hoping the next decade is better than the last, that the next 10 years can take their expectations higher than they have ever been before.
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